If you take a quick look at a local event calendar for the month of July, you might easily mistake it for a calendar from one of Moab’s off-season winter months, when listings are few and far between.
Organizers of a free summer concert series hope to liven things up, though, with another round of outdoor performances each Friday in July at Swanny City Park that cater to local residents and visitors alike.
Moab Folk Festival Executive Director Melissa Schmaedick envisions the return of an eclectic lineup of bands and musicians from different genres, spanning everything from upbeat and danceable big band sounds to world music, blues and folk/country.
“The idea of the free concert series was to kind of elevate the concert experience, at least for four weeks in July, by bringing in a touring act,” she told the Moab Area Travel Council Advisory Board during its meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 9.
As Schmaedick and others map out plans for the series’ second year, the travel council’s board stepped forward this week with $16,700 in funding to help pay for performance fees, production costs and other expenses.
For Moab Area Travel Council Advisory Board chair Howard Trenholme, the concerts are a break from the hot summer doldrums.
“There really isn’t much going on in the way of events in July in this town … except the concert series, basically,” he said.
Attendance at last year’s shows at the Moab Farmers Market topped an estimated 1,200 people altogether, and Moab Area Travel Council Executive Director Elaine Gizler thinks the series will continue to grow if it’s nurtured.
Trenholme expects to see an even bigger series this year, because the word about the free concerts is already out there.
While the 2017 shows were well-publicized, Schmaedick said she was surprised to see about 450 people show up on day one.
“(At) the first concert, the attendance was so big that it was just kind of a shock,” she said. “We really did not expect to have so many people come.”
The folk festival coordinated last year’s event with the Moab Farmers Market, the Moab Arts and Recreation Center, KZMU Community Radio and Moab Gear Trader, with funding from the travel council and the City of Moab.
This year, Schmaedick has increased the series’ budget from around $25,000 to $30,000, based on expenses that organizers incurred last year, leading them to the conclusion that they will have to pay more for labor.
While Moab Farmers Market organizers are exploring the possibility of moving that event about a block and a half away in search of greater visibility on Main Street, Schmaedick said the concert series will remain at Swanny City Park.
“There’s just no way for us to accommodate that number of people closer to downtown,” she said.
One big difference this year is that each show is now scheduled to start earlier, at 5 p.m., with opening local acts performing shorter sets, to ensure that the concerts are over by about 7:30 p.m., before it grows dark.
Schmaedick said the change comes partly in response to concerns from nearby residents about later concert times.
“Hopefully, that will help the residents feel a little bit more acknowledged,” she said.
Gizler sees the earlier conclusions to each concert as an opportunity for local businesses, because concertgoers will have more time to wander around downtown Moab after each performance.
“They can then go out and spend more time in town, which is what we’re trying to do: get people to go on Main Street and enjoy the shops and restaurants,” she said.
“It’s a good mix”
Half of the attendees at last year’s shows were local, while half were visitors – just the right mix that organizers were seeking.
“It really hit all of the targets … that we were trying to achieve, in terms of tapping into our local community, and giving access to music to families and to folks who may not have access to that type of event in the community, and then also to our visitors,” Schmaedick said.
“It’s a good mix, too, to see the locals getting along with the tourists,” he said. “We need more of that. There’s conflict in these issues, but that was one space we had with really just none of that.”
Gizler said the fact that so many visitors attended the concerts stands out to her.
“That’s what we want to target, and what we are hoping for, because those people are staying locally, eating at restaurants locally and contributing to the economy here, so I think from the travel council’s standpoint, it makes sense,” she said.
For Schmaedick, the most validating part of the experience was to see local families with kids zipping in and out from the playground to the concerts, as well as elderly concertgoers and their families who sat in their chairs and had picnics.
“And that was the goal: to make it almost like a community living room event,” she said. “I think that that speaks of Moab’s character in general … It’s the same type of feel at the folk festival that people really like, is that we have that sense of community.”
$16,700 committed to free events that draw in locals and visitors at slower time