Leadership / 07.27.22
America’s Summer Concert Series and the INTIX Members Who Ticket Them
With COVID-19 still in play, psychology factors a lot into how some people attend live gatherings these days. You may still go to that favorite restaurant of yours … but only if it has outdoor dining. A basketball game or boxing match in an indoor arena might make you think twice before buying a ticket. But an open-air ballpark where you can once again hear the crack of the bat while scarfing down a hot dog and beer just feels … safer. So it is with live music for many fans.
Fortunately in the summer of 2022, there are a plethora of outdoor concert series and festivals welcoming folks from far and wide. Ravinia, one of North America’s most diverse music festivals, is happening now through Sept. 18 in the Chicago area and is proving to be an especially big draw. And the staff at Ravinia have taken steps to welcome back even the most COVID-hesitant. Duncan Moss, Associate Director of Ticket Operations for Ravinia, says, “A lot has changed at Ravinia in a small amount of time due to the pandemic … Here at Ravinia, we’ve dealt with countless changes, including technology, cancellations/postponements and everything else imaginable and unimaginable.”
For instance, Ravinia rolled out a completely digital system for donors to access their memberships as well as order tickets for all of the summer season events. Moss and his colleagues designed an in-house digital ticket delivery system that allows both donors and the public to access their tickets on Ravinia’s website and send to themselves to share.
Moss also notes that he and his staff have changed the way they communicate with patrons “by introducing text messaging and on-demand emailing. And finally we rolled out touchless payments across the park to make for safer and faster transactions. From a facilities perspective, our team has transformed many areas of the park, making them more touchless and safer than ever including bathrooms, touchless toilets, entrances and so much more. We continue to offer masks and sanitizer all over the park to make everyone feel as comfortable as possible.”
One of the best-known open-air venues to see a concert or other performance this summer or any summer is the Hollywood Bowl in Southern California. Joe Carter, the Bowl’s Director of Sales and Customer Experience, acknowledges that the ongoing health crisis has definitely made the operational side much more challenging. But it has also brought him and his team closer together.
“This era has made us more flexible and resilient,” he says. “Things we would have never tried before are now old hat. Are we tired? You bet. In a meeting with my team recently, after announcing postponed concerts, preparing for the possibility of a canceled performance, another artist canceling their tour, a water main break blocking off one of the routes to our venue, the ongoing tension caused by the pandemic, and a temporary power outage among other things, the team thanked each other for stepping up and helping each other. I then said: ‘I know it shouldn’t be this hard. And I recognize that you are all going above and beyond the call of duty. Thank you!’ It is what we do in this industry, but it is important that we acknowledge and appreciate that work regularly. That will never change!”
And people’s need to be entertained, to be with like-minded individuals who share the same passion and fandom, will likely never change. Nor will their desire to attend some of the hottest events of the season, outside, and in the glory of nature.
For decades now, Wolf Trap in Northern Virginia has been known far and wide as one of the country’s must-see live event venues. It is America’s only national park for the performing arts, offering a pristine natural setting in which to get away from it all and enjoy music with friends, family and loved ones.
Bernie Berry, Senior Director of Ticket Services for Wolf Trap, says, “Wolf Trap and the National Park Service work hand in hand to make Wolf Trap welcoming, accessible and family friendly. It is close to Washington, D.C., nestled in 120-plus acres, and the park allows patrons to bring their own food and beverages. Plus, there is free parking and a shuttle service that runs back and forth to the Metro [subway]. Wolf Trap can be whatever you need it to be.”
Another venue where the sounds of symphonies and other acts are once again being heard is Tanglewood. Located in historic Stockbridge and Lenox, Massachusetts, this 600-acre property spans both towns roughly five miles from the New York border and a two-hour drive to either Boston or Manhattan. Tanglewood was inaugurated by the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) in a concert on Aug. 5, 1937.
David Winn, Associate Director of Tanglewood Ticketing and Box Office Manager for the BSO, notes that Tanglewood did not host concerts during the World War II years of 1942–1945. The next dark season was during the COVID-19 summer of 2020. Tanglewood today presents a limited Popular Artist series that usually features at least two concerts by James Taylor, a Lenox resident. Winn says, “The lawn is a particularly great draw for thousands of people per concert. Recently a viewing of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ with the BSO playing the entire score left many people on the lawn looking up into the night sky dreaming of what was happening ‘up there.’”
Tanglewood was indeed closed during the summer of 2020, although the BSO that summer did create an entire streaming process that “captured many productions to be sold or viewed for free,” Winn says. “Our ticketing system was a vital part of the digital process. Instead of managing a staff, I was more or less helping to create content and manage the digital sales process.”
The summer of 2021 saw a reduced summer of concerts, with all performances held in the open-air Koussevitzky Music Shed. That included performances by the BSO, Boston Pops and the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra. And today? Live performances are back on, and digital content is now part of the BSO offerings, too, and likely will be for a long time.
But Winn has noticed a change in consumers’ behavior. He says, “The unfortunate thing is that patrons did not learn from COVID-19 to be more caring individuals. It is not uncommon for staff members to become the critical target of a patron. I am sure there are many reasons why people have become angrier and less tolerant.”
He also noted a lack of available applicants in the current workforce, which has caused some disruptions. At the same time, he is seeing a corresponding lack of responsibility by workers: “We were ‘ghosted’ by two new hires. People seem to have this newfound freedom of saying ‘meh’ to almost everything.”
But for all four interviewees, these trying times have not tried them to the point where they’ve lost their love for the work and passion for the job. Moss of Ravinia says, “The part of my job I like most is the unique challenges that need to be figured out. Every single day is different from the next and some days are full of fun challenges and others are not so fun. But at the end of each day I get to go home knowing that I solved problems, whatever they may be, and that brings a sense of satisfaction.”
Wolf Trap’s Berry, meanwhile, was quick to rattle off a list of “get-to-do’s” that has kept him going and thriving in ticket operations: “I get to work with and collaborate with incredible people here at Wolf Trap. I get to watch patrons, families and individuals come to Wolf Trap and use it a respite from other challenging parts of their lives. I get to hear my friends say with admiration ‘You get to work here?!’ And I get to be a part of one of the longest things humanity has done — gather for live entertainment!”
As for Winn, he says the best parts of working Tanglewood range from “when someone brings in cookies, an everyday occurrence here, to taking a walk before work and checking out the views and enjoying the peace and quiet. I do have a habit of going into the Shed every Sunday morning about 10 a.m. and sitting there, all alone, enjoying some meditation. But, of course, it is about the giving back … How amazingly satisfying it is to sit at the window and take 20 minutes selling tickets. It brings me back to why I am here. It is the patron. The give and take and gratitude knowing that you have made someone happy.”
And Carter concludes by reminding his fellow interviewees and INTIX members that they, too, are fans, or at least should be. “The first night I moved to Los Angeles in 1990, my parents took me to the Hollywood Bowl for a concert. I had heard of it, but never experienced it before that night. I became a fan and have been coming to concerts here ever since. Little did I know that 19 years later I would join the staff of the LA Phil, who runs the venue [along with Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Ford and our new Beckman YOLA Center]. At the end of a tough day, sitting in the audience and soaking up the energy — that brings me back to the joy of music, and I feel refreshed and ready for another day.”
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