Music News & Reviews

Sacramento Music Fest continues to evolve

It’s not hard to get an assessment of a typical audience at an afternoon concert at the Sacramento Music Festival.

The crowd is mainly members of a decidedly older demographic, with a sprinkling of younger music fans.

The younger fans tend to come later.

Capturing the interest and money of a younger demographic is the holy grail for this 41-year-old music festival, which runs over four days every every Memorial Day weekend. The festival began Friday and runs through Memorial Day in Old Sacramento.

To attract younger fans, organizers this year booked rock acts like Collective Soul, Trombone Shorty, and Meschiya Lake and the Lil’ Big Horns.

Organizers for the past few years have broadened the musical offerings to recast the festival as wide-ranging with a strong slate of jazz acts. But it remains to be seen how effective the effort has been, since the festival does not seek or keep demographic data on who has been attending, said Mike Testa, who books acts for the festival.

For now, success assessments are visual. Testa said the festival will consider tracking demographic information next year.

Some young patrons in attendance are not newcomers, like Sacramentan Elisha McCurry, 31, who is attending for the third straight year.

“I came for some drinks and music and to see Dave Bennett,” McCurry said.

McCurry is the very portrait of the young patron the festival wants to turn into a lifelong attendee.

However, booking ’90s-era rockers Collective Soul is not the reason she attends the festival.

She likes most of the direction the festival has taken – but she said she did not decide to attend because a well-known rock band had been booked this year.

“The jazz and blues? That appeals to me more than rock,” McCurry said. “I’d like to see more jazz.”

McCurry was attending with a friend, Sarah Marriott, who is also an avowed fan of traditional jazz.

“We won tickets the first year we attended, and we have been coming back ever since,” Marriott said.

The festival has always attracted patrons from afar, and this year is no exception.

“We’ve been coming the last six years. I like the new direction here. I like rockabilly and zydeco, as well as the traditional jazz,” said Anne Dirmeyer, 58, who drove up from Turlock.

This was the first year that the festival marketed the event in the Bay Area by purchasing 30-second radio ad spots on the San Francisco FM radio station KFOG.

“We wanted to attract a Bay Area crowd and get them to come up and stay four nights,” Testa said.

He said out-of-towners at the festival are not a big number compared to the festival’s traditional jazz days – when patrons flocked to area hotels.

“I think we will see a difference this year,” he said.

Testa said that the festival has turned a corner in its evolution – from the one-time Traditional Jazz Jubilee to a broader-based music festival.

Festival organizers realized after a steady drop in year-to-year ticket sales that the programing needed to change. Revenue fell from $2.7 million in 2002 to $1.3 million in 2010.

The next year, the festival changed its name and expanded its musical focus by including zydeco, country, pop and other acts.

Testa believes that last year was the first robust sign that the change was the right decision.

“Last year, we had a 13 percent increase in ticket sales over the year prior,” he said.

He said that part of the success last year was due to the festival’s willingness to book well-known pop acts – like Los Lobos, which was the festival headliner. The Los Lobos show sold 3,100 tickets in a newly designed Firehouse concert venue.

“That told us that there was an appetite for these different kinds of bands,” Testa said.

That evidence led Testa to book Collective Soul this year. That Atlanta-based band burst onto the scene in 1993 with the hit “Shine” and has had several hits since.

“We really have not done a rock band of this caliber before,” he said. “I think we’ve done a good job of getting folks in their 50s and above to come to the festival. With Los Lobos, we skewed it a little younger last year.”

Testa is hoping he will be able to say the same about Collective Soul when he considers whom to book as headliner for 2015.

If current ticket sales are any indication, he may be on the right track. The presale of tickets by Friday evening for the festival was outpacing last year’s sales by 40 percent, Testa said.

Related information:

•  Gallery: Sacramento celebrates its 40th annual Music Festival

•  Your guide to the Sacramento Music Festival

•  2014 Sacramento Music Festival schedule of events

•  Get and share Sacramento Music Festival updates on Twitter

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