There will be no more free concerts in the 25th year of the Salt Lake City Arts Council's wildly popular Twilight Concert Series.
In a break with a 24-year tradition, city officials announced on Thursday morning that each concert will cost $5, with season tickets for the nine-show series available for $35.
"Twilight is a cultural phenomenon that has changed the face of downtown Salt Lake City. I've been arguing for years that it makes sense [to charge a nominal fee]," said Jason Mathis, executive director of Downtown Alliance, which is one of the chief sponsors.
The hardest person to convince? Mathis said it was the Arts Council's Casey Jarman, the series founder.
"I think it's a necessity," said Karen Kruger, the council's new executive director.
Jarman said he realized at last summer's closing concert rapper Lupe Fiasco headlined that the series had become a victim of its own success. With an estimated crowd of 55,000 inside Pioneer Park, Jarman said audience members were packed in and "uncomfortable." "There was irony in the name if there ever was one," he said, referring to Fiasco.
Last year, the average show attendance was 33,000.
Jarman added that as he walked around the Fiasco concert, he ran into overcrowding, the recurring problem that led to the move three years ago from the much-smaller Gallivan Center to Pioneer Park.
With rising production and artist fees, Jarman said he considered two options: Produce five Twilight concerts with no fee, or put on nine concerts with a $5 fee.
That's two more than last year's seven concerts, which was all the Arts Council's budget could afford.
"The idea is not to weed out people," Jarman said, but to provide a better concert experience for those who attend.
"The mayor's office is supportive of the Salt Lake City Arts Council's decision to charge a nominal fee for the Twilight Concert Series shows," said Art Raymond, deputy director of communications for Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker. "It is our understanding that this revenue will not only help fund the popular summer concerts downtown, but many other arts events in the city."
At some of the Pioneer Park concerts, Mathis said, he felt the need to leave early, telling his family: "We have to get out of here it's getting scary."
The $5 fee will likely ensure that the series will become self-sustaining, even though the Arts Council has decided to cover the service charges normally associated with modern-day ticketing. "We're not trying to make it a fund-raiser," he said.
The council has conducted focus groups and surveys asking Twilight supporters about raising the fee to $5, and Jarman said support for the fees was nearly unanimous. Some sponsors of the series, such as Red Bull, have increased their financial support because of the change, while concessionaires and surrounding retailers have also supported the fee.
2012 Twilight Concert series line-up at Pioneer Park
July 5 • Beach House with The Walkmen
July 12 • Raphael Saadiq with JJ Grey & Mofro
July 19 • Nas with TBA
July 26 • Band of Horses with TBA
Aug. 2 • My Morning Jacket with TBA
Aug. 9 • Passion Pit with Austra
Aug. 16 • Iron and Wine with Kathleen Edwards
Aug. 23 •M. Ward with Devotchka
Aug. 30 • Common with TBA
Gates open at 5 p.m.
Tickets will be $5 for each concert, available at the gate or before the event at 24Tix.com and Graywhale Entertainment stores, will go on sale June 1 at 10 a.m.
More • At Twilight concerts, ticketholders will be allowed to enter through a separate line at each entrance.
Info • Visit http://www.twilightconcertseries.com
Web extra • In a web poll on Thursday afternoon, more than 78 percent of online readers supported the fees.