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Twilight Concert Series kicks off with Blitzen Trapper, Belle and Sebastian

Published July 19, 2013 9:59 pm

Eager Pioneer Park crowd embraces concert scene while downtown businesses cheer.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Longboards and hipsters and debits, oh my.

And oh my, how downtown missed its urban jungle.

Like pray-for-snow faithful christening the first dump atop their canyon cathedrals, a sweaty flock of 14,000 anointed the 2013 Twilight Concert Series on Thursday — transforming comatose Pioneer Park into a pulsating sea of smart-phone slinging young people who energized Utah's capital before the tunes and after, on foot and by bicycle brigade.

Beneath Belle and Sebastian's jangly guitar and down-tempo ballads, the throng buzzed, betrayed near triple-digit heat with beers, and chimed cash registers like church bells.

"It pretty much doubles our business," said Robin Fairchild, whose swarmed Tin Angel patio is in perfect position across the street from the amps to capture the music. "It just brings people downtown. Getting people down here and away from City Creek [Center] is a major bonus — and a necessity."

Kelly Shiotani, who has DJs spinning until early morning on Thursdays, expects Twilight will be a godsend to Dojo, his sushi-serving club across the street. "This is one of the best lineups they've ever had," he said of the concert series. "It's great that they charge $5 because it tightens up the demographic. We're excited to be so close to it."

Police reported a smooth debut despite a new no-backpack rule in the wake of bombings at the Boston Marathon. Patrons too, were hard-pressed to find complaints.

"I like the new venue — the previous one seemed like everyone brought their kids like a daycare," said Brandon Gallegos, sipping beer just below the stage. "Because they are charging it's a better crowd. The teenagers are well-behaved."

Now in its 26th year, Twilight barely resembles its BYOB beginnings — once featuring obscure international acts — at the Gallivan Center. Since the onset of beer and wine vendors, and an armada of food trucks — indeed an entire "Twilight Market" — organizers have faced a Catch-22. While the revenue boosts budgets to book bigger bands, it comes with a price:

Costing the series its intimacy.

Director Casey Jarman, who wrestled for years with whether to charge a ticket fee and, if so, how much, says his baby now has the right balance — even though prominent bands perpetuate a "hard financial picture."

"We averaged about 30,000 people when it was free," he said, "now the average is 15,000. That's about where we want to be."

He doubts any repeat of the 2010 Modest Mouse show, when 40,000 people assaulted Pioneer Park, kicked down perimeter fences and forced many to shove their way out in fear.

Jarman says the $5 fee, now in its second year, was the "easiest sell" he's ever made to an audience. "We get a little bit more focus. More invested concert-goers."

"Businesses love it," he added. "We end up serving more food, more beer and wine with half the people. Once they open their wallets to come in ..."

Just ask Iggy's Sports Grill general manager Dave Ipaktchian. "This concert thing is as good for us as Jazz playoff games — it's awesome," he said.

If the $5 ticket has thinned the park scene, bar and restaurant owners see just the opposite in sales.

"Since they've charged, we get better crowds, less people and more spenders," Ipaktchian said. "We do between 50 and 70 percent more business than on a typical Thursday. And we go crazy at 10 o'clock," when the shows end.

Nearby hot spots like Squatters, Pallet and Caputo's boil over on Twilight nights. But the party doesn't end with the music. Bars across downtown, from Beerhive Pub to Bar X to the Bayou, report a surge. And on Thursday, like years past, bicycles a dozen deep could be seen locked beside most late-night eateries and watering holes.

For one business, it's too much.

"I kind of dread it actually," deadpanned Jamie DeLong, a bartender at 'Bout Time! Pub & Grub at the Gateway. "Most of it is afterwards. People come in and they're already wasted. But we do serve food to help people sober up, so that's good. Thursday nights are a mess."

A block away, Rio Grande Cafe doesn't face that problem — though they try to lure it with half-price appetizers and $10 Corona buckets.

"We see a little bit of a bump, but not what you would expect being right down the street," said manager Allison Cunha. "They kind of park right here and walk right past us, which is discouraging."

By the time Blitzen Trapper made way for headliner Belle and Sebastian, as the temperature relented, concertgoers got contemplative — focusing less on the capital's bottom line than its reputation.

"It's nice that we're a little more artistic than just boring and plain," raved Anam Schab, a Twilight season-ticket holder from Daybreak.

Nursing beers and pizza alongside their two music-savvy kids, a couple from Sugar House agreed the $5 fee "cuts down on the stupidity." They come regularly to support locals like Chow Truck and Graywhale — and say Twilight gives Salt Lake City a summertime shot in the arm.

"It probably makes us seem less square," Amber Bottari said.

And, Dave Madden added, "we're always trying to get out of the shadow of the Osmonds."

As for that balance theory, fans on all sides won't have to wait long for an answer. Patio parties are planned for Ludacris on Aug. 15. And, in one week, Jarman's urban jungle welcomes the inimitable Flaming Lips.

djensen@sltrib.com

twitter: @derekpjensen