A sold-out crowd packed the Gallivan Center in mid-August, dancing outside in the heat and heart of Salt Lake City to music from DJ and composer Diplo for just $10.
“That same show 24 hours later was 85 bucks in Vegas,” said Jake Jensen, vice president of promotions and events at Broadway Media.
That affordability is one hallmark of Salt Lake City’s beloved Twilight Concert Series, which has drawn performers from Beck to Sonic Youth to the Wu-Tang Clan to The Black Keys downtown for three decades.
“Twilight’s not meant to be a cash cow. Twilight is meant to be a cultural program — a reason for people to come downtown and be a part of the downtown environment,” Jensen said.
The 2018 series has overcome financial issues that have plagued it for years — last week’s concert by Snoop Dogg’s funk persona, DJ Snoopadelic, also sold out. And Jensen has high hopes for the fifth and final event, Thursday’s upcoming concert by King Princess.
But the future of the series — at one point, expected to be on hiatus in this year — remains unclear. The “experiment” of partnering with Broadway, which organized this year’s shows, has gone well, said Salt Lake City Arts Council acting director Kelsey Ellis.
But the council has begun re-evaluating its priorities and direction, a process that will include mapping Salt Lake City’s arts offerings, talking with arts groups and other stakeholders and evaluating the results of surveys conducted at this summer’s concerts.
“We’re hoping that information can also play into what does Twilight next year,” Ellis said. “Would we do the same contract? Work with the same people? Questions we’ll answer probably starting the day after the last concert.”
‘Not just a concert’
The Arts Council had to go to the Salt Lake City Council requesting more than $300,000 over the past three years to keep the series afloat, and in October 2017 announced that Twilight would go on hiatus this year, with hopes of returning in 2019.
That bummed Jensen out.
“The night that they announced that Twilight was going away, I walked into my boss’s office and said, ‘This sucks,’’ he said.
Broadway Media president Kayvon Motiee agreed, and the company — which promotes concerts, owns seven local radio stations and is owned by developer/RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen — approached the Arts Council about partnering up to make it happen.
Both sides said it’s been a good fit.
“It's been really smooth,” Jensen said. “I think all of us are on the same page. We all want this series to continue.”
Ellis agreed, saying the council appreciates how “passionate” the company is about Twilight’s role.
The Arts Council’s mandate is “diversity, it’s accessibility, it’s activation,” Ellis said. “It’s not just a concert, it really is a program for our community.”
The two entered a one-year agreement, and Jensen had to hustle to line up acts in about 90 days, a task that normally can take a year.
The most obvious change Broadway made was to “right-size Twilight; to get it in a place where it could be financially feasible again,” Jensen said. That meant a return to the Gallivan Center, which Twilight called home from 1994 to 2010, until a renovation forced a move to Pioneer Park. And that “would have worked if it also became a $40 ticket,” Jensen said.
The move to the park increased costs significantly because of the need to erect a stage for every concert and put up fencing, along with increased costs for security and clean-up.
At Gallivan, the stage and the fencing are permanent fixtures, and security costs are lower. And that, along with underwriting from the Arts Council and several corporate and charity sponsors, helps with the Twilight mandate to keep ticket prices affordable.
“With Twilight, it’s a subsidized ticket," Jensen said. "Other stuff is paying for that ticket. So in order to make that happen, all your infrastructure, all your venue costs, everything has to fall in line for you to make that a feasible option.”
2019 on hold
This year, the five Twilight concerts ranged from electronic dance music superstar Diplo to indie-alt rock band Moon Taxi to Snoop Dogg’s funk persona, DJ Snoopadelic. Diplo and DJ Snoopadelic concerts sold 7,000 tickets, the limit at the Gallivan Center, and ticket sales were “very healthy” for Robert DeLong and Moon Taxi, said Jensen.
King Princess (real name: Mikaela Straus) is not yet a household name, but her latest release was streamed about 70 million times on Spotify in its first two weeks, “which are Justin Timberlake-type numbers,” Jensen said.
Snoop Dogg one week; King Princess the next.
“That’s part of what Twilight has always been,” Jensen said. “Some nights, you’ll see a legendary act. And other nights, you’re introduced to someone new with a message. And that’s definitely what we hope for with the King Princess show.”
If the concert series was just about the money, Broadway Media has much more lucrative events on its plate.
“We make significantly more money selling popcorn on a Wednesday night at [a Real Salt Lake] game than we do with the Twilight series,” said Jensen — and the stands at Rio Tinto are rarely packed for a midweek Major League Soccer match.
But that has not dampened the enthusiasm at Broadway Media. They’re ready, willing and eager to make the 2019 Twilight season happen.
“Hopefully, what we've been able to do this year will earn us the privilege of doing it again,” Jensen said.
Ellis and Arts Council board chair Katherine Potter are noncommittal, awaiting the results of the council’s re-examination of its mission. That will include scheduling roundtables about the future of Twilight.
“We have a lot of people who love and care about this program,” Ellis said. “And we want to make sure that they have a voice in any changes that might happen, whether the changes that happened this year become permanent or we try something new again next year.”