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Waiting for the Sounds of Summer: Bend's summer music landscape fights to maintain its reputation 

The weather in Bend last Memorial Day wasn't ideal for being outdoors in any capacity. Actually, that's an understatement. Save a freak snowstorm, there wasn't

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The weather in Bend last Memorial Day wasn't ideal for being outdoors in any capacity. Actually, that's an understatement. Save a freak snowstorm, there wasn't much that could have made the weather worse than it was - cold temperatures, gusting winds, and downpours followed by a lingering drizzle erased any memory of the week prior, which saw record highs in our region.

But still, downpours and all, there was plenty of life to be found down at the Les Schwab Amphitheater where promoters had siphoned off some of the high-profile headliners of the Sasquatch Festival going down at Washington's Gorge Amphitheater to create a de facto three-day festival here in Bend.The lineup included a string of shows that included names like Michael Franti and Spearhead, Built to Spill, the Decemberists, Death Cab for Cutie and Modest Mouse.

Sasquatch is taking place once again over the Memorial Day weekend, but we won't benefit from any Sasquatch run off here in Bend this time around. Promoters say that the options for bands playing Sasquatch either weren't a good fit for the Amphitheater or didn't make sense economically to produce. But they insist that the summer LSA lineup will remain strong in a time when our local music landscape-known throughout the region for the prolific amount of high-profile shows we attract despite our sub-100,000 population - seems to be in a state of flux. So far the only shows announced for the LSA are pop-country stars Sugarland (who cancelled their 2007 Bend appearance due to illness) in late July and an early September Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal gig on September 5. Monqui, however, says that two other shows have been booked and another booking - which would bring the total summer number of concerts to five - is in the works.

Monqui Presents, the Portland-based concert promoter that books shows at the LSA acknowledges that this is a changing time for the live music industry.

"Obviously, there is less money available for all types of entertainment. We must adapt to this new environment," says Monqui general manager Jamie McKillop. "We have found that the really good shows still continue to sell well and have focused our attention on getting high-profile performers."

Monqui's director of marketing, Anthony Bayles, says that music fans shouldn't be too alarmed given that it's only early April and the summer schedule will take time to finalize. Last summer saw late bookings for back-to-back shows featuring Beck and Wilco solidified the concert season and the year prior, the Black Crowes were added mid-summer to round off the LSA lineup. Still, Monqui, an independent promoter with a strong reputation in its home city of Portland, acknowledges that the faltering economy has forced them to be more selective when it comes to their bookings. Monqui also has to judge whether or not they can put on the show while still providing a ticket price that's realistic for local and regional consumers.

"We are very engaged in keeping the pricing under control, which sometimes means passing on acts when the guaranteed money becomes too high," says McKillop.

He also says that Monqui has arranged with Ticketmaster - a company that has come under fire as of late for its practice of selling chunks of tickets at a higher price on an auction site it owns - to eliminate the facility charges on tickets. Also, the venue will sell a block of 300 tickets to each show at the Ticket Mill (the ticket kiosk in the Old Mill District) that have only a $3 service charge attached.

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While the show will go on at the LSA, the same can't be said for other elements of Bend's summer music scene. Just last month, organizers of the 4 Peaks Music Festival announced that the festival would be pairing back its operation from the large-scale outdoor camping event (and the only one of its kind in the region) it was in its first two years. Just last week 4 Peaks manager Stacy Totland said that due to the weak economy, 2009's event would likely be brought into an indoor venue. Still, Totland says that she and other festival organizers are planning to return outdoors in 2010.

While our area might be ahead of the rest of the national averages in unemployment, that doesn't mean that the economy isn't hurting live music in other markets. In fact, signs that the national festival scene could be looking at a challenging summer came early when promoters of the Langerado Festival in Miami, Florida, which was slated for March 6-8 and featured a lineup including Death Cab for Cutie, Snoop Dogg, Ryan Adams and others, was cancelled due to sluggish ticket sales. Soon after, the Pemberton festival in British Columbia announced it would be taking the year off in the hopes of returning in 2010.

"...All signs point to a downturn in festivals, both number put on, and number of attendees. Langerado is often considered the kick off to festival season and they cancelled their entire fest because of poor sales," says Aaron Kayce, the editor in chief of, an online music magazine and clearinghouse for nationwide concert listings.

Kayce says that festivals as well as concerts as a whole are hurting from more selective concertgoers. He says that some festivals, and it seems 4 Peaks might fall into this category, are hurting from fans who are saving their money to go see the large-scale reunion shows for seminal jam band Phish rather than spend it on their regional outdoor festival. There are also several other high-profile bands touring this summer, including Bruce Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac and U2, among others that might cause a similar save-up-for-one-big show ethos among concertgoers.

Back here in Bend, Bret Grier of Random Presents, the local concert promoter who puts on most of the shows at the Midtown Music Hall, says that the economy has caused him to shift gears this summer. And "cautious" seems to be the best adjective to describe his approach to booking for the coming season.

"We are currently only working with artists who have a strong ticket sales history in Bend," Grier says. "Of course, there's always exceptions to the rule, when a band's agent is willing to roll the dice with us and come in at a comfortable rate, then we will produce the event. But we are simply not taking any huge risks this summer."

Grier also says that some of the changes in the summer music landscape are beyond his control as some bands are choosing to skip markets like Bend in their tour routing. Monqui says this has also been the case at times with the LSA.

"I would say the amount of touring bands hasn't changed, but their routing has. It makes more financial sense for artists to skip secondary markets and focus on larger populated areas," says Grier who adds that despite the economy, most bands haven't lowered their fees.

Monqui's Anthony Bayles says that sometimes acts do route their tours to come to the LSA, using Bend's central location to serve as the only Oregon stop on some tours, which was the case with last year's appearance by Beck in late August, a show that drew out-of-town visitors to the area.

While music choices might be fewer this summer, Monqui's McKillop points out that in the case of the LSA, Bend does have an advantage in being a spot where bands want to play. Ben Harper, who Monqui tried to book for Memorial Day and still hope to bring later in the summer, listed the LSA as number six on his top 10 outdoor music venues in Outside magazine.

  "All in all, we remain confident that the concert market is strong and the Les Schwab Amphitheater will continue to attract top talent as the best live music venue in the state," says McKillop.

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