By Zach Collier
Downtown Provo’s Rooftop Concert Series seems to get bigger every year. More attendees, more booths, better talent. This year was no different. Thousands poured into the heart of Provo, taking walks around the recently completed LDS temple grounds and searching for places to eat before the show. Lines were out the door for restaurants along Center as hungry concert goers scarfed down unique Provo eats. Police officers were on traffic duty, redirecting vehicles to appropriate detours since Center Street – from University Avenue to 300 West – was entirely blocked off for the show. Despite worries about the weather earlier that day, the sun broke through the clouds and the air was a pleasant temperature – not warm enough to be uncomfortable, but not cold enough to need a jacket. They couldn’t have picked a better day for the first concert of 2016.
The Reach Provo crew arrived downtown at 5:30PM. We were fortunate enough to beat the rush and find seating at Two Jacks Pizza, where we enjoyed some killer breadsticks. The concert area opened to the public at 6PM, and Mimi Knowles stepped onstage for soundcheck at 6:06, performing about a minute of “Sway” – a great track from his latest EP. Without a crowd of bodies to soak up the sound, the kick and snare drums through the loudspeakers were visibly rattling the windows inside Two Jacks. The drum kit sounded rich and full and Mimi’s horn section had a wonderful live mix. Soundcheck ended around 6:30. At that point all of the booths were set up along center, and we were able to venture out and explore before showtime.
The Provo Bicycle Collective was at Rooftop, providing free bicycle valet for the show and taking donations. Provo Bicycle Collective provides refurbished bicycles for nominal resale and charity purposes, educates citizens on how to maintain and repair their bicycles, and has an open bike shop with full tool sets for bike repair. Demand for their services and refurbished bicycles has been increasing substantially over the last year, and they’ve been working hard to meet the demand for their services. The Collective recently signed a lease agreement for a new building at 398 E 200 N in Provo and should be moving there sometime this month. The new location will be roughly four times the size of their current location.
Other booths present included one from the Utah Wilderness Coalition and one for Utah Bubble Sports. The Utah Wilderness Coalition has member organizations all across the state. It organizes grassroots activities to raise awareness about the protection of Utah public lands. Utah Bubble Sports is kinda cool. An Orem-based business, they have a rentable facility in Lehi that’s available for parties and corporate events. You can play games with their Bubble Balls and Body Zorbs at that facility, or you can rent out the equipment for personal use. They also rent out inflatable cinema screens for outdoor movie showings and water blobs – you know, those things floating on a lake that you jump on that launch you a trillion feet in the air. It’s pretty neat stuff. They had a Bubble Ball on display that you could mess around with.
Center Street was alive with activity of all kinds. An extensive merch table carried products from all three of the night’s acts. The Timpanogos Harley Davidson was showing off merchandise and choppers. Marley’s Gourmet Sliders brought in their food truck to expand their services, given the limited space available in the new Marley’s Jr. location. It was great to see the city full of life and excitement.
The block filled up considerably by the time the show started at 7:30PM, though people would continue to file in up until about 8:30/9 o’clock. Mimi Knowles could not have been a better opener. He easily stole the show that night. It was incredible to see him on the Rooftop stage alongside The Best Funking Band Ever. I’ve been to several Mimi shows and was even present the first time he performed at rooftop in 2014. Those shows don’t hold a candle to how well he and his band performed on Friday night. It was a great way to welcome everybody out and get them energized and pumped for the performers who were to follow.
The sun was going down by the time The Aces took the stage. The block was full and the crowd was starting to stream down 100 W towards Marley’s Jr. Some concertgoers decided to skip the crowd altogether and stayed on top of the 100 W parking structure – the original home of Rooftop Concert Series. Patrons could also be seen from the top of the Nu Skin building, looking down on the proceedings. The Aces showed off what sounded like some newer material towards the end of their performance. In my opinion, it was the catchiest, most engaging part of their set. Not that their older material is bad – the newer stuff just felt more modern. It’s like comparing the stylistic differences between Paramore’s “Ain’t It Fun” and their older hit, “Misery Business.” Both good, but the newer one is just matches with the kind of contemporary Top 40 sensibilities music is saturated with right now: dance beats and singable choruses. The Aces work well together as a unit, and their harmonies were on point. Mimi’s performance gave The Aces a warm crowd to work with, and I think that worked in their favor. It was enjoyable.
The Strike took the stage last, playing the new material they showed off a few Wednesdays ago. I’d be lying if I said this show was on par with their 2014 performance. It wasn’t nearly as tight. I think the stress of playing brand new stuff was weighing heavy on them. A lot of Strike fans were no doubt expecting some of their older material, so they had the monumental task of winning their fans over again with the new material. It’s like playing a first gig all over again. There were a few noticeable flubs – at one point one of the synth samples was mixed way too hot. It was ear piercing for about thirty seconds until they got things on track. About three songs into their set, though, The Strike locked in and delivered a great performance. There’s still something weird about seeing a suit-less Strike. Part of you misses the uniformity – but that look totally wouldn’t work with their new sound. It was cool to see them cut loose and rock out. They were less of a jazz band and more of a rock band, so that was cool. Myles Lawrence was particularly good on Friday night. His saxophone solos were down right dirty and ferocious. He really came to life.
The Strike ended the show with an encore performance of “Atom Bomb” – the title track from their latest release (read our review here). It was a great way to end the night, and they definitely deserved to be called back onstage for one more number. It takes guts to change direction and to challenge yourself musically – especially in such a public setting. Their full length album is coming some time this year – we’re still awaiting a release date announcement – but having heard the recorded version of “i4Ni” and having seen its incredible music video, I can honestly say I’m looking forward to it.
Overall, the May 2016 Rooftop Concert was a great time. It’s fun to watch the event slowly morph over time from a few hours of live music to a festival of sorts. The booths were cool, and putting the concert right in the thick of things in Downtown Provo allows you to steal away for a pie shake and some fries without missing any of the action. I also appreciated that they no longer have a host. The concert this year was completely sans any obnoxious/gimmicky pep rally antics. That really used to kill the momentum of the event, and this year they let the music stand on its own and it held up gloriously. I’m also glad no one threw hundreds of free pens into the audience from the stage. I’m still terrified of flying writing utensils after the great pen-throwing massacre of 2014.
Anyway, all slightly critical joking aside, last Friday night was a blast. The acts for June’s Rooftop Concert have yet to be announced, so make sure to visit ReachProvo.com frequently for news and updates. Downtown Provo’s Rooftop Concert Series runs from May-September this year, with concerts starting at 7:30PM on the first Friday of every month. Make sure to check out some awesome time lapses of the event, courtesy of Dylan Higginbotham. The song featured in the video is “Sway” by Mimi Knowles. You can purchase it on iTunes here.