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Editorial: This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things – Timpanogos Music Festival

Timpanogos Music Festival was a quality production that deserved way more attention than it got.

By Zach Collier

The second annual Timpanogos Music Festival took place last Saturday at UVU’s Brent Brown Ballpark. An all day event, it boasted 26 acts, 3 stages, 9 food trucks, and an impressive sponsorship from ALT 101.9. It was a hot day. After ten hours at the festival, I came home with one of the worst sunburns of my life, which has since evolved into a wicked tan line. I also came home with a weird mix of feelings. I came home feeling equal parts satisfied and depressed by the experience.

It was hard not to feel satisfied after going. For starters, all of the performers were top notch. I was particularly impressed with the locals. Spirit City put on as good a show as I have ever seen them perform. James VIII’s backing band was made up of some of the best musicians in the valley: The Strike’s drummer Matt Millington and bassist Chase Baker; former American Idol contestant and songstress Amber Lynn Stoppel sang backup; and Joshy Soul rounded out the lineup with his signature style on keys. His set would have been well received anywhere in the country. On the acoustic stage, you had top-tier talent like instrumental guitarist Nick Johnson. Last month he won the Wyoming State Fingerstyle Championship and is a contestant in the upcoming international championship. His performance was so good people gathered in front of the acoustic stage and spontaneously began to pull out phones to film his performance. It was unreal.

Grizfolk performing at Timpanogos Music Festival.

When it came to the national acts, I was thrilled. I was most excited for Silversun Pickups. I’m a huge fan, and they definitely did not disappoint. Their whole set was fantastic musically, and their energetic stage presence and insane lighting really made it transcendent. I wasn’t super familiar with Zella Day, but after watching her perform I came away a fan. Grizfolk was a lot of fun. I’d heard some of their music on the radio and it was great to experience their music firsthand.

In addition to the music, the food was good. I enjoyed a hand crafted birch beer from Maple Mountain Brew Co. and managed to score some delicious crêpes from La Crêperie. Cubby’s was delicious, too. But you know, at this point that’s kind of expected.

On top of all of this, the event was fairly priced. A VIP pass was only $60 for a whole day of music, including four national touring acts. At $60 for 26 acts, that means I spent a little over $2 to see Silversun Pickups live. That’s a steal. Most major festivals charge at least twice as much for tickets. Tickets for Bonnaroo started at $324 dollars this year. Lollapalooza cost $395. Granted, these tickets were for multiple days of entertainment. But even when that is taken into account, Bonnaroo is still $81 a day, and Lollapalooza is $132 a day. Further, there were cheaper options. Bleacher seats were $10.16 and lawn seats were $30. Timpanogos Music Festival’s pricing was more than reasonable. I’m grateful I got to see so much good music at such a good price

Despite having the time of my life, however, the experience was cheapened by the festival’s overall attendance. It was pretty embarrassing. Last year, Timpanogos Music Festival was a free festival, attracting somewhere between 2500 to 3000 attendees. This year’s festival was moved to Brent Brown Ballpark at Utah Valley University to provide more space and parking.  Despite a huge marketing campaign and an expected attendance of 3000, this year’s music festival only managed to bring in 1700 people. That’s around half of last year’s attendance, and it looked even smaller given the baseball field’s maximum capacity. The stadium can hold 15,000, so the show’s attendance was underwhelming when spread out over such a large space.

Chariot performing on the Timpanogos Music Festival acoustic stage.

To top it all off, most attendees only showed up for the event’s biggest acts later on in the evening. This left talented local bands like OKKAH to play for 10 attendees when the event opened its gates at noon. I can’t even begin to imagine how frustrating that must have been for them.

We’re left to wonder: how did this happen? Was it the advertising? The week of the show, Timpanogos Music Festival canvassed Provo apartment complexes with 4000 flyers. They took out a full page advertisement in BYU’s Daily Universe on August 23rd. All of their social media posts were boosted and targeted towards music lovers in the Provo/Orem area. There was also a six figure radio campaign running all summer on ALT 101.9.

One thing I can confidently say is that the event didn’t suffer because of the talent on the bill. When Silversun Pickups and The Moth & The Flame don’t pull, you know it’s gotta have something to do with the festival’s understanding of price points and market segments.

Timpanogos Music Festival’s small attendance may have been an issue with scheduling. It’s possible that many students simply weren’t in town during the summer and missed all of the promotion. Many of the students weren’t in town for the actual festival itself, preferring instead to stay with family for as long as possible before the first day of school. The onset of the BYU Football season had students saving for a $125 season pass. Others were also saving up for this week’s Coldplay concert.

BYU’s 30,000 students make up 25% of Provo’s overall population. UVU’s student body makes up nearly 38% percent of Orem’s. So holding an event like this when they’re not around may not have been the smartest choice.

I think it’s important to note that most college students live below the poverty line. A lack of disposable income forces students to prioritize their spending. Since $60 is clearly a comparable price to other music festivals, one may wonder why the students of these college towns failed to attend when many have no issue with buying $75 eyelash extensions or spending $60 for a 12 month Xbox Live subscription. However, I think they’re willing to blow $75 on eyelashes because you can’t download free eyelashes from the internet or have Provo City hook you up with free Xbox Live the first Friday of every month.

Guitarist Nick Johnson performing at Timpanogos Music Festival.

I would argue that the sudden price jump from free to $60 a ticket was a major shocker for any college students here in the Provo/Orem area. Many probably decided to listen to music online or wait for a free opportunity like Rooftop Concert Series or The Moth & The Flame’s free Velour show later that same night (which brought in 300 people with only 2 hours’ notice). I really think it all comes back down to the market segment not having disposable income and looking for thrifty ways to be entertained.

Timpanogos Music Festival’s low attendance presents a very serious and unique issue for the future of the music industry in Utah Valley. When you have between 2000-4000 people showing up to free concerts downtown and no one showing up for reasonably priced events, you know we have a critical problem with the demographic most musicians are trying to target here. In order to establish an industry of any kind, you need cash flow. When no one in your market segment wants to pay for your product, you either need to convince them to do so or go after another demographic.

Speaking as a millennial, I’m of the opinion that my generation needs to seriously reevaluate the way we consume entertainment. This reevaluation needs to happen everywhere, both in Utah and the rest of the world. The freemium age will not last. It’s not sustainable. If we continue to expect things to be given to us without compensating those who provide the service, we will see the quality and variety of our options slowly diminish until there is nothing left to consume. I want music festivals in Utah Valley. I want the acclaimed musicians here to have an audience to play to. I want musicians to be able to make a decent living doing what they love.

The truth is, Timpanogos Music Festival is a freaking cool secret that more people need to get in on. To anyone reading this who didn’t attend the festival, I’ll be honest with you: you missed out. Here’s to hoping there’ll be a festival to enjoy next year.

To hear some of the artists that performed last weekend, check out the Timpanogos Music Festival playlist below.

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