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Gary Robison of the Made In Utah Music Foundation

“I have a great love for all of the artists. All of them. They’re such talented people.”

By Zach Collier

Gary Robison is the founder of the Made in Utah Music Foundation. For the last three years, the foundation has put on a show at the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre in Orem, Utah, celebrating the music of enduring acts like The Beatles and The Eagles. This Friday, the Made in Utah Music Foundation is celebrating the music of Led Zeppelin with Led Zeppelin Encounter. We got to speak with Gary Robison about the purpose of the shows, the mission of the Made in Utah Music Foundation, and why he loves local music.

Thanks for meeting with us, Gary. It’s a pleasure to have you featured on Reach Provo. Why don’t you tell us about how you got started with music? What was the inspiration for the Made in Utah Music Foundation?

To give you the back, back story – how I got involved in it. I used to work with bands as a way of putting myself through college. Back in the day there was a place called The Ice House. They had a lot of bands. They brought in Styx and they brought in James Gang and Sugarloaf. So I really got music under my skin at that time and loved it. Then I got invited to go on tour with a bunch of friends of mine who were musicians. They called me up and wanted me to be road master at 19-years-old. So I went on tour all over the United States. We did all kinds of neat stuff. Well, not long after that disco came out and it just chilled the local bands. [Laughter] Everyone started going to the disco. What I had to look at was what I was going to have to go through to provide for a family, so I went on to mortgage banking and was in that business for thirty years. 

Well, I own a transportation company, and I got to meet a lot of touring musicians. I became good friends with Jason Scheff of Chicago through Rock Canyon Studios. We would have these secret sessions and bring in local talent to play with national icons like Chicago. The Strike came in and Aliyah Rose came in. We just kept having this long line of names and artists involved who all came and participated. It got me going. There’s so much talent here in Utah County but not a lot of places to showcase. I mean, we can’t take Aliyah Rose who’s fifteen now but was twelve years old back then and stick her in a bar somewhere and have her play. The gems have always been Velour and Muse, but you can only fit two or three hundred people in there. We wanted to create an environment where you could get showcased to a lot of people – not just young, but increase their market to the fans that come who are my age that love the music and want to hear young people sing good music.

Travis Van Hoff, Paul Cactus Jack La MARR, Nathan Osmond, and Chris Crabb at A Tribute to The Beatles.

How did you get the idea to start doing tribute shows?

One night, I was watching The Grammys and they were doing a tribute to The Beatles. You had on stage Imagine Dragons did a Beatles song, and then you had Peter Frampton on stage and Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters. They all did their own version of a Beatles song, and I thought: my show should do the same thing. Play like a record. Have local artists, set them up on stage, and have them do their version of the song. Our first year, everyone just knocked it out of the park. I remember the first time I heard Cristal Ramirez [of The Aces] sing, I honestly had tears in my eyes. Chris Crabb [of The Strike] doing “Got to Get You Into My Life” and VanLadyLove doing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” – it was just amazing. So we started a legacy of doing these shows as a way to help the local musicians.

So what services does the Made in Utah Music Foundation provide?

Our first year we gave away two scholarships. While it wasn’t a lot of money because we were just starting out and we barely broke even on our show, we gave them a good start. I honestly believe that if we all work together and all have the same goal of trying to increase the notoriety of the music capital of the mountain west – Provo, Utah – we could really do something here. Especially since the talent here is continually being replenished. Every year there’s a new artist and a new artist, so we see that there are some really fun things that we can do with this. 

What we’re trying to do right now is earn enough money to get our own sound system. A premium sound system. Any musician, if they wanna go play somewhere – you gotta have your stuff sound great. Because it doesn’t matter how good you are, if the sound isn’t great, it doesn’t matter. So we’re working this year with Guitar Center. Guitar Center has been great to us, and they’ve priced us out for a real premium sound system that can work outdoors for up to 5,000 people. It’s a pretty big price tag, but we can raise that money. I donate all of my time and all of my effort to this, and then it goes to the artists. That’s the only way that you can do this and have it be pure. There are too many people who have injected themselves into the industry wanting to be people’s managers and other things and we’ve seen some people just take advantage of some of the musicians here. But what we’re trying to do is just raise the level here. I’m not trying to make money off of them. I’m not trying to have them sign with me. None of that. I’m just here to help the local artists. 

Our biggest piece is showcasing people at the SCERA Shell. Get them in front of 3,000 people. Then we want to raise enough money to get the sound system, and then the next year we want to get our own traveling stage. So, when we can go through and do that, we can produce shows anywhere, any time, that are self-sustained and in house. We also want to get a van that we can use, and any artist that needs to tour can use the bus. They’ll need to insure it and pay for gas and deal with that, but they won’t have to rent or buy their own. They’ll have access to it.

So in essence, you’re gathering a collective of resources for musicians to use, provide monetary grants, and you also put on concerts to showcase local talent?

Well, with the sound system, I had this idea. Instead of doing something that helps one or two musicians – like scholarships – what if we did something that helped the body? The whole? I kind of figured this out last year. I ended up buying some equipment like a talk box, a voice sampler. I let anybody – any band can call me and say, “Can I use that?” I say absolutely. They just make sure they leave a deposit so we can get it back, and then they get to use it for free. We don’t charge anything. We give them their money back when they return it.

The poster for Led Zeppelin Encounter.

That’s awesome.

What we’re trying to do is to create opportunities for up and coming musicians. When we do these things I usually bring in a big star for them to play with on stage. Last year we had Hugh McDonald from Bon Jovi onstage with us. This year we’re having  Charlie Colin, a two time Grammy winner, a voting member of the Grammys, was a founding member of Train. He’s donating his time and coming up for free. We’ve got some really cool things happening for us. Does all that make sense? I kind of rambled.

[Laughter] Yeah, it’s all good! So I guess my question is: why Led Zeppelin this year?

Why Led Zeppelin? Well, there’s a couple things that I’ve tried to do with these shows. It’s a hard thing to promote. When you say you’re doing a tribute to The Beatles, they think you’re just one of those tribute bands that run through town that sound a lot like The Beatles. But we’re different because we let the artists do their own version or make their own sound with it. We’ve had to go through and select bands that we know aren’t going to necessarily be out touring. You don’t want to have a tribute to Led Zeppelin and then have them come through town somewhere. So I looked at it and I find that because I can bring my generation to the show, I can cross pollinate all these artists with an older generation that comes to find that they love their music. I have many of my friends today who know who VanLadyLove is, who The Aces are. They wouldn’t necessarily go down to Velour to hear them, but they hear them because they’re at my show. We try to pick something that’s going to appeal to the older generation because – guess what – they have disposable income. [Laughter] They actually have the money to pay for music, and they’re accustomed to paying for music whereas the younger generation doesn’t buy music.

So that’s why we try to do what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to expand the artists’ reach. Sure, it’s just Utah County, but when you have national artists come in and play with them, they go “Wow!” We want to generate a buzz that no one else can create. We’re not absolutely unique but we try to be unique in how we go through and present it. Instead of like, for example, Rooftop, where they have three bands that play. The first one plays and then they break them down, there’s a pause, they set the next one up, break them down, there’s a pause. What we try to do is different. We try to back line everything so all of the musicians are plug and play. It helps with transitions. Instead of having VanLadyLove come out and play all of their songs, they come out and do one song and then show up again later in the set. We get a real unique feel out of this show that you won’t feel anywhere else. We try to play like a record. Get in and out of the stage within thirty to forty seconds. When there’s a lull in the music, people get disinterested, people leave. So we want to hit them between the eyes. It’s like the part in Animal House where that frat guy says, “Thank you, sir, may I have another!” [Laughter]

Cristal Ramirez of The Aces performing at a Made In Utah Music Foundation Event in 2014.

That’s cool! So which local artists are playing this year?

This year we have an amazing lineup. VanLadyLove – they’re going on tour so they’re not easy to get. We have The New Electric Sound coming up from LA. Scott Vance? Wow. They’re doing “Kashmir” with the orchestra. They’re doing “Stairway to Heaven.” Barsie – how I found her, I saw her playing in California in a YouTube video. She toured with Brandon Flowers from The Killers last year. She’s the real deal. I’m telling you that’s a band you gotta be watching. We have Mimi Knowles coming. He’s gonna work with Jen Blosil on “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You.” Mimi has been in all three of my shows. He’s the one artist that’s been in every show. What many people see him as is this R&B/Hip-hop guy. They don’t know what an amazing guitar player he is. So he’s gonna come play guitar. Jen and Mimi are going to do a duet on “Tangerine.” “Tangerine” is one of the greatest breakup songs. We have Stefania Barr of Shrink the Giant. I’ve gotta tell you: she brings it. She brings it. She is just sassy. Oh my gosh. She channels Robert Plant almost as good as Kimball Barker of Red Yeti. And you’ve gotta hear Kimball do “Communication Breakdown” and “Immigrant Song.” People have said they thought he was Robert Plant. He’s real. Route 89 is our house band, so they’re backing up Jenn Blosil, Stefania Bar, Kimball Barker, Mimi – all these people who are playing on their own. They’ve been the most well-known cover band in all of Utah County. They got the most votes at Stadium of Fire. It’s pretty cool. 

We have, from the American Heritage School, their top strings. Violin, Viola, and cello. They’re coming to play the strings portion of “The Rain Song” and “Kashmir.” That, in and of itself – nobody is going to be able to duplicate what we’re doing on this show with the strings playing. It’s going to be outstanding. Something that people will want to see again and again. So we’ve got a pretty amazing cast.

The tickets are pretty reasonable. The start at $10 for general admission. Bring a blanket and be under the stars. Listen to some great music. The B section, the center section chairs, are $14. Closer up is $16. Reserved seats are $22. It’s not an expensive concert to come to. Students get $3 off any of those prices when they show their ID. So they could get in for as little as $7. 

We’re new. We’re only three years old, but we feel like we can do something. 

Well, thank you Gary. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me and for all you do to help local artists.

Thank you. I hope I didn’t pontificate too much, but you can probably hear that I have a passion for this. I love it. I have a great love for all of the artists. All of them. They’re such talented people.

Led Zeppelin Encounter will take place Friday, September 9th at the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre in Orem at 7:30PM. Tickets are available online here, starting at $10. You can also purchase tickets at the event. Discounts for students available. Make sure to like the Made in Utah Music Foundation on Facebook and check out Foreign Figures and Kenz Hall’s rendition of “The Heart of The Matter” from last year’s A Night of Eagles’ Songs Concert below. For more information, visit Made in Utah Music Foundation’s official website, www.miumf.org.

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