By Jasmine Rockow

The Bulletin

Concert lineup

Friday: The Decemberists and Spoon

May 23: Ryan Adams and Jenny Lewis

May 25: Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters

June 16: The Doobie Brothers

June 25: Willie Nelson and Family / Alison Krauss and Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas

July 6: Sheryl Crow

July 9: Death Cab for Cutie

July 12: Lyle Lovett and His Large Band

July 21 and 22: Phish

July 25: Pink Martini

August 8: Wilco

August 23: Michael Franti and Spearhead

Sept. 4: Weird Al Yankovic

Sept. 6: Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals

This year marks the Les Schwab Amphitheater’s biggest concert lineup to date — the result of a rapidly changing music industry that could be an economic boon for Central Oregon, and Bend in particular. Meanwhile, the amphitheater has pared down the number of free Sunday concerts and infused the lineup with more local bands.

The amphitheater has 15 ticketed concerts on its 2015 summer roster. Big names include Robert Plant, The Doobie Brothers, Willie Nelson and Alison Krauss, Sheryl Crow and a double dose of the jam band Phish.

Most years the amphitheater has shown between eight and 10 ticketed concerts, with a low of six in 2009 and a high of 12 in 2008. This year’s roster has 15 shows booked, almost double what the venue showed the past two years.

The boost was not so much a decision made by amphitheater staff or its booking company, Portland-based Monqui Presents, but the result of bands simply needing to make more money .

“I grew up in a generation where you buy the tape or CD of the band you like, which supports the band,” said amphitheater manager Marney Smith. “They would tour to support sales of tapes and CDs. But now bands tour to make money off the tour. Their economy has significantly downshifted and they don’t make money off CDs.”

Online file sharing heralded the decline of CD sales, a major income source for musicians. Online music sales are nominal compared with what musicians used to get for analog music mediums, Smith said.

The amphitheater has long been a tourism driver in the region, and more touring bands will likely amplify the venue’s affect on the local economy.

In 2013 venue management decided to close the east-side grass, a spot that allowed people to watch concerts for free, frustrating touring bands and their managers. A Bulletin article about the east-side grass closure made its way into the hands of a band manager who Smith said “fell in love with the venue, but not with how easy it was to watch the show without a ticket.”

The band manager knew Dave Matthews Band was looking for another Oregon stop for its 2013 summer tour, so they suggested the band check it out, and in August 2014 the band played a sold-out show, Smith said.

“(Dave Matthews Band) found out they can stop here and make money, sell out the house and have a whole bunch of really happy people,” Smith said.

Dave Matthews Band attracted many people who had never before been to Bend. This year Phish is doing the same, more than any other band on the venue’s roster, Smith said. Managed by Dave Matthews Band agent Coran Capshaw, Phish decided to kick off its summer tour with two shows in Bend. They are the only Oregon stop for the band, and tickets sold out online in three minutes.

“When the artists walk away with a great Bend experience and the agents see that the shows sell well, it makes it that much easier for a (band like) Dave Matthews or Phish to route their tour through Bend,” wrote Jamie McKillop, general manager of Monqui Presents. “Plus, the capacity at 8,000 is an ideal size in this market for these larger acts.”

Visit Bend commissioned a study in 2010 to measure the economic impact of the Les Schwab Amphitheater. Overnight visitors stayed an average of 2.2 nights in Central Oregon. The average person (visitor or local) spent $105 the day of the concert. Almost 25 percent of concertgoers came to Bend just to see a concert at the amphitheater, and those visitors spent an estimated $2.26 million.

“Back then, the positive economic impact created by the Les Schwab Amphitheater was significant,” wrote Visit Bend President Doug La Placa in an email. “Now in 2015, the LSA has risen to an entirely new level. In terms of the level of world-class entertainment the LSA is bringing to Bend, and the positive economic impact those concerts are having on the region, it would be difficult to identify a bigger driver of tourism to Bend.”

McKillop has noticed ticket sales increasing alongside the improving economy, and more people are willing to spend time and money traveling to a show in Bend, especially when it’s the sole Oregon stop.

“Bend continues to be a great destination spot for folks in the valley, Eugene and Portland,” McKillop wrote. “With the improving economy though, we see more and more sales coming from outside Bend … which makes it easier to be more aggressive when booking talent.”

The amphitheater commissioned a new economic study of this summer’s ticketed concerts and Brewfest. Results should be ready in the fall.

Although concerts at the amphitheater pump money into the local economy, the venue doesn’t always turn a profit. Generally, 10 ticketed shows are needed to be in the black, which happened for the first time in 2011.

“There’s this perception of the industry that everybody involved makes money,” Smith said. “A lot of money changes hands, but there’s a ton of people involved. It’s not generally a very profitable business.”

But Bill Smith, father to Marney and developer of Bend’s Old Mill District, views the amphitheater as the sizzle on the Old Mill’s steak, and therefore a worthy loss-leader.

While ticketed concerts enjoyed a boost this year, the venue has been cutting back on the number of shows in its free Sunday series. This season includes more local bands in the lineup after last year’s lack of local talent elicited complaints, mostly on social media.

In years past the amphitheater offered free Sunday concerts for most of the summer. But the venue competed with other free concerts in the area including Munch & Music at Drake Park, Alive after 5 at the Old Mill, plus free shows at Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe, NorthWest Crossing and Cascade Village Shopping Center, not to mention those in Redmond and at the Deschutes County Fair.

“We started to do less in 2013 to not compete with ourselves anymore. We don’t want to cannibalize the market,” Smith said.

The change has concentrated the Sunday concert crowds. The amphitheater used to attract 300 to 500 people per show; it now sees between 2,500 and 3,500 people.

To maintain a laid-back vibe, there are few restrictions on what can be brought to the free Sunday shows.

“We used to say you can bring anything that’s legal in Oregon (to Sunday concerts), but we’re gonna have to change that,” Smith said.

Recreational marijuana becomes legal on July 1, but it won’t be legal to smoke it in public anyway. But bringing your own beer, dogs, kids, Grandma or a beach towel is still permitted.

— Reporter: 541-383-0354,

jrockow@bendbulletin.com

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