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The day the music died, we’re left with the sounds of silence

  • Dave James, owner of Concert Sound & Lighting, positions and secures a speaker in preparation for this weekend's Granite State Music Festival at Kiwanis Riverfront Park in Concord on Friday, June 19, 2015. ELIZABETH FRANTZ

  • The crowd chills out between sets at the Granite State Music Fesital at Everitt Arena Sunday, June 22, 2014 Geoff Forester

  • The Granite State Music Festival, shown here in 2014, lasted just four years before city officials told the ‘Monitor’ this week that the event would not return. The festival, formerly held behind Everett Arena, sold 1,200 tickets two years ago. Monitor file

  • Dave Kobrenski of the Donkilo! Afro Funk Orkestra reacts to the applause of the crowd as the group finishes their set at the Granite State Music Festival at Everitt Arena Sunday, June 22, 2014. Geoff Forester



Monitor columnist
Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The guitars, drums and singing voices will be silent this summer on the banks of the Merrimack River.

That means no blankets spread on the ground behind Everett Arena, no people dancing, no vendors vending, no children playing.

It also means the momentum the city had gained in recent years – from things like the downtown renovations, the Red River Theatres and the Multicultural Festival – slowed a bit when we learned this week that the Granite State Music Festival won’t be back.

After only four years.

The bold and fresh vision created in 2012 by festival organizer Scott Solsky, a local musician, seemed full of promise. It seemed like another rhythmic addition to a city long in search of a heartbeat. The bands would play, the people would come and Concord’s merchants, not to mention its reputation, would benefit.

Folks in Portsmouth would look our way. So would folks in Manchester and the North Country, maybe even Boston, for those looking to enjoy more open space and less traffic.

Solsky’s dream was admirable. When he emerged with the idea, he was a 38-year-old Concord guy who taught music at the Shaker Road School, a guitarist who doubled as the school’s band leader.

He had coordinated musical events at the school, sometimes assembling 150 students on stage, playing in front of 500 to 600 people.

“The concerts we do at the school are rather large and exuberant,” Solsky told me in June of 2012, the day before the inaugural festival, which included 20 hours of music by 21 bands. He also told me ticket prices of $45 to $50 were not too high, saying similar events sometimes cost $100.

Yearly attendance figures are hard to find, but our latest records show 1,200 tickets sold for the two-day weekend event two years ago.

Fast forward to 2016 and Solsky has ducked under the radar. Details about the event’s fifth installment never surfaced, and Monitor reporter Megan Doyle reported in her weekly Downtown column Monday that Concord officials had given up hope.

“It’s not going to happen, I can tell you that,” Gene Blake, the city’s health and licensing officer, told Doyle. “It would have been this weekend. Everybody’s been trying to get a hold of the organizers.”

I did, too. Solsky’s voice mailbox was full, not accepting any more messages. He did not return an email.

Meanwhile, the Concord Police Department is owed nearly $3,000 for past services, Lt. Tim O’Malley told Doyle. This is not unlike what happened recently in Laconia, during the 93rd edition of Bike Week.

Advanced publicity, which included a story in our paper, promoted the first LaconiaFest, a nine-day music extravaganza, staged to coincide with the oldest bike rally in the country.

Held at the Weirs Beach Drive-In, there was room for about 30,000 fans each night on 12 acres of property, with stars like Steven Tyler, lead singer for Aerosmith, Ted Nugent and Bret Michaels headlining the list.

Concert organizers pushed their product to local news organizations, creating a buzz that gave the appearance of something really big happening in the Lakes Region.

“I’ve been coming to Bike Week for 25 years, but this year is going to be bigger than anything I’ve ever seen,” Izzy Brake, one of the event’s promoters, told the Monitor a few days before Bike Week began. “This is going to be the biggest thing Laconia’s ever seen.”

LaconiaFest was a bust. The predicted crowds never materialized, with Tyler attracting an estimated 4,000 fans last Wednesday, and ticket prices for the Nugent show dropping to $5 before he took the stage last Friday.

Adding to the public relations black eye was the fact that the event’s promoters reportedly got out of town before sundown, or least before Friday, with two days of music still left.

“I don’t know first hand, but my understanding is that the two people who were mainly in charge left some time during the day on Thursday,” Laconia City Manager Scott Myers told me.

That left the city out $65,000 after promoters paid $35,000 up front. Myers said the cost of retrieving the money might be more than what the city is owed.

He also said that, theoretically, LaconiaFest, a separate entity from Bike Week, was a path to greater economic success in the future, a new-and-improved way in which to draw crowds to an event that some have called boring in recent years.

“The city was not planning on making any money off the event,” Myers said. “We’re in tourism, and that’s part of our economic development. When you look at motorcycle week over the years, some of the comments we hear collectively are that it’s the same old thing.”

Myers added that his staff and other city officials worked what he called “soft hours,” meaning they were not paid for their efforts and never expected to be.

That gives you an idea of how hard building a successful venue in the arts is. Steven Tyler? Unpaid overtime by the city? Lots of free pre-event advertising in the form of news coverage?

Didn’t matter.

Media outlets are often used as promotional tools, and the Granite State Music Festival got plenty of pre-festival coverage, including a rah-rah column by me in 2012. Wake up and smell the music, I wrote.

But with so many details involved, from security, to portable toilets, to parking, to paramedics, to permits, to trash removal, to lighting, to lining up talent, creating something that will stick and become a tradition is no easy task.

Especially here, in a state stuck in its ways. I sought input from Kate Luczko, president and CEO of Stay Work Play New Hampshire, an organization that, according to its website, tries to promote the state as a “favorable place for young workers and recent college graduates to stay, work and play, when considering employment and lifestyle opportunities.”

“New Hampshire is a tricky place,” Luczko wrote in an email. “It’s funny. We have found that people tend to stay in their little corners, not often traveling to other parts of NH . . . but it often takes some serious persuasion to motivate people to travel and explore, even if only an hour away.”

Or only a few minutes away, to a spot behind Everett Arena.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304, rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)