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Wednesday, July 16,2014

Common purpose

Q&A with Common Ground festival organizer Scott Keith

by ALLAN I. ROSS

Last week was the 15th year for the annual Lansing music festival Common Ground, featuring alt-rockers, country twangers and R&B veterans Earth, Wind and Fire.

Scott Keith is the President and CEO of the Lansing Entertainment & Public Facilities Authority Keith and chairman of Center Park Productions, the public entity that plans, organizes and executes the festival each year.

Keith, 43, said the festival has an annual budget between $1.8 and $2 million, of which the City of Lansing contributes about $120,000; the remainder comes from ticket sales, merchandising and sponsorships. He said final numbers for this year’s Common Ground won’t be in until August, but that he was happy with the turnout.

Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau President Jack Schripsema estimates Common Ground brings in over $4 million to the downtown area. He also called it Lansing’s “signature event.” How would you respond to that?

We saw a big increase in the number of people traveling from outside the community (to attend Common Ground) this year. If you look at the money that’s spent in local restaurants, in hotels, in gas stations and stores, that estimate could easily be $4 to $5 million. But that number is for the region, not just downtown.

How do you think it went?

It’s too soon to call, but we saw an increase in ticket sales. By dropping back to a six-day (event) versus a seven-day, that reduces some of your overhead. We think our goal to break even should be attainable.

What was behind the decision to scale back to six days?

(Common Ground) started as a five-day festival. We expanded to seven days over the years. Most of that is based on artist availability. We used be Tuesday through Saturday (but) saw the opportunity to go to Sunday. The reason we expanded was we had the opportunity to get Peter Frampton (in 2007) on the last date of his tour. That was a no-brainer — it was a great opportunity to get a great artist.

How do you see Common Ground changing?

Originally, this was always the time of year (General Motors) had their natural shutdown. That’s changed (and) our demographic has changed. (We’re) seeing a lot of festivals moving to two weekends and eliminating the weekdays. We try to see what’s working, what’s not working and constantly evolve the festival for its continued success.

What is your demographic?

Baby Boomers are less attracted to going to outdoor festivals. It is nice to go to a concert and sit in a cushy seat that’s reserved in the air conditioning. A lot of music festivalgoers are getting younger — under 35, over 20. They have disposable income. They like the experience, not just who’s performing. That’s the next big push of festivalgoers.

How do you see that affecting your booking?

We look at diversity in music. For example, a person who likes R&B might like R&B from the ‘70s or current R&B or from the next generation. We try to be as diverse as possible. We try to see what’s trending, what’s hot. Electronic music is hot right now, but it’s hard to (make it work) outside. And there’s a lot of competition from the Detroit area. But the biggest factor is who’s (touring) right now.

What kinds of things do you do now that it’s over?

We’re still getting the park cleaned up, restore it to as good a condition as we found it. It usually takes a couple weeks for the grass to recover, but it always does. We start to look through the financial pieces, make sure we’ve got all the bills paid, everything collected that we need to collect. By the end of August, we’ll already have started working on next year’s. It really is a year-round process.

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