Local Current Blog

Rock the Garden reactions: Jim McGuinn weighs in

Thanks to everyone who has been weighing in with their thoughts and feedback on Rock the Garden and Wednesday’s onsale.  As one of the folks who helps book the show (along with Doug and Philip from the Walker), I can assure that we work hard to try to come up with a bill that conveys a wide range of music and artists, and most importantly, will make for a fun day to kick off the summer concert season.  On that score, I think we succeeded with The Hold Steady, Trampled By Turtles, Doomtree, tUnE-yArDs and Howler.

I wanted to address some of the concerns expressed in the blog and Facebook comments and share some of what we experienced on Wednesday as tickets went on sale from The Current’s perspective as well.

First off — a little bit of history, at least from when the Current started working with the Walker on this show:

•    The first year we were partnered with the Walker for Rock the Garden was in 2008 (with a line-up featuring Andrew Bird, New Pornographers, Cloud Cult… and some band called Bon Iver opened).  We sold about 150 tickets the first day.  The show sold out after about two months.

•    In 2009 (Decemberists, Calexico, Yeasayer, Solid Gold) the show sold about 1,500 tickets the first day and sold out in two weeks.

•    In 2010 (MGMT, OK Go, Sharon Jones, Retribution Gospel Choir) the show sold about 2,500 tickets first day, and sold out in a week.

•    In 2011 (My Morning Jacket, Neko Case, Booker T, Tapes n’ Tapes) the show sold a few thousand tickets in the first hour, and then sold out in a little more than a day.  

As in years past we have always put the show on sale at the same time we started announcing the bands — 4 p.m.  Last year it took about 45 minutes to spill out the entire lineup, and the show took a day to sell out.  Never did we expect the show would or could have sold out before we got through the lineup announcement.  When we heard that about 6000 tickets had sold in the first 15 minutes we thought that had to be a mistake — impossible!  Here we had orchestrated this event to reveal the lineup — with phone calls from artists around the country, a live walk on from Doomtree, and performances from Howler — our intent was to make the reveal a party, not to upset anyone or force them to ‘make a decision without knowing all the facts’ — which we totally understand why that is a concern/bummer for some.  

We could debate the merits of booking a lot of local artists this year (as every year — isn’t that second guessing part of the fun?).  The local artists involved have seen a HUGE rise in popularity in Minneapolis (and around the country) and The Current has been proud to be a part of their stories.  Isn’t it awesome to have a local scene that will support the stylistic variance of putting Doomtree and Trampled back to back — and sell out a 10,000 person festival?  Show us another city where that can happen!  These bands are national — they’re representing MN at festivals like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, doing late-night talk shows, and getting their names and photos on the cover of English music mags.  I never imagined we’d be criticized for being “too local” — in past years, we’d sometimes hear grumbling that we “only” booked one local act out of four.  

I understand wanting to see a Jack White or Radiohead perform at Rock the Garden — me too!  But the math does not work out.  With only 10,000 to sell,  tickets would need to be more like $149 than $49 to fit in the talent prices of artists like that.  The space for Rock the Garden also creates financial and logistical issues — creating a professional venue where one did not exist the day before is spendy to say the least, and our capacity does not allow for the kind of talent budgets that other festivals (that sell thousands more tickets) have.
Lastly, can we all just lighten up?  It boggles the mind to read complaints from people who are so angry we didn’t book their favorite act (who we probably did try to book).  I get it, but no one said you had to go.  There are a lot of great fests happening all around us this year (Soundtown, Soundset, River’s Edge, Basilica, and a ton of smaller local fests like Stone Arch) — so you’ve got more options than ever for your concert choices.  We are incredibly thankful that so many have decided to join us at Rock the Garden. 

I can say there are two things we’ve learned and will apply to future Rock the Garden on sales:  We will still allow Walker and MPR Members the first crack at tickets, but limit each purchase to less than six — probably four.  Nothing has me more angry today than seeing Craigslist postings with presumably members offering all 6 tickets they purchased at scalper prices.  

And we will make sure the lineup is totally announced before the tickets go on sale.  

We love getting feedback from members and listeners about Rock the Garden and ways we can improve the experience — and we hope this little explanation helps address some of the sentiments expressed over the last few days.  I for one can’t wait to hear the crowd singing along to “Alone” or “Constructive Summer” on June 16th.  

The opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not constitute an official statement from Rock the Garden or Walker Art Center.