Booking Free Concerts at the Levitt Pavilion Dayton

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Buffering: The puzzle that is the 2022 Music industry

By: Lisa Wagner, Executive Director


Is it just me or does this feel like a parallel dimension in the music industry? As we began work on the 2022 Eichelberger Concert Season at Levitt Dayton late last fall, it seemed like things were going to go easily for the booking process, and then they didn’t. There was a good deal of responsiveness to inquiries, and then it was crickets. From shared conversations with other venues and talent buyers, this seems to not be unique to us. Speculation is that while outdoor amphitheaters, such as ours, were activated last summer, the opening of all music venues along with the flood of artists wanting to tour again has caused the music industry to be in “buffering mode”. You know how you wait and wait while your technology buffers, and how you’re holding your breath waiting for some response?

Along with the hurry up and wait, there has been a significant amount of “concert Jenga” going on. What does that mean? Agents and artists ask to move their engagement to another date, which creates a domino effect of movement across the 50 concerts that we program every summer. We had three concerts confirmed and under contract cancel on us … after we sent our materials to be printed for our season launch. That keeps it interesting and creates a need for mindful deep breathing. Fortunately, with all the activity in the industry, it was not hard to find bands that fit what we were looking for and were within our budget. That’s the next thing we should explore deeper, how does the booking process and the curation of the Levitt season work?

We are often asked how do we decide on bands and what is the process of getting booked on the Levitt stage? The mechanics of booking a season comes down to a couple of different strategies.


This season, we designed series based on genre; Funk, Country/Bluegrass, Jazz, Blues, World Music, Rock/Pop, R&B/Soul, and our Gem Series, which features local bands opening for national acts. Within each of these series, we are looking for a “headliner” or more well-known act to anchor the series and create buzz and draw. Since early 2018, when the Levitt Dayton was preparing for our inaugural season, we developed relationships with booking agents and artists, especially those that understand our mission and the fact that we are a non-profit venue. These agents help us find artists in their rosters that will work well in the Dayton market and in our free concert environment. We also welcome suggestions from our audience through interactions on the lawn and through our social media and website. We then work as a team, vetting the artists to line up under the genre series.

What matters to us when we are vetting? We first debrief the previous season and take inventory of multiple things including what concerts drew the largest audiences, diverse audiences, new audiences, and interest. As for artists, we look at their following on social media, do they have original music, how do they perform and engage with the audience, are family-friendly, are they committed to this as a professional, are they touring outside the local area, and do they have a website and digital downloads or music to share. We made the decision to not book cover bands or tribute bands, to celebrate and ignite creativity but also to support professional artists that want to take their music to the next level. That doesn’t mean that we don’t respect those artists in that lane, but rather that we just chose this as our niche for our venue. We end up listening to a lot of music, and when we find artists that are of interest, we reach out to their booking agent and begin negotiations. That is when the fun starts! (Remember the reference to buffering?)

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