Avon risking $225,000 on Ben Harper concert
IF YOU GO:
What: Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals
Where: Avon Nottingham Park pavilion
When: Sept. 15, show starts at 6 p.m.
Cost: Tickets start at $35 not including fees, to purchase visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/ben-harper-and-the-innocent-criminals-tickets-36226587699
Ben Harper is bringing the Innocent Criminals to town, and the gamblers are awaiting his arrival.
Tickets are now on sale for Harper’s show, which is scheduled for Sept. 15 on the Nottingham Park stage in Avon. A variety of seating areas are being offered, with ticket prices ranging from $35 to $145, plus service fees.
Avon officials are hoping to sell 3,000 of those tickets; if they do, then the show will be a profitable endeavor for the town. Not making it to that number, however, could result in a big expense on the town’s balance sheet, which is where the gambling comes into play. The Ben Harper show will be the first time Avon has self-produced a ticketed event; the up-front investment from the town will be approximately $225,000. If the town sells 1,500 of those $35 tickets, then it will still result in losses of more than $100,000 on the evening.
The gamble is creating controversy among council members, who have yet to see a show in town come with a price tag as large as this one. With events that are put on by an outside producer, that company assumes the risk. The recent Lyle Lovett concert, which took place on Sunday, was an example of that. The show was put on by AEG, and less than 1,500 tickets were sold.
“I’m quite sure they lost a pretty penny,” Avon Mayor Jennie Fancher said during a Town Council meeting.
With AEG having years of experience in concert promotion, the Lyle Lovett show served as a test of sorts for the Nottingham Park venue.
Council member Jake Wolf, himself a musician, said if AEG couldn’t sell 2,000 tickets for Lyle Lovett, then he’s concerned about Avon getting to 3,000 on Ben Harper. Wolf voted against a budget amendment to provide additional funding for the show at a council meeting earlier this month. It was the council’s only chance to vote on the Ben Harper Show, but it wasn’t a vote on the actual show, just some of the funding associated with it.
“It’s too risky,” Wolf said in casting his no vote.
Others on the council are willing to take the risk.
Council member Matt Gennett didn’t support the Nottingham Park pavilion itself, which was constructed in 2014 and came in at more than $3 million, but now that it’s here, he said he’s willing to defer to the town’s events staff on what to do with it. That staff, with town manager Virginia Egger as their leader, is who ultimately made the decision on the Ben Harper show as the opportunity came in quickly and didn’t come with a chance for much public process.
“I think it would have been better for us to have called a special meeting,” said council member Amy Phillips. “But, at the time, I didn’t stomp my feet hard enough.”
Phillips said she agrees with Gennett’s position.
“Go big or don’t come at all,” Phillips said.
Harper, for his part, is expected to go big with his band the Innocent Criminals. After starting his career in the ’90s, he became known for his talent on the Weissenborn slide guitar and became a regularly featured artist on college radio stations across the country.
He formed the Innocent Criminals to act as his supporting band for his 1999 album “Burn to Shine,” according to his biography on allmusic.com, which called that album “his first to focus heavily on his rock side. From that point on, the Innocent Criminals were a semi-regular concern, the group that Harper returned to whenever he wanted to underscore his funky, fuzz-guitar side.”
Harper went on to win three Grammy awards, including Best Pop Instrumental Performance and Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album in 2005 and Best Blues Album in 2014.
The Sept. 15 show in Avon will be part of Harper’s current world tour, where he and the Innocent Criminals are supporting their latest release, “Call It What It Is.”