City on board for bigger acts at Wheeler Opera House
The Wheeler Opera House received Aspen City Council’s blessing Monday to increase its winter programming budget by $125,000 so it can attract such high-profile artists as The Beach Boys and other acts.
All told, the council agreed to a supplemental budget request of $265,000 for the Wheeler fund to draw bigger acts.
The city-owned venue’s executive director, Gena Buhler, told the council The Beach Boys have been booked for a night during the high season period of Dec. 17-31. The Belly Up nightclub is a host of the concert, which will cost the producers about $50,000, which they will split in half, Buhler said. She said the rest of the holiday series’ musical lineup will be announced in October. It will include two “well-known” artists, a tribute concert and two family-focused events. The Wheeler hopes to sell 3,050 tickets for the holiday shows, with a revenue goal of $190,000, Buhler said.
“We’re only taking 50 percent of the risk on it,” she said of The Beach Boys booking, adding that the partnership with Belly Up is a healthy alliance.
“[Belly Up owner Michael Goldberg] and I feel if we can be pushing and finding things together, we will not be competing with each other,” she said.
Buhler said the Wheeler also hopes to partner with Jazz Aspen Snowmass and other producers on future concerts.
The Beach Boys are what Buhler considers a marquee artist, which command fees ranging from $50,000 to $100,000. Her memo to City Council said that other marquee acts would be along the lines of Peter Frampton, The Monkees, Lyle Lovett, Bonnie Raitt, Chicago, Willie Nelson and Al Green, among others.
“I would support that but even more so if you bring in Bonnie Raitt,” said Councilwoman Ann Mullins, drawing a few laughs from the audience.
Attracting the bigger names, Buhler said, will bring in more ticket sales and raise the Wheeler’s profile.
One area of concern for council members was that some locals might be priced out by the big-name concerts. Tickets to The Beach Boys, for example, will range from $98 to $150, but Buhler noted 50 tickets reserved for locals will be priced at $65.
“I would definitely support spending more to make more, even if it means having more expensive acts,” said Councilman Bert Myrin, noting he would like Buhler to look at other avenues to provide discounted tickets.
“What I don’t want to do with these marquee artists is to alienate people,” Buhler said.
The city’s subsidy also will help fund the Aspen Laugh Festival (formerly the Aspen Laff Festival), which will see its budget for comedian appearances raised from $29,000 to $91,000, along with another $11,000 for production, travel and lodging expenses.
Based on feedback from attendees of past comedy festivals at the Wheeler, Buhler said they want to see bigger names and don’t like the 9:30 p.m. slot for the headliners. The Wheeler averaged 76 percent capacity during the most recent February festival, which accounted for 1,542 tickets sold and a revenue of $50,310. Buhler is aiming for 88 percent capacity this coming February, provided “we could open with somebody like Dennis Miller and close with Samantha Bee or Ellie Kemper.”
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