Monday, November 26, 2012

Mumford as Economic Development

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This year, I helped bring 30,000 people to two Main Street towns for the Mumford & Sons’ 2012 Gentlemen of the Road Stopovers summer tour. It was simply amazing and overall a big deal for all Main Streets because the guys are looking at Main Streets again for the 2013 tour! I have the full story and tips for attracting the eye of industry scouts below.

In January I got a phone call from two guys asking about great downtowns for a major music festival. I sorta thought, here we go again - if it wasn’t a pitch for a Main movie, it was for a coffee table book. Thanks to Google, I learned while we were talking that S2BN Entertainment and M Theory were legit, major music industry players. And they wanted to bring a day-long festival to a small downtown to showcase Americana and bring the tour to special places.

This unnamed band wanted a vibrant downtown with older buildings and cool local businesses. They wanted to celebrate the local history (preferably a history involving bootleggers and gunslingers...that is sooo British, no?) and local life (like farmers markets). This destination needed to fit 15,000 people and have camping facilities and hotels and a willing partner to help with police support, street closures, and permitting.

I was on board even before I knew the name of the band. The impact this type of event could bring to a small town was huge in terms of spending, visibility, publicity for Main Street, and validation that downtowns are flexible and attractive destinations.

Stopover mustache icon appears on storefront
But as a huge music fan, I was dying to know the band. When they said they couldn’t tell me, I asked if I could take a guess. I got “Mumford & Sons” on the first try. I couldn’t say who the band was, but I put the call out to National Trust Main Street membership. I got an overwhelming response, which I culled down to about 80 viable options.

Here’s what you’ll want to know – what was it about the towns that got them on the short list?

1.     Meeting requirements and providing clear-cut answers to questions.  Some towns clearly were stretching it and really couldn’t handle 15,000 people, or they spent so much time “telling their story” that they didn’t give me enough logistical information. Always answer the questions thinking that the reader is very busy and doesn’t have time to weed through your response to get to nuggets of information they requested. Short and sweet always wins – and this works for grant writing, too.
2.     Curb appeal. You need gorgeous photos to sell your town. It is worth the investment in hiring a skilled photographer. Don’t send images of empty streets – that doesn’t convey vibrancy and instill excitement. But know that today people don’t just look at photos. We looked on Google Streetview and did web searches to try to get a realistic sense for what the towns really looked like.
a.     Additionally, the money spent on streetscape improvements and beautification pays off. You can’t just stick a bench next to a potted plant and declare your town revitalized, but it is all part of the package and effort to create curb appeal that leaves people with their first impressions of your downtown.
3.     Rock star Main Street manager. The reputation of the Main Street program was important to me. Did these towns have someone in charge who has the city in his or her back pocket and who can make things happen? If so, I felt comfortable having them represent the entire Main Street network.

The band’s tour dates helped narrow down the list as we mapped out where we logistically could go. From there, local promoters who would team up with S2BN and M Theory did site visits. Some of those visits yielded towns that just weren’t quite there yet. But the two that shined were – Bristol, Tenn./Va. and Dixon, Ill.

very cool gateway sign
The band loved that Bristol has a rich history in music (the 1927 Bristol Sessions marked an epic recording of country music by Appalachian musicians such as the Carter family and Jimmie Rodgers, putting the genre and area on the map), had a cool gateway sign, is split into a Tennessee and Virginia side down the main street, and was filled with amazing people. The town is totally charming with wonderful retail businesses and a well-manicured street.

Dixon is about two hours southwest of Chicago. There is a big high school that looks like a castle, which immediately was adopted in the logo design for this Stopover. The local manager is such a rock star himself that lots of people confuse him for the mayor. Best of all, downtown is on a river and there is a bridge that takes people from the heart of the downtown right into the riverside park where we set up the festival.

Iconic castle that Mumford loved
Both downtowns were incredibly welcoming and the city and the business community did everything they could to show that having Mumford and the other bands in town was a huge deal to them. Both locations hosted street festivals on Friday and Saturday nights and local business owners were thrilled with the sales. Bristol conducted an economic impact study with the Virginia Tourism Council and found that the Stopover brought $7 million to the state, with $5 million to Bristol. Holy cow, right?

When I stood on the side of the stage and watched Mumford perform to sold-out crowds and thought, this is all happening on Main Street; tears filled my eyes and I don’t think I was ever more proud of this amazing Network.

5 comments:

J. Reinhardt said...

Andrea - This blog is amazing. I knew you were doing this (working with Mumford), but didn't know how deeply involved you were. I can't wait to hear more stories, especially ones centered around this concert tour. Please keep sharing them! Greg and a bunch of our friends went to the one in Portland, and although I couldn't go, they said they had an amazing time.

Andrea Dono said...

My first comment! So exciting - thanks, John.

I wish I knew they were going to be there. I was at all of them. After I lost my job at the Trust and M Theory hired me, they had me spend July visiting the promoters and visiting with the community. In Bristol, I got to talk with the community at the public meetings, meet with business owners, give them ideas for ways they could connect to the event, and put together the swag bags for the artists. There is a clothing manufacturer still in downtown Bristol who donated made-to-order overalls for the band - they were made just blocks away from the stage. It was really great bringing it all together. Bristol probably was my favorite show but the Portland one was a gorgeous site - the Casco Bay was right behind the stage. I think the guys took a swim at some point in the day.

In Dixon, I got to meet with the business owners one-on-one and even got a "negative nelly" type to get really into it. The Main Street manager said he could have used me years ago to get the guy to be more of a supporter of the revitalization. He wasn't even going to open and it turns out he got more sales the day of the show than he did for a few weeks combined.

The good stories, however, probably won't end up on the blog. We can do a google hangout sometime :)

J. Reinhardt said...

#dreamjob

Alyssa said...

Andrea, I stumbled upon your blog while reading Jeff, the City Manager in Bristol's blog. My best friend, mother and I all made the trip to Bristol for the GOTR tour. We had the best time. Received "behind the scenes" looks into the community and met some great people. I live in a Main Street community,volunteer on a committee am a graduate of two Historic Preservation programs and was amazed and thankful for the idea of the tour. What better way to highlight a community than by showcasing it at an all weekend festival. It was very encouraging to see Bristol embrace Mumford and the fans. There was something for everyone the entire weekend. I would love to bring this tour or something similar to our community. Your blog is a great read and I find your current/past job(s) fascinating!

Andrea Dono said...

Thank you for leaving a comment, Alyssa. Main Streets are definitely on Mumford's radar and what they are doing has captured the attention of other artists. They already looked to the Main Street network for the 2013 Stopovers and selected Troy, Ohio, and some other MS towns made the short list. This year the tour will bring 25,000 people to the downtowns, so it just keeps growing!