On select evenings each summer, the Gardens transforms into one of Denver’s most unique outdoor venues for the Summer Concert Series. Concert-goers carve out their favorite spots on the grassy slopes of the UMB Bank Amphitheater, wander the Gardens as twilight sets in, and enjoy intimate performances from their favorite artists in the shadow of the Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory.
For a behind-the-scenes look at how these artists get to the stage, we talked to Roger Menell, the concert director/talent buyer at Swallow Hill Music, for insights into the process that leads up to the line-up announcement each year.
How far in advance of the first concert does Swallow Hill begin the search/booking process for artists?
As soon as the Summer Concert Series ends, we earnestly start the booking conversations for the following summer, but it can sometimes start even earlier. I can think of one instance where we confirmed a booking for the following year while the current season was still underway. It usually takes a few months of back and forth communication with talent representatives before the shows start confirming.
What are the most important factors you consider when you are booking the Summer Concert Series?
There are so many factors to consider! However, the most important ones are:
- Can the artist fill the amphitheater with fans?
- Is the artist a good fit for the venue? Will their sound work in this unique environment?
- Will the Denver Botanic Gardens/Swallow Hill community want to support this artist?
- Does the booking compliment the rest of season? We try to book a mixture of musical styles and also try to balance familiar names with some fresh faces.
How are opening acts selected? Are they typically part of the tour, or do they book separately?
It's about half and half, but some shows have no opener at all. Usually, about 40% of the headliners will bring an opener as part of their tour, 40% of the openers are booked separately by Swallow Hill, and 20% of the shows have no opener. If you attend a show called “An Evening With…”, there is no opener for that show.
What are the biggest challenges to booking the Summer Concert Series?
The greatest challenge is competition with other venues; there are lots of places to play in Denver in the summer. Dates are always a huge challenge, as well. A tour may be coming through Denver at a time that falls outside the time frame of the concert series, or the tour may occur on dates that the Gardens are unavailable.
How many Swallow Hill team members does it take to run a concert at the Gardens?
At the show, we'll have around six staff members from Swallow Hill on site. However, this doesn't include our contracted employees who take care of the technical aspects of the production, such as lighting and sound. We're also backed up by our administrative teams in finance, marketing etc. back at our office. Denver Botanic Gardens also provides a team of staff for each concert to manage setup, security, visitor entry, VIP reserved areas, and more. It takes lots of people to produce these concerts!
Are there any shows you think we shouldn’t miss?
Sure! You shouldn't miss The Mavericks (July 28) or Herbie Hancock (August 14). However, those shows are already sold out! We only have tickets remaining for 3 of the 15 shows at the Gardens: Randy Newman (August 7), Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home “Love and Comedy” Show (August 13 at Chatfield Farms) and Lucero with special guest Paper Bird (August 27).