After 21 shows, nearly 150,000 tickets sold and miraculously perfect weather for almost every date, the Waterfront Concerts season has officially wrapped up for the year. Though Waterfront Concerts does not have another major concert planned until late October, that doesn’t mean any of its staff are taking a break — in fact, they’re already gearing up for 2017.
The 2016 season, the venue’s seventh, was the largest so far for the Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor — 21 shows, including two of the highest attended shows in the venue’s history, as well as the 27 shows at the Maine State Pier in Portland. It was, overall, a banner year for both Waterfront Concerts and for the concert industry in general, with many more artists touring nationwide than in previous years.
“[Twenty-one] is probably the upper limit of shows that we’ll do in Bangor. The industry changes every year — some years have more artists touring than others, and not every year is going to be as packed as this one,” said Alex Gray, founder of Waterfront Concerts.
According to numbers provided by the city of Bangor, the concert with the highest attendance in Bangor this year was the sold-out Jimmy Buffett show on Aug. 18, with 13,491 people in attendance. Right behind that was Luke Bryan on July 17 with 13,122, and three June concerts that each had more than 10,000 people in attendance, including the Dixie Chicks on June 16, Florida Georgia Line on June 23 and Def Leppard on June 24. The lowest attended concerts of the season were Fifth Harmony on Aug. 5 with 2,309 and the Tedeschi Trucks Band on July 15 with 2,911. The DWP can hold a maximum of about 16,000 people if the concert is entirely general admission seating; with reserved seating, that number can be several hundred to several thousand less, depending on configuration.
Out of the 21 concerts, 10 were from country artists, four were classic rock, two were R&B or blues, two were contemporary rock, two were punk or metal, and one was pop.
“I think I missed the mark this year in not having an act like Ed Sheeran, or some hip hop or [electronic music]. I know when I was a kid growing up in Maine, that’s the kind of thing I wanted,” said Gray. “I think one of our goals for next year is to make it a diverse slate, and not one-dimensional with a heavy emphasis on one genre.”
In total, 143,796 tickets were sold throughout the summer, and the city of Bangor received $315,093 in rent and services, with $179,744 in rent paid, and $135,349 going towards expenses for police and fire department services, and electricity. That’s more than 75 percent higher than 2015, when there were just 11 concerts that sold 81,594 tickets and brought $101,992 in rent and paid $81,024 in expenses to the city.
Beyond the money going directly into city coffers, concert-goers spend money on food and drink, lodging, gas, shopping and other things at local businesses, creating a ripple effect in the community. A 2014 study by University of Maine economist Todd Gabe found that in the first four seasons, Waterfront Concerts contributed an estimated $47.5 million to the Bangor area economy, and that contribution has grown each year.
“I didn’t build my business plan around the fact that the concerts are there, but it’s certainly a great benefit. The concert series definitely has a very positive impact on our business,” said Chris Morley, owner of Mason’s Brewing Co., which opened in May of this year on the Brewer Waterfront, directly across the river from the concert venue. “I will say that we get more turnover on non-concert nights, since folks don’t come in at 5:30 and stay til 10:30, but during the week, we absolutely get a bump. If a show is on a Wednesday or something, we’ll see an uptick compared to a weekend night.”
In terms of noise complaints, 2016 also featured the fewest complaints called into the city since Waterfront Concerts began staging shows in 2010. The highest number of complaints was for the Def Leppard concert, where 31 were called in, followed by Florida Georgia Line with 28 and Blink-182 with 25. The Dixie Chicks, Dolly Parton, Hall & Oates, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Bryan Adams, and Darius Rucker all had under five, and Jimmy Buffett had zero complaints.
By comparison, in May 2015 the Rise Above Fest, the daylong metal and hard rock concert, had 86 complaints. This year, Rise Above Fest was held in August for the first time, and according to the city of Bangor, just seven complaints were received. While 10 of the 21 concerts exceeded decibel level guidelines developed by the city and Waterfront Concerts, there is not technically an ordinance in place that levies a penalty against the artist should that level be exceeded, according to city manager Cathy Conlow. Waterfront Concerts’ contract with the city is up for renewal in October of this year.
“People are getting used to the idea that Bangor is a more vibrant — and noisier — place,” said Gray. “There are now 50-plus places to eat and drink downtown. People want to move closer to downtown. There’s more activity. It’s just taken some getting used to.”
For 2016, 11 concerts had zero arrests on site, three had one arrest, and six had two arrests, including Dierks Bentley, Journey, Florida Georgia Line, Darius Rucker, the Rise Above Fest and Rascal Flatts. Only two concerts exceeded the curfew set by the city — Journey and Luke Bryan each exceeded their weeknight 10:30 p.m. curfew by 10 minutes, and were assessed a penalty by the city.
“Some artists still just thumb their nose at curfews. They don’t want to be stifled in any way,” said Gray.
For 2017, Gray said concert-goers can expect a new focus on the fan experience, something Gray said he and his staff have not had time to work on in previous years, as more pressing matters such as infrastructure and improvements on the backstage area had to come first.
“We’ve done a lot of work to get all of that addressed, so now we can focus on the fans,” said Gray. “I think we can really work on the disability accessibility of the venue, and make it an overall better experience for everyone.”
Gray said fans can expect the first concert announcements for 2017 in the coming weeks.
“There’s at least one more big first for Bangor, though that one won’t be announced for a while,” he said. “You can expect a few that’ll give you that ‘wow’ moment, that that person could be playing in your backyard. There’ll be a few of those.”
Editor’s note: Emily Burnham’s husband works for Mason’s Brewing Co.