Tag Archives: Montana

Even with Twister, Montana Fair is a Hard-to-Resister

13 Sep

This youngster enjoys corn-on-the-cob at the MontanaFair, Billings.

MetraPark officials in Billings, Mont., had their work cut out for them when the 10,000-seat Rimrock Auto Arena was gutted by a tornado less than eight weeks before the start of the annual MontanaFair, which took place Aug. 13-21.

A tornado ripped through Billings on June 20, Father’s Day, and hovered over and swirled inside the Rimrock Auto Arena for at least 12 minutes.

“The grandstand is in perfect order, but it spent 12 minutes scouring the inside of the arena,” said Sandra Hawke, marketing director for MetraPark. “It just broke through the roof and sat there for 12 minutes.”

The bones of the building remain intact and most of the soft seats are salvageable, but the roof was ripped out and other damage was done to the interior.

“Not a soul” was on the grounds June 20 and no one was hurt, although people nearby had video cameras and images of the tornado ripping off the arena’s roof can be viewed on YouTube.

The community rallied to help pick up the debris and 1,500 volunteers showed up instead of the requested 500.

“Once we came out and said, ‘We are not canceling the fair, we’re going to move ahead,’ the community gave us kudos for that quick and definite response,” Hawke said.

The community also showed support by attending the fair at almost the same rate as the year before, with the final number ending up at 232,657 compared to last year’s 233,015.

The loss of the use of the arena for the fair meant finding a place to hold the event’s three large opening weekend concerts, so Hawke contacted Tim Kohlmeyer of Theatrical Media Services in Omaha, Neb., who set MetraPark up with an outdoor stage on the track of the grandstand. Insurance covered most of the cost of the outdoor staging.

Jason Aldean opened the fair Aug. 13 with tickets costing $45, $35 and $25; the Scorpions played Aug. 14, $45, $35 and $25; followed up by Hinder with Finger Eleven on Aug. 15, $35 and $25. The budget for the entertainment buys was $350,000 plus production, Hawke said.

The grandstand has a capacity of about 6,200 and the concerts all averaged about 5,600, so the loss of the arena’s extra seats was not a problem, Hawke said.

Those were the only concerts planned for the fair; however, Hawke had booked Celtic Woman for the day after the fair closed. That show could not be converted to an outdoor production.

Hawke called the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse in Bozeman, Mont., which picked up the Celtic Woman concert. Hawke also had to cancel concerts by Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, who already were routed to Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. Ticket sales were under way for those appearances; a concert by Rodney Carrington was about to go on sale and did not. Carrington now is playing the Adams Event Center in Missoula, Mont., on Nov. 18.

As to what it will cost to repair the Rimrock Auto Arena, “Let me first preface that by saying we are insured up to $121 million, and we’re probably in the vicinity of half of that, plus a little money for lost business.”

Insurance also will help pay for the code upgrades that will be required at the arena, which was completed in 1975, 15 years before the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 mandated handicapped accessibility.

Charlie Smith and David Forkner, formerly of HOK Smith Forkner in Knoxville and now with the global design firm Populous, have been retained and will work with CTA Architects Engineers in Billings, Hawke said.

“Populous will return this week with concept drawings for consideration,” said Hawke, who noted that the designs will go before the three Yellowstone County commissioners for approval.

“Based on the outcomes of those presentations, we’ll be better able to adjust the timeline, but right now the target date (for completion) is sometime in March.”

In addition to doing what will be necessary to take the building up to code, “We hope to make a few enhancements,” Hawke said. “Instead of simply rebuilding, it’s a nice opportunity to make some updates that may not be covered by the insurance at replacement cost but would be logical to do in the process.”

Austin, Texas-based Mighty Thomas Carnival provided 33 rides on the midway, said co-owner John Hanschen, with the popular rides being the Century bumper cars, the Thunderbolt, Pharaoh’s Fury and the three-lane, 100-foot long Frederiksen slide.

The situation with the arena actually might have helped the carnival achieve a 2 percent gain over last year because the grandstand is closer to the midway, Hanschen said.

Pay-one-price, all-you-can-ride wristbands cost $20 or $2 off with a coupon, Hawke said, and were good either for afternoon or evening hours. There also was a “Buddy Day” that basically was a buy-one-get-one-free event from 6 p.m. to midnight.

Admission cost $8 for ages 13 to 64 and $5 for ages 6 to 12 and 65-plus, Hawke said. Gate revenues of $467,829 were on par with last year. “Our record was $496,781, in 2008, the year before the recession, so it’s a good report,” Hawke said.

The entire fair budget was about $1.2 million but with some cost overruns that will be covered by insurance.

MetraPark was four years into a 10-year naming rights sponsorship deal with Rimrock Auto of Billings. The deal will be suspended for a year and then resumed because of the time the building will be out of commission.

Next year’s fair dates will be Aug. 12-20, by which time the renovated arena should be up and running for several months. – Mary Wade Burnside

Interviewed for this article: Sandra Hawke, (406) 256-2400; John Hanschen, (512) 282-4442

Q&A with Morgan Margolis, CEO of Knitting Factory Entertainment

24 Aug

Photo by Rosemary Ryan

A venue is more than just four walls and a soundboard. Morgan Margolis sees his small touring and venue management firm Knitting Factory Entertainment as a brand with reach into both the consumer world and the music industry. After a successful run co-producing the popular Broadway musical Fela! — nominated for 11 Tony Awards — Margolis’ small company is continuing to diversify its business beyond the four venues it books in the Pacific Northwest. Knitting Factory Entertainment has picked up several venue management contracts in Montana and is entering its third season booking the Outlaw Field Summer Concert Series in Boise, Idaho. The company’s record label is set to release Fela Kuti’s entire back catalog, along with a number of emerging artists, and Margolis has also found success managing bands and moving into merchandising. Venues Today recently caught up with the enterprising CEO to discuss how the Knitting Factory is marketing itself to the music industry and music fans.

You’ve done a lot of work building the brand of Knitting Factory. Are there any marketing icons that you borrow inspiration from?

I follow a lot of the ideas from Richard Branson at Virgin. Whether someone shows up at a venue, or a touring show, or they’re a manager or work for a record label, they know when they get to the Knitting Factory that their experience is going to be incredible. I am trying to create a brand where even if you land in the middle of nowhere, instead of looking for the House of Blues, you’re looking for the Knitting Factory.

How have the company’s branding efforts changed since you took over?

I’ve been the CEO for two years. We were just venues and touring a few years ago, and now we’re management and KF Records, plus our Broadway show. I’m trying to find all of the synergies to keep it working. We’re trying to work merchandising nationally as a company. I want us to be the next CBGB.

Do you have a merchandising deal in place to sell the Knitting Factory as a brand?

That’s my next step. We’ve got some merch for sale online. The merch at our venues is very small. Right now, people who come to the website are looking for tickets, not merch, necessarily. I’ve talked to companies and I’ve spoken with brand managers. I’m willing to pull in someone from the outside. Part of that is determining what our brand means. I have no problem with the Hard Rock chain. They’re a tremendous company, but Hard Rock doesn’t mean music. It means a restaurant or a casino. Right now we’re looking for the right partner and the right grass roots movement for Knitting Factory as a brand. It may mean something different in Brooklyn than it means in Boise.

How has the Kniting Factory’s venue division evolved in the past year?

We’ve become very tertiary, in terms of our venue division, with clubs in Boise, Idaho; Spokane, Wash.; and Reno, Nev. Our marquee room is in Brooklyn, N.Y., near Williamsburg. I don’t go up against Live Nation or AEG that much. Our cap size is much smaller. In Brooklyn, we’re a 300-cap room, and we are able to operate in our space without competition from the big promoters.

You’ve spent two years looking at reopening the Knitting Factory in Los Angeles. How would a venue in Southern California fit within your company?

Routing is a big issue. Routing doesn’t really work unless I’m starting somewhere far south, like in San Diego. From there we can play L.A., San Francisco, and we’re looking at markets like Sacramento (Calif.) and Albuquerque (N.M.). From there we can hit Reno, then Boise, then Spokane and now we’re the exclusive promoter at Wilma Theatre in Missoula, Mont., so routing wise, it works. I think it’s more of a branding initiative than a routing initiative. You’ve got to have a couple national areas. I’m looking at bars and restaurants in Los Angeles, too. I’m looking to drive cash flow, and cash flow in bars and restaurants is much stronger than the music venues. I’m 20 years into this, and I come from the bar side, so I see where the dollars come in. It’s not in ticket sales, not at the club level. Sometimes they say that you might want to open a 7-Eleven or a night club and do bottle service if you want to make money. If you love music and you’re willing to take a risk, then open a music venue. But if you want to get rich, it’s a tough world.

What other initiatives are you undertaking to drive cash flow?

I have done my damnedest to keep from cutting staffing and I’ve tried to keep as many employees as I could. We’re keeping our ticket prices down as much as possible. We’re keeping our drink prices really competitive. We’re keeping our legal costs down, too. When we build out venues, it’s been really strong for us in the commercial real estate market, where it used to be that they would just crush you. Everyone’s working five different jobs, myself included. We have our High Adventure management division, where we’re managing artists from new and emerging segments.

How’s the management side of the business?

You know, it’s raw. It’s brand new. We have a film and television division and a video division where we’re just picking up content and distributing. We already have clubs ranging from 300-1,500 cap, and a touring division where we’re doing tours from 10,000-15,000 nationally. We have our own record label, so the management side just seemed to really make sense. I just took on 50-Cent Haircut, who are in the middle of a name change. They’ve been around a long time in L.A. and they’re kind of country-indie-alternative. I haven’t taken on someone big enough that they’re driving dollars yet, but I’m also not putting out heavy dollars either. And that world’s changed, too. Cutting albums doesn’t cost what it cost before. No one’s putting out that kind of money, to make an album. What’s been really positive is that we just did a tour with Jack Lipman, Nikki Lang, and Robert Francis from Atlantic Records.  We thought they’d go through our venues in Boise, Spokane, Reno, and do a free radio show, and we’d get support from Atlantic. We’re going to put in some money and run them up the Pacific Northwest and see if we can get them some radio play. Nikki has a licensing-publishing deal, a pending record deal and we shot her video for next to nothing through all of our contacts. If one of them breaks and we start popping bigger acts, I’m going to have to beef up the management division. But right now I’m drained.

Is managing difficult?

I know every venue in L.A., so I can at least build their L.A. plays. I find in the position I sit as CEO of Knitting Factory that I can at least get the booking agents to respond to me. Also, this summer we have the Botanical Garden series with Chris Isaak, Willie Nelson, Widespread Panic and Barenaked Ladies. As a manager, I can now call their talent buyer and say, “Can we try to put (my artists) Nikki or Jack on as support?”

How is show marketing?

We’re a marketing machine. It’s either really easy and they break really quick like those that come through the Disney or Nickelodeon machine, or they’re just very lucky coming through and somebody pops them. Usually it’s a grind and they just linger.

How’s the national tour side?

You know, for us, knock on wood, last year was actually the best year we’ve ever had. We did the Disturbed tour, and posted 31 dates with Avenged Sevenfold. The other day, we were at Pine Creek Meadows and we thought a show was a wash, and then we had 1,000 tickets sell on walk up. That really surprised us. People are buying tickets differently, and when we see slow sales, we try to do more comps and more radio plays to drum up publicity. You don’t want to train the market so much that they’re just going to wait and get a deal. Our ticket prices at the 1,500-cap in Spokane are very competitive, between $18 and $22 with fees at $2 to $3.

What ticketing provider do you use?

Right now, we’re on TicketFly. We had a deal with Ticketweb, but this national TicketFly offer came up and we’re really happy with how it’s worked out.

What’s the sell for the artists on the national side to hop on with Knitting Factory?

I feel like you’ve got to work with the others guy and I have no problem working with Live Nation and AEG if the deal structure is right for us. But primarily, we’re in tertiary markets and when it comes to club buys, I think we benefit because we open artists to different markets. Music is changing, and the media and the Internet have exposed music to people all over the world. Some fans in small towns know more about L.A. bands that I do. And we treat the artists like gold when they come through our facilities. We’re all hands on deck; all of these guys, myself included, came through the venue side. I know that if I show up at my venue and there’s trash on the floor, I’m going to pick it up. I remember two years ago at one of my venues, we had Dierks Bentley come through, and I just laughed to myself because I was sitting in the bathroom, holding tiles in place with my feet as our guy secured them to the wall. I thought to myself, “This is how it’s always going to be.”

Interviewed for this article: Morgan Margolis, (323) 798-5628

Update: Tornado Demolishes Rimrock Auto Arena in Billings, Mont.

24 Jun

A tornado ripped the roof off of Rimrock Auto Arena in Billings, Mt.

The tornado that tore through Billings, Mont., on Father’s Day (June 20) destroyed Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark, but no lives were lost. The arena had been host to 4,500 fans of the Billings Outlaws of the Indoor Football League just the night before, but was empty at the time of the tornado, said Sandra Hawke, venue marketing director.

She got the call about the 4:30 p.m. touchdown while preparing for a Father’s Day barbecue at her home 10 miles away. “We get the long views in Montana; we could watch it,” she said. On Monday, Bill Dutcher, manager, was meeting with insurance representatives and the National Guard and Billings police were controlling traffic and access.

Immediate concerns besides rebuilding included future bookings at the 35-year-old, $10 million, 10,800-seat arena. The repairs will be in the hundreds of millions, she said.

Hawke said on-sales included Brad Paisley, set for Sept. 26, and Carrie Underwood, Dec. 10, both of which will be refunded. Celtic Woman, set for Aug. 22, will most likely reschedule for up to three shows at the 1,400-seat Alberta Bair Theatre in town, Hawke said.

Concerts set for Rimrock Arena during the annual MontanaFair Aug. 13-21 will be moved to the outdoor grandstand, Hawke continued. Bookings include Jason Aldean, the Scorpions and Hinder and Finger Eleven.

The most immediate problem is Outlaws playoff games, which were to start June 27 at the arena. They will most likely have three playoff games and a championship remaining in the post season. The plan is to go forward with the games at their Sports Complex practice field. With risers, they can probably increase capacity to 1,500, well short of the projected attendance. The decision was made that it was most important to have home court advantage on an appropriate field, Hawke said.

Bookings also include the Antiques Road Show this Saturday, June 26, which Hawke said will still be held at the 77,400-square-foot Expo Center which was damaged in the tornado when debris broke through the roof. It is being repaired and the 28,800 square foot Montana Pavilion is being prepared for the preparation area where antiquers bring their valuables prior to being filmed on the show. Hawke said she pursued that booking for eight and a half years before they determined after a site visit last year that MetraPark could house the show. She intends to be there with her art nouveau antique vase from the 1890’s in hand. Space will be supplemented with tents, she added.

The AKC-sanctioned dog show June 22-24 is going on as planned in the Montana Pavilion, she said. “They’re as happy as clams.” Hawke has been calling them over for the press conference updates on the tornado damage and they have testified to the adequate accommodations and gained unexpected publicity for the event.

Cleanup efforts removing debris, including the six-inch roofing nails that were flattening tires on a lot of media vehicles that crossed into off-limits areas of the fairgrounds, were well underway Monday, Hawke said. The dog show crowd was already moving in with their motor homes Monday.

Several fortunate things happened in this midst of the devastation, she said. For one, the grounds were empty except for the maintenance man assigned to that day. Second, the power was already off to accommodate a lighting upgrade, so fire and electrocution were not a factor.

The roof was totally blown off Rimrock  Auto Arena and the water poured in, saturating everything. Hawke said eye witnesses said the tornado seemed to “park itself on top of the arena for 15 minutes. It was stripped down to block and steel.”

The management team was on site for three hours after the storm hit, Hawke said. Starplex Crowd Management, the security firm, secured the grounds and structure, with help from the National Guard.

Rimrock Arena was quite solid structurally and Hawke was guessing they would not rebuild from the ground up, but the damage was extensive. “We are fully insured,” she said, though there are always things lost that are not covered. The astroturf belonged to the Outlaws and that was ruined and the Billings Gazette had brought in lighting and equipment that was destroyed. “Personal things are all lost,” she said.

Hawke also noted the arena was highly functional for its age, with wide concourses, soft seats and good storage. “It works well; it’s just old,” she said. “We managed to hang Metallica, even with their load.”

The rebuild will bring some changes, including improved ADA compliance.

She emphasized that the fair will go on as planned, Aug. 13-21, with some adjustments to event sites. “I may change the theme to ‘raise the roof,’” she quipped. — Linda Deckard

Interviewed for this story: Sandra Hawke, (406) 256-2402