When David Branigan first saw the Coast High Country Inn Convention Centre last spring, he said that, to him, the big open room looked like freedom.
“When I looked at it I’m like, ‘the big win is I can put 700 people in there,’” he told the News a few days before 54-40 was booked to play the Convention Centre. “That’s a lot of room to play with.”
Before Branigan joined Northern Vision Development last spring, as food and beverage manager, the Convention Centre had plenty of experience with large-scale events such as conferences and conventions, but little with concerts.
To Branigan though, it seemed like a natural fit. A Yukoner who moved home last year after 30 years away, he spent the ‘80s and ‘90s booking bands at venues in Whistler.
“The (room) that got me most excited was the Convention Centre because it’s in the wheelhouse of the things that I really enjoy doing — big events, concerts, culinary events and things that are groundbreaking on a grand scale,” he said.
“The mind starts churning and you think of what can be done.”
He knew from past experience that it could be a gamble, so he was straight with NVD when he pitched a winter concert series.
“I said, ‘hey, have no illusions.’ There’s a reason people struggle to make live music work. We don’t get to win every time.”
Instead, he said, it could be a process for building a model that could work in Whitehorse.
That process started in January when he brought up east coast rock band The Trews.
Branigan said there were roughly 400 people in the room that night, between paid ticket holders, prizewinners and those on the guest list. He was expecting a larger turnout, but notes it was -40 C that night, and close enough to the beginning of January, that it’s possible people were still recovering from the holidays.
He also said he received some negative feedback about the sound being loud in the back end, but that proved to be useful information for the shows that followed.
When Delhi 2 Dublin played in March, that was the show where Branigan said he looked at things and thought they could work out.
Delhi 2 Dublin drew the same number of attendees as the Trews, but it cost less to put on, partly because the band is Vancouver-based.
Branigan said it can be a balancing act when it comes to numbers on shows. Sometimes capacity has to be at 75 to 80 per cent to even break even. This is even more exaggerated in the North.
The maximum the Convention Centre can pay for talent — which sometimes isn’t even half the cost of the show when he factors in airfare, production, staff, marketing, transportation and accommodation — is $25,000. In that case, he said, the tickets would have to be $100.
“That would have to be a substantial name,” he said.
“You have to match the band with the market and the expense.”
He said punk band D.O.A. contacted NVD last year about playing, and while the talent fee was feasible, Branigan said the additional costs meant the tickets would have had to be $40 each. At that point, NVD would have needed to sell at least 300 tickets to break even.
He had to ask himself if there were 300 D.O.A fans in town willing to spend that kind of money on a ticket and buy a couple beers.
With 54-40, he felt confident the show would be a success.
Calling them “one of the best alternative rock bands in the world,” Branigan said the Vancouver band has been around long enough (since the ‘80s) to appeal to a broad demographic, including fans in their 30s and 40s. People in that age range tend to have more disposable income, he said. It’s not uncommon for them to travel to Vancouver or Edmonton for big shows.
“When you factor in hotels and flights and tickets in the city, $60 and some beers is a pretty good deal. That’s really the niche that we’re trying to develop,” he said.
On top of that, 54-40, which last played in Whitehorse in 2011, has a new record out this year, Keep on Walking.
Sometimes, Branigan said, you can tell a band has put out something new to satisfy a contract, or just to give the fans something to chew on. He said the new record doesn’t feel like that.
“You can tell when they’re reloading and getting serious about it and that was the case,” he said.
Branigan said this will be the most successful of the concert series, which will take a summer hiatus because the Convention Centre is booked with events, including the recently announced Klondike Follies.
During that time, Branigan said he’ll be looking into bookings for next winter, when there will be another run of shows from January to April 2019. After that, NVD will assess the new venture into live music.
“The market will dictate,” he said. “It’s a high-risk market to be in but I believe there’s a market for it.”
Contact Amy Kenny at firstname.lastname@example.org