Managing a Free Outdoor Concert Series (Podcast)
In this episode we talk to Berenice Guzman, event organizer and marketer for Austin City Limits Radio’s summer concert series – Blues on the Green.
In the episode Berenice talks about what goes into coordinating a large scale free concert series. We discuss the key costs involved in terms of infrastructure and production, as well as details for planning and logistics. Berenice gives a great overview to sponsorships for this type of event, with specific information about managing multiple sponsors and sponsor packages, including brand activations.
- Primary event costs
- Event production
- Planning and logistics, including city approval requirements
- Free vs paid/gated events – key differences for planning
- Event day organization
- Fulfilling and reporting on sponsorship packages
- Paid parking helping to cover costs and creating a smoother system
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Berenice is a Marketing Coordinator for Emmis Austin Radio, with experience in sales, promotions and events. Berenice is involved in the event coordination and marketing for Austin City Limits Radio's Summer Concert Series Blues on the Green, including managing site maps and fulfilling sponsorship agreements.
Lisa: Welcome to Ticketbud Tidbits! This is your host, Lisa Carson.
In today’s podcast, I talk to Berenice Guzman, who is an event organizer for Austin City Limits Radio’s summer concert series, Blues on the Green. Berenice is a Marketing Coordinator for Emmis Austin Radio, with experience in sales, promotions and events.
In the episode, Berenice talks about what goes into coordinating a large-scale free concert series. We discuss the key costs involved, in terms of infrastructure and production, as well as details for planning and logistics.
Berenice gives a great overview of the sponsorships for this type of event, and specific information about managing multiple sponsors and sponsor packages, including brand activations.
I hope you enjoy the podcast!
Lisa: Welcome to the Ticketbud Tidbits podcast, Berenice. Today, we’re chatting about Blues on the Green, hosted by Austin City Limits Radio. This is Austin’s largest free concert series and a local summer tradition. Back for its 29th season, the outdoor evening event invites music lovers to Austin’s Zilker Park, to enjoy a family and pet friendly night of homegrown music.
Can you describe the event for someone who has never attended, like myself, and what the experience and atmosphere is?
Berenice: Absolutely. In the center of Austin, we have this really beautiful large park called Zilker Park. It’s the home of Barton Springs, where we have this wonderful natural spring. I think its like 72 degrees all year round. It’s really lovely. It has a very wide open part to it, and we do a free concert series there four times throughout the summer, about a month apart each.
We have a local musician, at least a Texan musician come on and perform for people, for free. This is our 29th season. We’ve seen anywhere from 25,000 people at a show to, last year, our largest was 100,000 people. So, it’s definitely a pretty great tradition. We’re happy that it’s gotten this big.
Lisa: It’s got food vendors and things like that there.
Berenice: Yes, absolutely. I think this year we have 19 food vendors, food and drink.
Lisa: You can go and put a picnic blanket down and get some snacks and drinks.
Berenice: Yes, and you can bring your own, too. If you make a sandwich or have a charcuterie board you want to bring, that’s absolutely cool, too!
Lisa: Who is performing at the next event?
Berenice: We have Ben Kweller and Como Las Movies.
Lisa: What sort of music is that?
Berenice: Alternative, but more on the acoustic side. Como Las Movies will be a great time – lots of upbeat songs. It will be fun.
Lisa: Nice! I’m looking forward to it. What are some of the key considerations for having an all ages family friendly event?
Berenice: Mostly just having enough – we do have ADA compliance. So, if you can’t walk, we have special parking for you there. For families, we try and be accommodating with restrooms, and there’s a lot of restrooms to go around, although it’s been a little more complicated, as we keep growing. But access to that.
Lots of food and water. We have free water, and it’s nice, ice cold. H-E-B has been our presenting sponsor now for a while. They provide free ice, so just bring your cooler, and they’ll fill you up. It’s really convenient.
Lisa: Can you tell us a little about your role in making this event happen?
Berenice: Absolutely. I am Marketing Coordinator for Emmis Austin Radio, so I coordinate with eight stations. Blues on the Green is a part of the overall thing. With Blues, I am the one who coordinates all of the maps that you see, and the maps that you don’t. I do the vendor maps that are on our website, and for our vendors to use, that are a little bit more friendly to the eye.
There’s one that looks like a blueprint, basically, for our production company, Event Production Services. They utilize that. That has all of our needs, like where our propane goes, where extra fire extinguishers need to go. We also have the traffic map for not just people attending with Ticketbud, but on our website as well, through the city. It tells them where they need to go.
Lisa: What are some of the main costs that need to be considered for an event like this?
Berenice: Oh, my goodness!
Lisa: Things like artist fees, production costs.
Berenice: There is. A large chunk of money goes to our production company that we associate with. They are the brawn behind everything. They have the stage. This past Blues was the first time we had a screen. They helped make that happen. They’re the ones who bring the actual tents that you see there, and they hang up all of our signage for us, even though we order that through ACL Radio.
There is also the artists, but you’d be surprised. It’s actually not as much money as one would think. We keep it pretty low, because it’s more of a tradition, rather than a big flourish of money. They don’t get paid handsomely to be there. They’re there because they love Austin.
Lisa: They want to be part of the experience.
Berenice: Yeah. And the city, for parking, primarily. They give us the park itself for free, if we maintain it below a certain amount of people. And then, of course, client activations.
Lisa: Infrastructure is a really important element that has to be considered for any outdoor event. If you have to bring everything in, the expenses can add up really fast. What are some of the common infrastructure costs that event organizers need to think about, for an outdoor event?
Berenice: If you are relying on the Police. You’re going to have to have some security. We hire a private security company. We do have a hospitality zone, to protect backstage and our artists. We hire people for that. We also have people guarding the roads around Zilker, so we don’t just have anybody driving in. So, there’s that.
Also, stages are expensive, and speakers are expensive. A common complaint is that you can’t hear that far back. In order for us to send a relay back that far, that’s a considerable amount of money, too, per show. Screens are very expensive, so all of that.
You want to ask yourself what kind of event, and what scale you want to have it at. Those are big, big questions.
Lisa: Also any structures or tents, or anything you want to bring in. Like you were saying, enough toilets.
Berenice: Yeah, manpower. On our ACL Radio side alone, we have about ten PCs that are there, but that doesn’t include EPS and their people. I think they have a staff of about 40, 50 people that are there, and all of those people have to get paid, too. It’s not like it goes up in two hours.
Lisa: Hosting a concert series clearly has a lot of costs involved. How do you maintain it as a free event? Is charging for parking, for example, one of the ways to help keep it a free event?
Berenice: Absolutely. We don’t profit off of Blues. We don’t really make any money. Parking has been one of the ways. We are still renting those lots from the city, so even then, that parking has never been free. It was just once provided by the city, and now, they’ve been kind enough to let us rent it, so we can make some sort of a profit off of that, with the help of Ticketbud, which they’ve been an awesome partner.
We couldn’t ask for anything better. Also clients. We have different tiers. This year is actually, I think our first year that we’ve maxed out on platinum clients. That’s really, really awesome, platinum sponsors.
All of that does help more toward the cost of their activation, more so than going in our pocket. There’s more than what you see, out on Blues. They also do radio spots with us, and they have social that they pay for. So, none of that really falls back into our pockets.
Lisa: When planning a paid versus a free event, what are some of the additional considerations and costs that you’d have to look at, if it was a paid event?
Berenice: If it was a paid event, we’d have to gate it in. And gating in Zilker is no small task. It’s a really large park. And then, we’d have to have more road closures, because we would be gating it in. Then, you have to hire security for all of that gating in, and people checking IDs.
The reason we don’t sell alcohol at Blues on the Green – we have it available for free for our clients and hospitality – it’s because hospitality is gated in. If we were to sell it, we’d have to start looking at IDs at the door or having bartenders look at IDs and close it in. Then, at that point, we’d have to start paying the city, so we wouldn’t get Zilker for free.
So all of that. Keeping it free is super important.
Lisa: What are some of the key production considerations for a concert series? You were talking about site maps, but I’m sure there’s performance schedules and technical equipment, and lots of different things.
Berenice: Yes, and every artist is different, so getting their technical equipment, relaying that to EPS, making sure that they have that, that we didn’t forget anything. We have a trailer for the artists, that they get to use, and a really nice bathroom for them. Coordinating times, and -.
It’s been so sad, because there’s a ton of really great Austin artists, and everybody’s like “Why don’t they play Blues on the Green?” Well, either the days didn’t work, because it’s really hard to line up on a Wednesday, most of all. And half the time, these great artists are out touring, and they’re trying to get their name out. So, there’s that.
There’s coordinating with our clients, to make sure that they know the days, that they’ve hired enough people, that they have everything that they need, in terms of lighting requirements, gas. If they realize you can’t make the food onsite, that you have to make it offsite, bring it in from a facility.
And then, another thing I do is coordinate the health permits. I talk with the city. There’s just a lot of behind the scenes work that has to kind of align.
Lisa: I was going to ask about that. What sort of coordination needs to happen with city officials and planning, like managing traffic and health and safety permits, and that stuff?
Berenice: Oh, that whole thing, all of that.
Lisa: Does that take a lot of time?
Berenice: It does. It used to be we’d have to kind of start initially, like right as the season would end, we’d start. But luckily, we have it down to sort of a science, where people “You take this, you take this.” This is our, I think second year with the team that we have, so we’re solidified from last year, that we were able to start a little later this year, in terms of planning, because we had a solid plan.
But I think we did start probably around November, for this.
Lisa: So, it’s a long lead time.
Lisa: Which is probably advisable. What is on your “do not forget” list, when planning an event? Mine is always “access to water, toilets and toilet paper.” I’ve been to so many events where they’ve run out of toilet paper!
Berenice: That’s a big one. That’s a really big one. That’s important, absolutely. For us, it’s water. The Texas heat, we’re out there. Our team gets out there around 3:00. EPS has been there since the day before. So, it’s coolers and water for our people. We’ve had a lot of people have heatstroke, and we don’t like that!
Lisa: That’s not good! We don’t want that.
Berenice: We don’t want that at all! Also, we’ve forgotten, and it does happen when you have something of this scale, you’ll forget some part of something.
Lisa: You always guard from a previous event. You don’t ever forget that thing again!
Berenice: Absolutely not! Signage, primarily, because it might seem small to one person, that “Oh, we forgot this sandwich board that has this client’s information on it,” but that client paid in, and that’s a good chunk of their money.
We have a few very small sponsors this year that didn’t pay in a lot, but they were able to get in, and that sandwich board is part of their money. If you forget that, that’s something that they paid for, and they want it there. We’ve had to send coordinators back to the station, pick it up, bring it back. You’ve just got to do it.
Lisa: There’s always that moment when, “We’re one sandwich board short!”
Berenice: Which happened. It happened our first Blues this season. We were like “Where did it go? Oh, no!”
Lisa: I’ve definitely experienced that. What are the main event day logistics? Like how early do you start setting up, and what do you have look after, on the day?
Berenice: EPS starts setting up a day or two before. It honestly depends. We also have to keep a lookout for rain. Zilker has a very sensitive policy on rain and the grass, because there’s a lot of people on that grass, and you don’t want them on there when it’s muddy. So, even if it doesn’t rain the day of, we could still call it because of rain. Which has happened before, and people were upset.
Lisa: It’s like “We’re not allowed to ruin the park!”
Berenice: Exactly. The park is more important, so there’s that. Also, our team gets there at 3:00, but before we go, we’re all at the station, and we double check. We do a load-in, also, the day before, with EPS, with some of the big stuff like signage. But then, we bring in other things the day of, like the beer and the water and any sort of soft drinks that we have back in the hospitality area.
And sandwich boards, and very sensitive cardboards that get dented; we bring that day of. We get there around 3:00, set all of it up, and make sure that’s all delegated out. Look at our map, check in with our clients, make sure they have everything.
If they forgot something, do we have it? Can we provide that? Does EPS have it? Do we need to send someone to go get that? That can range to a series of things, also. We’ve made Party City trips, because a client wanted to have a photo booth, and they didn’t have props, so we sent someone out to get that. So, all of that.
It is different every single year, because you have different clients. But you stay flexible. We have a really great team this year that’s just willing to drive everything and go.
Lisa: You mentioned about the rain and things like that. What are other things you have to consider, in terms of weather? Someone mentioned to me that you’ve pushed the start time back a little bit, because of the Austin heat.
Berenice: It does make more sense, and people can see better at night, because the stage is lit. We’ve never had a cold snap, so I don’t know about that. But with heat, I do think we try and remind people. We do have onstage announcements that we do have ice provided free at H-E-B in the back, and water, so people know that there’s that.
I think Austinites are pretty good about knowing “Okay, we’re going out to Zilker. It’s really hot. I need to bring water or I need to bring something for water.” One of our sponsors, We Are Blood, has a free water bottle that you can get there, and then just walk over to H-E-B, and get your ice. Then you can go to our water coolers, and fill that up.
So, other than the heat, I think that’s the big environmental thing.
Lisa: And then the unpredictable Austin weather, with random rain.
Berenice: Oh, absolutely. Oh, gosh! You just never know. And it can rain really hard for ten minutes, and then it goes away. But we might still be open, because the ground wasn’t that saturated.
Lisa: Choosing the right location for an outdoor event is really important, and there’s a lot of factors to consider, from parking to accessibility and availability of infrastructure. What should event organizers be thinking about when choosing a location, and why was Zilker the spot for this event?
Berenice: Zilker, because of the amount of people that have been starting to come. And Zilker, because they’ve been really great to us, by keeping it free. I would consider, do you want to pay for a spot? Does it have the parking that you need for the amount of people that you want there?
Or if you’re just starting out, is it okay to forego the size for something smaller, that’s going to be in a better central location, that people walking by can see? “Oh, my gosh! What’s that? That looks like fun!” Something more tailored to what your event actually is.
Zilker fits us because – we do have other venues that could handle that amount of people, but it’s not quite the same as bringing a blanket out. It’s really central. A lot of people can scooter in or Lyft or Uber, and it’s pretty easy to come in and out of. I know the traffic afterwards, a lot of people complain about it. But considering there are worse places to have that at, and Mopac is right there, so it’s really easy accessibility to the highway.
Lisa: Any big event you go to, there’s always going to be getting out of there.
Berenice: Oh, yeah. It’s a given.
Lisa: Even though Blues on the Green is a free event, with limiting parking available, you came to Ticketbud to organize your ticketed parking. So, people can get their parking passes online in advance. Can you talk about the decision to do that, and why it’s important when managing an event, to prepare people ahead of time for things that might be a pain point, like parking, so that they’re aware?
Berenice: Traditionally, a lot of people have been parking on the neighborhoods along Zilker, and we don’t want that, because those are peoples’ homes, and the last thing we want is to anger the actual Austin population that we love, and that we’re doing this for. So, we’re really lucky that the city has been able to give us these lots, very similar to Trail of Lights. That’s who referred us to Ticketbud.
We found that’s really convenient, that you can buy them ahead of time. You know who’s coming, and if you need a refund, you can do that. I’m there day of, with my phone on me, with my Ticketbud app open, with people saying like “Hey, I can’t make it. Can I transfer it to someone else?” I’m like “Yeah, just let me take your information.”
That convenience of it gives you a lot of peace of mind, rather than having to just be like “Where is it? Where do I go?” Because again, Ticketbud provides a map. You can see “Okay, this is where I have to go. There’s only one way in and one way out.” There’s a plan. And if you can’t make it, it’s a lot easier to get that back to you.
Spur of the moment, it’s a lot of just – I had friends before, when I was in college, spending an hour looking for parking for Blues. So, what a peace of mind!
Lisa: If you know you’re going, just buy it. You know you’re going to need it. Just all pile into a car.
Berenice: Exactly. Pre-scooter, too, so you’re walking there. It’s definitely helpful to know that “Okay, I have this peace of mind. No matter what, I have a spot, and it’s really close to the park, and that’s that.”
Lisa: Can you share a little bit about what goes into organizing sponsorships for this kind of event?
Berenice: Absolutely. We start doing that immediately. That’s one part that we actually do, the cycle of a sponsorship life. We have packages in different tiers. We have some for just a booth, some for food in a booth, some for a little higher up, that gives a little bit more space for a second tent, and more radio promos, more social network stuff, so a sponsor posts on Facebook or Instagram.
Then, we have platinum sponsors that have really high buy-in, that are featured on our scrims onstage, that basically tailor every sponsorship package. Last year, I think we had about 25 different packages. Some were tailor-made. Some were just flat-out platinum, what you could do.
Our account executives present that to their potential clients. The clients then sign, and immediately, we start telling them about the requirements. If it’s a food vendor, what they need to do. If it’s a platinum sponsor, what kind of activation that they want. For example, the past couple of years, we’ve had Texas Lottery. And right when the first song starts, we have these giant blowup balls that we let out into the crowd.
Lisa: Oh, I love it!
Berenice: It’s great! Some people don’t, because they’re sitting there enjoying your romantic sunset with your honey, and boom! You get blasted with a Texas Lottery ball!
Lisa: If I get the lucky ball, do I win something?
Berenice: We thought about that, too!
Lisa: That might be fun! “Number nine, number nine!”
Berenice: Exactly. But you see the magic of that, when the first song comes out, and all these balls. But you don’t see the moment we get to the park, we’re blowing up the balls behind the stage, and it’s ten of us, like standing spread eagle trying to get these large balls!
So, we take those costs into account, if that’s what the client wants to do. Then, a few weeks before, we make sure we have the health permits that we need for our food and beverage vendors. Then, after all is said and done, – I’m not complaining. I love my job – but the most tedious part is I do sponsorship recaps.
I send them a PowerPoint, basically that breaks down everything we did on air, on our pages, and onsite, with pictures, and organic marketing that might have happened. We include all of that for each and every sponsor, and also affiliates, including KLRU, is getting our donations this year. So, we make one for them.
All of that is kind of the end. And at the very end of our recap, we have something that is available for them to re-sign for next year, if they already know that they want to get in there, and they can get first rights. That’s the cycle of the sponsorship life.
Lisa: A lot goes into that. I imagine you also have to prepare proposals for new sponsors who want to get involved.
Lisa: How do you track all of the different obligations for everything? Is it like a giant spreadsheet?
Berenice: I do have a giant Excel, with a tab for every single sponsor, that breaks everything down. Some have contests; some are online, some are on air. Some have contests onsite, there at Blues. That’s where we try and track all of that.
We did something really nifty, where we have onsite requirements on an Excel sheet that I have printed out and put it on the back side of our blueprint of the map, so people can refer back on each side. You know what each sponsor’s doing, where they are, if they need anything special.
Lisa: What sort of other activations have the companies done?
Berenice: Oh, my goodness. So much! We have Tomlinson’s, they’re a pet store, a locally run pet store. They have little doggie pools out for the dogs that come to Blues on the Green. They can come and cool off a little bit.
Lisa: I’ll be hanging out there. I love dogs!
Berenice: Absolutely! South Texas Ford always has a car that is right next to the stage, that we put up on a lift, so you can see. I think we had a Mustang last time, so you could see, “Oh, look at this pretty Mustang you can get at South Texas Ford!”
We have Austin FC, that is not built yet, the new football club. They’re one of our platinum sponsors this year. I think we’re doing a little thing with a soccer ball and some cones, so people can come up and do that.
There’s a lot of different – you can choose. Clean Cause, which is Yerba Mate, had an inflatable. So, whatever people want.
Lisa: Do you work with them, to come up with ideas?
Berenice: Usually it’s the account executive. Sometimes the account executive comes to us, down in marketing, and is like “Hey, what can we do that we haven’t done before? This is the client. This is what they’re selling. This is their budget.” And we can come up with things. That’s the fun part of the job.
Lisa: Can you talk us through the marketing strategy and promotions for Blues on the Green?
Berenice: We recently rebranded from KGSR to Austin City Limits radio. With that change, and what our brand means, it excites us, because it is more – it’s just so Austin, now. We’re part of this amazing legacy. And now, Blues is a part of that amazing legacy. So, it’s another branch of the family, in rebranding that.
We’re really trying to push Instagram recently. We had a quite large following on Facebook, but we weren’t doing much with Instagram, until these past couple of years. We got a great digital team that’s kind of been pushing that out, and making it so people can find us easier. Because the Blues on the Green handle on Instagram has already been taken. Someone took it. They beat us to the punch!
So, everything’s now through Austin City Limits radio. A lot of people don’t even know that there’s a radio station attached to Blues on the Green, and it has been. A lot of people go “Oh, I just thought it was a concert series that the city did.” It’s like “No, a radio station puts that on!” Trying to get that out, those are the big hurdles.
Lisa: And promoting the event obviously through the radio station, what other channels do you promote through?
Berenice: Actually, we don’t use any other of our stations to push that out. It’s only on ACL Radio. But one of our platinum clients this year is Fox Austin. So now, Scott Fisher in the morning, the meteorologist, has been mentioning Blues on the Green. He comes on and does stage announcements for us. That’s helped a lot.
With our rebranding from KGSR to ACL Radio, we have a new logo. So, getting stickers and pens and our favorite – we love this in our marketing department – we have patches they can get for free, at our tent.
Lisa: What sort of patches?
Berenice: They’re patches you can put on a jean jacket, and every show, we have a different one. So, it’s a collectible. But our logo is on that, so people can now start associating the event with us and who we are, and our long tradition.
Lisa: The next Blues on the Green event is Wednesday, July 17th. Then, the final concert is August 7th. So those in Austin, grab your family, friends, dogs and blankets, and join us for Blues on the Green. I’m going to be down there.
If you plan to drive and park near Zilker, don’t forget to grab your parking pass ticket from Ticketbud. Parking opens at 6:00 PM, and the show starts at 8:00 PM.
Thanks for joining us on the podcast!
Berenice: Thank you so much for having me.
Lisa: Until next time, this is Ticketbud Tidbits!
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