Alaska Journal | Promoter aims to give Downtown a boost with two-day country
This past Wednesday night, live country music returned to Anchorage as Downtown’s newest bar, The Broken Blender, hosted Nashville duo Love and Theft.
The noise of clinking glasses and excited chatter seemed to drown out the worries that plagued many small business owners in 2020. For The Broken Blender co-owner Brad Erickson, it was the start of what he hopes will be a small business revival Downtown.
“Everybody’s COVID story is different. You know, some people lost friends and family members to it. Some people lost businesses; some people lost jobs. There’s a lot of people in business that have profited because of COVID. So, everybody’s COVID story is different,” says Erickson.
Not only a restaurateur but also the owner of Erickson Unlimited, an event promotions company, Erickson’s own COVID story wasn’t simple. Anchorage’s health mandates forced him to cancel numerous events, and financial troubles with longtime vendor Brown Paper Tickets brought on by canceled events around the country left him out $200,000 in revenue from sales at previous shows.
While Erickson continued to produce smaller shows in Fairbanks, the Valley and the Kenai Peninsula, he faced an onslaught of public criticism for seemingly circumventing mandates on gathering sizes.
“I know I was a hated man, but the reality is that there wasn’t a single positive COVID case traced back to any of my shows in 2020. And we had shows in Soldotna, Fairbanks, Kodiak, and the Valley. The reality was that I did my due diligence. I talked to the state. I spent thousands of dollars on masks, hand sanitizer stations, and thermometers, and we really restricted the number of tickets sold,” he said.
But staying afloat during a global pandemic is just another thing that Erickson has had to contend with as a concert promoter.
“[It’s] one of those things that people just don’t understand. It takes months and months and months, if not a year, to plan stuff. You have to put all your money upfront and hope that you’re going to sell enough tickets and enough people are going to come out to recoup the money,” Erickson said.
Apart from catering to artist requests, booking venues, and selling tickets, Erickson also has to accommodate the unique nature of concert promotions in Alaska.
“I talk to promoters in Nashville, and they don’t seem to get it. I ask them, ‘Have you ever not sold tickets to a concert because the salmon were running?’ Well, that happens here,” he said with a laugh.
But fishing season is only one of a slew of idiosyncrasies associated with being a promoter in the Last Frontier. Convincing top-tier touring acts to take two travel days to perform for a fickle Alaskan audience is a challenge in itself.
“We are in the middle of nowhere, and artists make their money by touring,” Erickson said. “It takes a lot of time to travel up here, and a lot of times, they look at that as a loss of revenue. We’re also a small market and aren’t going to sell the number of tickets places like Milwaukee and Minneapolis will.”
The difficulty of enticing acts has forced Erickson to find ways to sweeten the deal.
“In the Lower 48, a promoter takes care of the logistics, and as soon as the concert is done, the job is done. Up here, I’m taking artists fishing, or hunting, or on a glacier cruise. It’s a lot more involved than you’d think,” he said.
Although the hours are long and the job often thankless, Erickson said it is worth it because of the impact it has on the state.
“The biggest thing that you hear, especially now that things are back open, is ‘Wow! I feel human again. I feel alive,'” he said.
With 2020 in the rearview mirror, Erickson is looking forward to bringing vitality back to Alaskan small businesses, starting with a two-day country music festival in Downtown Anchorage on June 26 and 27 at the EasyPark Chinook lot on Third Avenue and E Street.
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