Return to concerts: Production crews and artists in Roanoke discuss a year of low profits

Roanoke Valley News

ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — With summer approaching concerts venues in the Roanoke Valley are gearing up for a busy fall and winter, but first venue officials are starting with a lighter return to the stage.

Venues like Berglund Center in Roanoke are recovering from a year of profits coming up short.

Berglund Center officials say though it is a multi-million dollar asset to Roanoke, they had to lay off 95% of full-time staff during the pandemic. Over the next few months, those employees are expected to be returning.

Being unable to hold large-scale events has affected more than just the venue. It also affected the artists, as well as the production team. One of the members of that production team, Micha Davidson, told WFXR News crews this was his grand return to the Star City.

“It’s been at least a year. It was March [of 2020] when things shut down and we haven’t done anything since,” Davidson explained

“When you’re talking about socially distanced, and you have a big restriction on how many people can come and because you have that restriction you have to balance that out with more expensive tickets and you have fewer people come out so it just balances out where a lot of times these are just break-even events,” he continued.

Grace Potter, a Rock singer who recently had a concert at the Berglund Center, knows the effects of the pandemic on production and touring all too well.

“To send everybody home with this just I don’t know the feeling,” Potter recalled. “It was really…it sidelined everybody in a way that I don’t think everybody expected to feel.”

Potter decided to do something about not being able to perform for audiences in-person during the pandemic. She teamed up with a Vermont Senator, Peter Welch, and other politicians for the Save Our Stages Act.

“The government has basically agreed to basically save these music venues that have been sitting twiddling their thumbs, basically unable to pay their employees for the last year,” she explained. 

Robert Knight, the Director of Marketing and Sales for Berglund Center, says what making money during outdoor concerts comes down to is getting people into these venues — like the Berglund Center — safely.

“It’s more about just starting to provide live entertainment to Roanoke and start to, we’re really just looking for ways to produce any kind of income,” Knight said. “But honestly, it’s nowhere close to where our coliseum shows are.”

The shows are slightly smaller, Knight points out.

“200 to 600 people, just depending on the artist, factors, weather, since it’s outdoors…rain. We’ve been lucky so far.”  

Bringing guests back to larger scale events also means bringing back staff.

Knight recalled when the venue had to lay off 95% of its full-time staff, saying, “We even had to send some of our full-time people home, you know? We furloughed employees. When there’s no work to do, there’s really nothing else we can do.” 

Richard Donald has worked for the venue for 26 years, but he was a part of those layoffs.

“It was kind of tough you know, I mean, not interacting with the guests,” he said.

But now, he is back in his event staff role, counting guests as the enter the venue. Donald says he could not be happier.

“It’s good to get out and see people and talk to people.” 

On average, Berglund Center officials said they see about 300 guests per event.

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