On a gray March day at South Park, it’s hard to imagine a hot August afternoon with thousands of people angling for shade under the giant cottonwoods at the Magic City Blues festival.
That's how it was last year. Magic City Blues promoter Tim Goodridge is moving the Saturday night show for Magic City Blues to South Park and he’s bringing the shade.
After a successful 13 years hosting two nights of music on Montana Avenue, Goodridge decided to get off the hot pavement, at least for one night. The Friday night show, scheduled for Aug. 8, featuring headliner Jonny Lang, will still be on Montana Avenue. Tickets go on sale Sunday at www.magiccityblues.com.
The shows on Saturday, Aug. 9, and Sunday, Aug. 10, will be presented at South Park. Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite will headline Saturday night, and Huey Lewis and the News will play on Sunday. A free show will be presented on Aug. 7, featuring a Magic City Blues act at St. John’s Lutheran Home.
“There are probably a lot of people who came 10 years ago who don’t want to come anymore because they’re getting older and they don’t want to stand up all night on the pavement,” Goodridge said. “The component we needed was shade.”
The 'wow' factor
Goodridge contracted with Architect of the Air founder Mar Ricketts, of Portland, to create nylon and polyester sheets of different sizes, shapes and colors that will be tied between the cottonwood trees at South Park, creating shade sails up to 30 feet in the air. Ricketts calls it fabric architecture. He’s been covering crowds at music festivals and other events across the world since 1994.
“You are adding the sense of place,” Ricketts said. “We’re adding comfort because we’re shading the audience. It’s like turning the park into an outdoor ballroom. You get this idea that you have arrived somewhere. This adds that ‘wow’ factor.”
Ricketts has studied photographs of South Park and discussed with the Billings Parks Department how to attach harnesses to the trees to keep the sails up without harming the trees.
“The fabric will be under a good bit of tension, but it will be small amounts compared to what these trees can take,” Ricketts said.
A bit of climbing involved
His company has been providing shade for the blues festival on the Portland waterfront for years and provided cover for big festivals in Australia and Toronto. The job of harnessing the sails to the trees requires trained arborists using a combination of mechanical lifts and climbing to get them in place.
Another necessary component for the shade was finding a sponsor. Cape Air marketing director Erin Hatzell had already sought out Goodridge to work out package deals, flying fans to the festival and offering hotel deals, concert tickets, and discount options at local restaurants. When Goodridge pitched the idea of sponsoring the shade, Cape Air went for it.
“What we really want to do is offer an experience,” Hatzell said. “Magic City Blues is such a great event, not just for Billings but for Montana. I go every year and I’ve met people from St. Louis and New York. It’s a destination festival.”
Hatzell said many fans travel to Billings for MCB from Eastern Montana, where Cape Air provides air service to Billings for $49 each way. Families look to Magic City Blues as a vacation because it occurs during MontanaFair. Now that the Saturday show will be a daylong, all-ages event, Goodridge expects more families to attend. Plans are to start the music on Saturday at 3 p.m., scheduling five bands to play throughout the day on Saturday, ending the show at 10:30 p.m. instead of the midnight end time when the Saturday show was downtown. Erecting a bigger stage at South Park will also better accommodate bigger bands.
Evolution of MCB
The South Park portion of the festival will also offer a craft beer garden and expanded food offerings, provided by the Rex.
“It’s the evolution of this festival,” Goodridge said. “You just recognize that people don’t want to sit on the planter box or fight with the crowds. Some of our bigger nights were just packed downtown. Imagine if it would have been down at South Park, with people spread out on the grass.”
Goodridge will provide a shuttle service to South Park, taking music fans from the area of the new parking garage on 27th Street to South Park, which is about 10 blocks south of that area.