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SHERIDAN — Sheridan attracts its fair share of tourism for a variety of reasons. Outdoor enthusiasts use it as a gateway to the Bighorn Mountains, artists come for inspiration and respite and city dwellers come for a taste of the wild West. This year, there was a new reason to be in town: to jam out.
The Trails End Concert Park has wrapped up its first official season, and the year’s success implies the framework is laid to make Sheridan’s new venue a destination for concertgoers nationwide.
General Manager Rob Green said he’s more than happy with the year’s turnout, and he expects substantial growth for next year’s concert lineup.
“Sheridan is now a destination for fans,” Green said. “By next year, we’re going to bring in at least 30-60 percent more people.”
While the venue technically opened the summer of 2012 when construction of the stage was complete, Green said this was the first year he had an unrestricted shot at scheduling acts. This year’s lineup featured some high profile performers across both rock and country genres: Joan Jett, Alan Jackson, Clay Walker, Montgomery Gentry, The Doobie Brothers and Slaughter, to name a few.
While a skeptic might ask how a celebrity lineup of musical performances would fare in a small town in Wyoming, the answer, Green said, is quite well.
“They did what their averages are,” he said, revealing that while Alan Jackson’s concert was the most attended event this year, it was actually the “80s Rock Fest,” which featured sets by Skid Row, Warrant, Firehouse and Dokken, that overachieved expectations the most.
Green said ticket sales for Sheridan shows come from all over the country. While avid music fans are known to travel far and wide to see their favorite bands perform, Green said he’s equally excited about the feedback he got from the artists who came through.
“There isn’t one artist that didn’t say this is one of the best places they’ve ever played, and they’ve played all over the world.”
Green went on to say the venue’s stage and state-of-the-art audio technology make the concert park an oasis for live music.
For starters, the stage is anchored in concrete, which makes for a better playing experience for the performers.
“These artists are used to playing on portable or timber or wood stages, and they get a vibration coming through their ear pieces and through their microphones. It’s as loud on stage as it is outside. That’s why live music is not as crisp as studio music,” Green said.
Green said stage’s concrete foundation virtually eliminates reverberation.
“More than half of these artists that have played now have said it’s like playing in a studio,” Green said. “They don’t have to use drops, carpets or anything to deaden the sound.”
Green said building the stage so sturdy wasn’t actually in the original blueprints when construction began. It was a series of happy mistakes that lead to a sound-friendly finished product that will stand up against Sheridan’s severe seasons.
“In our minds, (the stage) was way, way over-engineered,” he said. “But, by (the engineer) protecting himself and us because of the extreme weather conditions we have up here, it turned out great.”
The artist’s performing space is flanked by 20-foot-by-20-foot jumbotrons and a brand new speaker and production system, including an option to have the performing artists’ soundboards digitally pre-programmed.
However, it takes more than a wired stage to keep a concert venue viable. Paradise Artists Talent Agent Bobby Lee, based in Ojai, Calif., said Sheridan’s geography could be seen as both an advantage and a risk to traveling acts.
“Basically, the town of Sheridan is kind of in a routing situation for major acts going through,” Lee said. “Anyone that’s ground-routed, we’re trying to capitalize on that.”
Lee said the fact Sheridan doesn’t have a big population base like Denver or Salt Lake City may cause some acts to doubt the financial incentive for stopping to play a set. Green said he compensates for that by focusing his marketing efforts in a 300-mile radius around Sheridan. People in Wyoming, he said, are used to driving long distances for events.
However, Lee said this year was a demonstrative year for the Trails End.
“In the music business, people think if you book great acts you’ll make money,” Lee said. “It doesn’t always work that way. You have to have cooperation and a good business plan.”
“It’s fairly rare when you can get acts of the caliber that played this year into a new venue the first year,” Lee said. “There’s a leap of faith there from the agencies. They’re willing to take a chance.”
Lee, who manages Joan Jett, said the Trails End venue was accommodating to his star, who has a reputation of being difficult to please.
“She was extremely happy,” he said. “She had a good crowd, was close to the audience, and had a good communication factor going on.”
Lee said the Trails End staff made Jett a meal at 2 a.m.
“I have played and performed on the road myself,” Lee said. “If places that make you feel welcome and feel at home, that’s a hell of a lot more important in the long run.”
Erik Turner, lead guitarist for Warrant, said the stop was a hit for him as well.
“It was very professional, very big stage. Everybody at work there was great to work with. We got treated like gold,” Turner said.
“Most of all, we had a great response from the crowd. There was a lot of rock and roll fans showing us a lot of love,” he said. “We look forward to hopefully coming back next year.”
Warrant was one of many high profile bands that toured relentlessly through the summer months — Turner said he only had two weekends off since the tour began.
“(Sheridan) was a bit more out of the way, but the crowd response was great,” he said.
Green said some of the classic country and rock bands were initially intimidated by the “hard ticket” sell of the concert park, meaning the crowd was there to just to hear the music and not arbitrarily encountering the band at another event like a county fair. By the end of the night, though, all the acts this year played two or three encores — they played longer than their contracted time, longer than they had to.
Lee said the inaugural year showcased the professional management, competent venue and friendly community of supporters Sheridan has to offer touring music shows.
Green is working with Lee and other high-profile entertainment industry agents, including Larry Barr, who developed the Country Thunder music festival, to book an even more ambitious lineup for next summer.
“What I’m trying to say is, without discounting who we had this year, we’re going to put it on next year, let me tell you,” Green said. “We’re bringing in some big stuff.”
Green said he expects to announce next summer’s lineup in November.