Rockford's Independent Newspaper

Coronado’s risky venture pays off

By Chris Wachowiak

[dropcap]What[/dropcap] was up is down, what was left is right—and what you typically look and accept as “that’s its intended use” might have a flipside opportunity.

So often I’ve heard of some of the greatest success stories about people that created a success by seeing a unique opportunity where others often took for granted as it only has one purpose or use. There are two words that can uncover a new opportunity: “Why not?”

The spark of this story comes from the Ryley Walker concert I saw this past weekend at the Coronado Theater. I was inspired and reminded of making something cool happen from a place of what appeared, to me, wanting to do cool things. The philosophy was similar to mine at the end of Kryptonite: instead of waiting for someone else to put on the things I want to see, I’ll just do it.

Let’s look at the concept first as the person making that call to put on an unusual style of show, and while it does align with what the core business is, it does it in a very unusual way. The Walker show was an onstage experience for both the artist and the concert-goers. A smaller number of patrons at the Coronado that night were positioned on the same space as the band, providing a totally unique perspective of the show.

Typically when running a business you need to identify what you do well, how you do it, and what makes it work economically and then figure out how you can create buy-in (literally) from a community. The risk versus the reward or, as I love to say, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?”

Now that a concept has been presented to put on some smaller scale shows, but to do them in their standard production fashion it would become extremely expensive to produce even the least expensive entertainment in the traditional way. How do you create an opportunity to put on a smaller show that is cool and do it in a way that does not risk breaking your bank?

The theater started looking at different areas of their venues differently, and started asking some of my favorite questions related to discovering opportunities, “What if, and why not?” I don’t know who created this concept originally, nor do I think it is nearly as important as the one required to pull the trigger and say, “Let’s try to make this work, and let’s do it.”

They took an area typically used by the artist and flipped the problem into the opportunity. The problem for the house was if they do it the normal way was too expensive, but the house itself is the greatest asset to offer as well.

So they put together a series concept and then put one foot down by booking a concept artist with a strong local connection with solid credentials to add legitimacy to the vibe and experience. They also had their follow up show secured and ready to promote at this show if people felt this connection to their concept.

Now, the perspective of a customer (this customer): I did not buy my tickets until the day of the event instead of advance because I was curious of the process they were using and the hype around it. Plus, I have a fear of commitment because this show, until I saw it, was important to me—but not enough to fork over my money when I was unsure if I could commit the energy and time to just break away from my everyday life (and yes, this is a real barrier to events in this market).

So I talked a good buddy into joining me, who is also not easily impressed by events or concerts because he, like me, until this moment have never really listened to Ryley Walker. I did not buy my ticket for the band as much as I did wanting to have this experience of seeing the band from sitting on the stage perspective looking out into the empty house behind them.

I also had an unusual sense of arrival for this show compared to any other I have been to there. When I went to park in the garage directly across the street, I was surprised to find that I was one of just eight cars in the garage, which made me believe that this show was going to be a bust at first. Then I walked to the box office to buy my pair of tickets with no one but a small group of friends there and no one else around.

Once I bought my tickets, we proceeded around the corner where typically “backstage” artist access is only permitted, went through a security check in a short hallway with no indication that when I walked into the backstage door, I would see a completely packed stage of eager audience guests anxiously awaiting this unique performance. The vibe, the setting and the room were set for an extremely simple, raw unique listening room.

For a first stab at something outside their normal scope of performances it was very well thought out and executed. Once the show began and the music began to play through the night my “live music/venue owner mind” kicked in and one made me reflect of some of my favorite concerts that I had attempted and treasured. I had multiple people come up to me and tell me that they had not seen something this cool since the Colin Hay performance at the Nordlof Center I put on.

But the best part for me was I just got to enjoy this show and not run around fixing those little hiccups that occur, like audience members more concerned with talking over the band and reminding them their conversations can happen outside, which is often part of such an experience.

Promoters offered shirts printed for this show, and even though the quality of the shirts was nothing special they did partner up with one of my favorite artists, Joe Tallman, to create a limited run of merchandise (Tallman also designed and printed the Coronado’s Wilco poster in 2017).

The theater did a lot of right things. They partnered with genuine passionate mavens in our market like Daniel McMahon, Don Miller and more to help produce this authentic experience in a real genuine way. The sound was spot on, the acoustics were dialed into perfection, the room was lit to carry the vibe, and the crowd was excited to experience something different than the everyday ordinary show known in our market.

The take away I am most impressed with is this: even if you do not “know the entertainment,” as in what they do or sing or sound like, or you may not have ever heard of them, trust in this series of shows that it will offer new experiences to hear songs from artist souls strummed to your ears, to resonate in your bones as you tap your toes, shake your head in a strum to the harmonic connection and make you feel at one with something greater than your normal everyday routine or expectations.

Do yourself a favor if you can, and this is what I will also try myself, and attend their next show in this series on March 23. Go in with no expectations placed on the artist or the experience outside of looking to connect with the energy found inside that room, and be ready to participate in the moment as it happens.

From the perspective of the person putting on the show, to the person attending the show, success is found when we bring a community together for a single focused agenda to just enjoy with as many like-minded people as possible and we can drown out the everyday routines for a short while and participate in the extraordinary. The people at the Coronado have achieved that with this new, risky venture. R.

Find Chris on Twitter: @Chris2nite.

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