Summer country show displays promise, exposes areas for improvement

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For some, Dwight Yoakam's recent performance in Taos was a big success - full of good, old-fashioned boot-scootin' tunes played by what many hailed as some of the best country musicians Taos has booked in years.

Yoakam had played in Taos once before, just as his career was beginning to lift off in the late 1980s. This summer, he returned to what is, in many ways, a different audience in a different town - one that has grown considerably in both size and its ability to accommodate Grammy Award-winning performers.

Still, with the hefty, 5,000 person-plus crowds the town is now drawing for big-name acts, there also come some logistical challenges that promoters and town organizers are struggling to iron out.

Yoakam was joined by two other bands on a bill organized by Santa Fe-based AMP Concerts and the town of Taos on Saturday (July 29) - The Last Bandoleros, a Tex-Mex music group, and The Mavericks, an alternative country music collective.

While the former undercard prepared to take the stage in Kit Carson Park late in the afternoon, vendors prepared food carts and beer stands as the expected line of ticket holders formed outside the park's main entrance and snaked its way farther south into central Taos.

Some concertgoers got right in.

Patty King, an Albuquerque woman who had come up for the music, gained entrance quickly, landing a spot near the front of the stage. Following the show, she shared a glowing review via a public post to her Facebook page. "Beautiful night in Taos ... what a blast being there with good friends," she wrote.

Others ran into a bottleneck at the main gate.

In a comment on a Tempo article, one attendee, Debbie Swope, said that she was disappointed that she missed the opening act due to the long wait at the gate. "Even though we got in line at 4:30 [p.m.] we didn't make it into the concert until 6:45 [p.m.]"

Panky Romero, a retired realty branch manager who vacations in Taos, also found gaining entry to be cumbersome. "We are Mavericks fans, have been for many years," he said. "We were somewhat disappointed at [the] way the entry to the park was handled ..."

Mitch Miller, town of Taos facilities and special events director, was an organizer of the event, as well as several of those past - including Alabama Shakes' summer 2016 appearance. Miller said that he thought the concert was "a huge success on a variety of levels," though he then went on to acknowledge the "concerns about how long the lines were. We're definitely looking at how we can improve getting people into the park."

Miller said that ticketing has typically been done at one location, at the park's main gate, with rear entrances reserved for security, staff and bands. That might change in the future, he said, as the need to thin lines to accommodate crowds that are expected to grow larger will only present a greater problem as time goes on.

Once the crowds arrive in the park, however, emergency services then need easy access to respond to health events among concertgoers, and law enforcement and private security also need to be able to move in quickly in case of potential threats or altercations.

This year, Miller said there were about five fights - some ending quickly with little injury, while others called for medical attention. None of the fights ended in arrests, Miller said, adding that he believes that the level of alcohol served at shows is not a concern at this point.

While preliminary numbers on tickets sold and the results from surveys about the impacts on local businesses were not available as of press time, Miller estimated that somewhere between 4,800 and 5,400 tickets were scanned for the concert. This, in turn, is believed to cause a correlated revenue boost for hotels, bars and restaurants.

"Based on what we've learned, several million dollars are spent when these shows come to town," Miller said.

Problems at big-name shows are to be expected at venues of any size. Especially for a smaller town, it's a lot to manage.

But Miller and the growing number of promoters, bands and music agents he is contracting with promise that there won't be any stop to the music anytime soon.

On the contrary, Miller said - expect the bands to get bigger and the music louder when summer rolls around next year in the park.

"In terms of creating a name for the venue, we expect to see a progression in the types of shows and amount of shows we are going to be able to do," he said. "Ultimately, I want people to come to our show and have a great experience. ... We know we have a lot of work to do, but we're looking to make this a great experience."

Dwight Yoakam

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