Ever wanted to see Sting and Diana Ross on two straight nights?
You’ve got your extremely rare chance this Monday and Tuesday, at the legendary Tanglewood Music Center in the beautiful Berkshires of western Massachusetts.
So the question arises: How does Tanglewood end up with Sting, Diana Ross, James Taylor, and so many other superstars?
And why don’t you ever see Elton John or the Rolling Stones performing at that same iconic venue?
“We have our standards, but we also have our budgets,”says Kim Noltemy, Chief Operating and Communications Officer at the Boston Symphony Orchestra, responsible for, among other things, booking the big acts at Tanglewood.
“We are a nonprofit,” she adds. “For some of the really huge artists out there, we would have to charge $300 to $500 a seat to meet their fees, which can exceed $600,000 for the for the most popular artists.
“There’s no guarantee that we would make that money back. We can’t bet the house on a given show. As a nonprofit, we couldn’t bear that level of risk.”
When putting programs together, Noltemy has to consider appropriateness, fees, and, of course, weather.
“Some of our performers get as many as 5,000 walkup patrons,” she says. “If it rains, forget it. They’re staying home.”
Many artists recognize the Tanglewood’s hallowed place in music history, Noltemy adds.
Yet when they’re booking tours, they still may not have dates available that work with the venue’s schedule.
Also, they may be unable to make as much money as they could at larger halls, where parking and concessions can push up fees by several hundreds of thousands of dollars.
At Tanglewood, seating capacity is 18,000, compared with arenas that seat double or triple that number.
In addition, parking is free, and patrons often bring their own fabulous picnics.
That makes for a great evening for the attendees, but doesn’t translate into as lucrative a deal for the performers.
“Tanglewood is famous for the decadence of the picnics on the lawn,” Noltemy says. “One family even brought in a couch for a James Taylor concert one year.
“When I asked why, they explained, ‘This is our big family event every year. We want it to be perfect.’”
Tanglewood is competitive in terms of the fees they pay, but Noltemy says, “The venue doesn’t work for every artist.”
So what makes an artist Tanglewood-friendly?
“One thing we have noticed over the years,” Noltemy says, “if they’ve got a big following on NPR, they’re probably right for us.
“People who listen to NPR these days find their way to Tanglewood. So if we book an artist that’s getting a lot of attention on NPR, we can pretty much count on a really good house.”
Tanglewood’s goal is to have a few big names booked each Fall, when the initial Tanglewood schedule for the following summer goes out.
Then it’s a question of delicate negotiations with a variety of additional top-flight artists, in order to create the perfect calendar.
“Some artists jump at the chance of doing a Boston Pops concert,” Noltemy adds, noting that Melissa Etheridge will perform with the Pops September 3.
“They’ve always wanted to sing with an orchestra, so that’s one way to get them to Tanglewood.
“Audiences love to see their favorite artists playing with the Pops, so everybody wins.”
So how do you end up with Sting and Diana Ross back to back?
“It’s just a function of their tour schedules working out with our overall calendar,” says Noltemy.
“Having these two superstars performing on two straight nights is pretty special for us. We’re expecting big crowds both nights.”
What about carrying in your own couch for either show?
“Couches are optional,” Noltemy laughs. “Nothing could surprise me now!”
For further information, https://www.bso.org/Home.