There’s something special about live music. Outdoor venues in particular are fun because in the Midwest they mark the start of temperate weather, and after a long winter nothing feels better to many people than listening to a favorite artist in a live, outdoor setting.
This is precisely why, in 2019, the folks at Danny Wimmer Presents (DWP) approached representatives from the Waterfront Development Corporation to discuss the idea of putting on a summer concert series at Waterfront Park. Plans were in the works during the first quarter of 2020 when COVID-19 brought concerts to an abrupt halt.
“It was like this slow torture because when the virus first hit in March, we thought it was going to be two weeks of a pause,” says Deborah Bilitski, executive director of Waterfront Development Corporation. “That turned into four weeks, then six weeks. We were optimistic, thinking that certainly by summer things would be back to normal, then by fall. Events kept getting pushed back, and reality finally set in.”
Thankfully, however, in recent months things have turned around. Now, more than ever, the public has a voracious appetite for live music.
“There’s almost been a mad rush of people asking us to start scheduling activities again,” Bilitski says.
It makes perfect sense. After a year of having next to nothing penciled onto our calendars, society is eager to have fun.
DWP has had a strong presence in Louisville for quite some time, but this marks the first season of the Live on the Lawn at Waterfront Park concert series, which kicked off in June. They plan to put on 10 nights of concerts in the inaugural season.
“We’ve been wanting to do this for years at Waterfront Park,” says Chamie McCurry, chief marketing officer at DWP. “It’s an area we love.”
Partnering with DWP has helped build a newly created membership program for Waterfront Park.
“They have allowed us to create a pre-sale code for people who are members or join as members of Waterfront Park, which entitles them to a pre-sale code to purchase tickets before they go on sale to the general public,” Bilitski says.
They created pod seating so people can safely gather for live events. The idea is to purchase pods that include people with whom attendees regularly associate, in order to minimize interaction with people outside of their “bubble.” According to McCurry, pods are similar to traditional amphitheater seating, with boxed seats behind the first reserved section before the lawn.
“I personally love them because you have your own space,” McCurry says.
Premium reserved pod seating, which includes chairs and is closest to the stage, is available in Section 1. Pods in Sections 2 and 3 are general admission seating and are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Each pod contains a minimum of four and a maximum of six tickets. A limited number of general admission lawn seating tickets may also be sold, with plenty of room for physical distancing. Lawn tickets may be purchased in any quantity including single-ticket purchases.
The buzz surrounding this concert series is ever-growing as folks embrace the return of live music.
“People are incredibly enthusiastic to get out and start rejoining the community,” says Bilitski, who notes how sad it is that the Waterfront Park events calendar was empty last year. “That felt so strange since we typically host up to 150 events in Waterfront Park every year.”
These events are the lifeblood of the park, as the resulting revenue is how the park is operated and maintained. Because Waterfront Park is not part of the metro park system, it does not receive state funding. In fact, less than 30% of its operating funding comes from metro government, which means park leaders have to earn the remaining 70% of revenue to support the park.
“We try to do everything we can to partner with the community and local businesses in order to keep this amazing asset we have here in our city welcoming, free and accessible to everyone,” Bilitski says.
The community’s response to these concerts is a positive sign, not just for Waterfront Park but for the community as a whole. The first three shows, featuring Billy Strings, sold out almost immediately. They added a third show, and those tickets were snatched up within hours. Shinedown was announced the following day and sold out quickly, too. If current ticket sales are any indication of what’s to come, Bilitski is anticipating a busy summer and fall.
“These sales demonstrate that there’s a real hunger out there for people to reconvene as a community in this park and around music,” Bilitski says.
McCurry is not surprised that folks are champing at the bit to get out and have fun, given what we’ve all endured throughout the past year.
“The world went from 100 to 0 in a blink of an eye, and people miss what live music provides,” she says. “Live music and that communal experience you have of celebrating your favorite song or artist with neighbors or friends is so special and one of the things people missed the most this year.”
When the gates opened for the first Live on the Lawn show, McCurry was blown away by what she witnessed.
“I haven’t seen that pure joy on people’s faces in a long time,” McCurry says. “It was almost like this huge sigh of relief to feel normal, to be back at a show, and to feel that connection again. I’ve never seen more smiles in my life than I did that weekend.”
This concert series will likely help to re-energize the downtown area.
“Don’t ever underestimate the power of Waterfront Park to bring people from every part of this community to our downtown area,” says Bilitski.
The park draws visitors from every metro council district and every county in the surrounding region. One in four visitors comes from outside the region just to visit the park, walk the bridge or attend an event.
“Everyone who comes to this park feels like they belong,” Bilitski says. “They all see this as their park.”
That kind of devotion means a lot to the city as people partake in all of the downtown attractions, including hotels, restaurants and shops. The first concert of the series attracted people from 28 different states, including California and New York. That proves not only society’s excitement to travel again, but also fans’ devotion to going long distances in order to experience their favorite band live.
“That also goes to show that Louisville is a true tourist destination,” McCurry says.
Though this is the inaugural season, event leaders plan to put on the Live on the Lawn series for many years to come.
“We’re incredibly excited about this long-term partnership that will bring live events to the lawn,” McCurry says.
For more information, visit liveonthelawnlou.com.