How USC’s Students-Only Concert Will Impact The Bands’ Other Local Engagements

Conflicting Interests
By Jordan Lawrence
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
The Mowgli's | courtesy photo

Two Saturdays ago, Manchester Orchestra delivered one of the most impressive sets at this year’s St. Pat’s in Five Points festival. Finding ferocity that its albums sometimes lack, the Atlanta outfit unleashed riffs that slashed and smashed, deploying them with rhythmic complexities that suggested a more hook-enthused Radiohead, albeit with a singer — Andy Hull — who is far more fond of shredding his vocal chords. The band played to an expansive crowd on the event’s biggest stage, a moment that should have felt special and fleeting.

On Thursday, Manchester Orchestra will again headline a large outdoor concert in Columbia. As part of the Sperry Top-sider Vacationland series, a college tour sponsored by the nautically inclined shoe company, the band will join The Mowgli’s, Vacationer and MisterWives for a free block party on Greene Street open only to students and employees at the University of South Carolina. And while St. Pat’s doesn’t appear to have suffered from the band’s closely timed performances, Manchester isn’t the only group pulling double duty.

Friday finds The Mowgli’s headlining a gig at Jillian’s with support from MisterWives, while Vacationer returns to town next month as the main draw for a fundraiser at El Burrito benefitting the school’s student radio station, WUSC.

Multiple performances within a short time period make each appearance feel less consequential, and — more importantly — they diminish the returns that the ticketed shows can expect to generate. Chris McLane, a talent buyer at AEG Live who secured the lineup for St. Pat’s and also organized the show at Jillian’s, confirms that these double-bookings are potentially crippling, “especially in a small market like Columbia.”

“St. Patrick’s Day was just such a huge success this year, and the lineup was so diverse, we didn’t feel that impact,” he explains, noting that the festival was given the opportunity to keep Manchester from playing the second date. “[But] on a hard-ticket show when you have the band playing for free to the target audience that we were hoping would come the very next day in the same city, it’s less than ideal.”

And these are definitely groups that would have drawn kids off campus. The Mowgli’s’ sound is huge, hook-laden and bursting with knee-jerk emotions, a targeted confluence of the populist rock favored by latter-day Springsteen acolytes and the frantic folk popularized by outfits like The Avett Brothers.
Vacationer, on the other hand, slips down chillwave alleyways with shimmery reverb and purposeful bass lines, attributes certain to resonate in the town that produced Toro Y Moi.

Kate Appelbaum, station manager at WUSC, was hoping to cash in on that appeal during the organization’s April 26 fundraiser. And while she’s hopeful that she can still leverage opportunities afforded by Thursday’s show — on-air time with the artists, for instance — to drum up interest, she’s nervous: Vacationer is guaranteed $700 just for showing up, so the concert would need to attract at least 100 people at the projected $5-$8 price point just to break even.

“We’re a college radio station,” the junior says. “We don’t just have this endless account of money to spend, so if this cuts into it, it’s really going to hurt us. I’m trying to think of ways that I can make sure that we make enough money and are not hurt by the Sperry event. I’m still trying to be optimistic.”

But junior Adam Mayer — president of Carolina Productions, the on-campus events organization bringing the Sperry bill to town — insists that the event won’t detract from the artists’ other engagements.

“Since these are newer bands and up-and-coming bands, the more publicity they get, I think the better,” he contends. “It’s helping them. More students are knowing these names since they’ve played in the area, and I think it will help the concerts that will happen after this tour.”

The groups will definitely win new fans, ones that may well flock to them when they return down the line. But will students pay to see them again so soon after enjoying them for nothing? Don’t count on it; McLane certainly isn’t.

“It will hurt the [later] show, for sure,” he says of his Mowgli’s date. “We’re going to have to restructure the deal to make the show happen because we feel like we will lose a percentage of people who are going to go for free.”

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