Steamboat Springs residents attend the free summer concert featuring Michael Franti and Spearhead on July 18, 2008, at Howelsen Hill.

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Steamboat Springs residents attend the free summer concert featuring Michael Franti and Spearhead on July 18, 2008, at Howelsen Hill.

Free Summer Concert Series organizers seek more support

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2009 Free Summer Concert Series lineup

- June 27, Rusted Root, at Howelsen Hill: For almost two decades, the Pittsburgh-based band Rusted Root has forged jam rock with world music styles, crafting songs that sometimes are hard to understand but always are catchy. The band last played in Steamboat in March 2008 and will release a new studio album, "Stereo Radio," on Tuesday. Listen to Rusted Root at www.myspace.com/officialrustedroot.

- July 17, The Greyboy Allstars, at Howelsen Hill: The Greyboy Allstars combine '70s funk grooves with jazz to land on a laidback, danceable sound that's continued to evolve since the band formed in 1993. Saxophonist Karl Denson will play with the band. Listen to the Allstars at www.myspace.com/thegreyboyallstars.

- July 31, The Freddy Jones Band, at Howelsen Hill: Listing the Allman Brothers, Little Feat and Dave Matthews among their influences, The Freddy Jones Band reunited in 2005 after a hiatus that followed radio play and commercial success through the mid- and late-'90s and got right back to tossing blues guitar solos into an alternative rock format. "Time Well Wasted," the band's first studio record in 10 years, came out April 14. Listen to The Freddy Jones Band at www.myspace.com/freddyjonesband.

- Aug. 13, Susan Tedeschi, at Steamboat Ski Area: In addition to being a killer blues singer and guitarist, Susan Tedeschi has shown a willingness to reinvent the genre, throwing the soul and gospel elements that define Chicago blues into the mix. Tedeschi has played in Steamboat several times, including a winter show in April 2008 and free summer concerts in 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2006. Listen to her songs at www.myspace.com/susantedeschi.

- Aug. 20, The Avett Brothers, at Steamboat Ski Area: It's rare to find a band like The Avett Brothers, which has a relentless live show, old-time instruments used on straight-ahead rock and folk songs and lyrics that make you stop and write them down. Since brothers Seth and Scott Avett formed the group in 2000, the band has built a rabid fan base - the fervor has grown since the release of "Emotionalism" in 2007, and has hooked the Avetts a major record contract. "I and Love and You," produced by Rick Rubin with American/Columbia Records, is due out Aug. 11. The band played as part of the 2008 Strings Music Festival Different Tempo Series. Listen to the Avetts at www.myspace.com/theavettbrothers.

For more information about the Steamboat Springs Free Summer Concert Series, go to www.steamboatfreeconcerts.com.

— Organizers of the Free Summer Concert Series are confident they've pulled together a strong, five-part lineup for 2009, with headliners including Rusted Root and Susan Tedeschi.

Booking talent comes naturally to the series at this point, as it enters its 19th year of providing free, live music to Steamboat Springs from June to late August. But funding the concerts has become just as tricky as funding any nonprofit in the past year, and series administrators are looking at new ways to raise money for music.

A cut in public funding and slower sponsorship collection have put the series behind where it usually would be in early May, said Nancy Kramer, administrative executive for the Free Summer Concert Series.

"As we all saw the city needing to deal with some priorities, we lost $15,000, and we're just barely over 50 percent of our corporate and individual funding at this point. So we've got a ways to go," Kramer said. By this time on a normal budget year, series organizers would hope to have collected closer to 60 or 70 percent of its proposed sponsorships, she said.

The uncertain financial situation is not expected to affect the already-announced 2009 lineup, concert series committee member Eli Campbell said. But it does raise questions about how the series will look in 2010 and beyond.

"There's no real immediate effect for this summer," Campbell said. "This summer's acts, they're set - they're going to come. But it is the future of the series that we're trying to make sure stays intact by raising the same funds that we were always able to raise."

How the series is funded

The concert series relies on funding from the city and the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, corporate and individual sponsorships and concessions sales. Kramer estimated the series' annual budget at $200,000. That pays for permits, rain and liability insurance, production support such as lights and sound, operational costs such as renting portable toilets, artists' fees and other expenses.

In a given year, combined artists' fees for five concerts can range from $60,000 to $65,000, with individual headlining acts contracted at $5,000 to $25,000, Kramer said. This year's artists have a combined cost of just less than $60,000, she said.

The concert series recoups those costs in a number of ways. Concessions are a big player, pulling in about $70,000 in 2008 - a yearly average of about one-third of the series' costs, Kramer said. Cups of beer will cost $1 more at this summer's concerts than they did in 2008; Kramer said she didn't remember the last time beer prices had been increased.

The city divides nonprofit funding into four categories: health and human services, arts and culture, environment and economic vitality. In the 2009 adopted budget, Steamboat Springs nonprofits are allocated about $1.3 million. That number is a 28 percent cut from 2008 funding levels, which were about $1.8 million. The Free Summer Concert Series was budgeted $25,000 for this year - a 37.5 percent cut from the $40,000 it got in 2008.

The series also relies on corporate and individual sponsorships at tiered prices; contributing sponsors are offered benefit packages starting at $300 and running up to $10,000.

Kramer helped the series obtain 501c(3) charitable organization status in December, allowing it to receive individual, tax-deductible donations; the status could help with obtaining grants, as well, she said. The concerts also recently launched a Web site, www.steamboatfreeconcerts.com. Kramer said the site will have a PayPal account link as early as this week, allowing supporters to make donations online.

Cost-cutting possibilities

As the Free Summer Concert Series looks for new sources of funding, organizers also are considering ways to cut costs.

"The reality is, 'Do we go to four concerts rather than five?' And we had quite a serious discussion about it this year, but we felt it important, with everybody working their buns off : it's almost more critical to have these kinds of community gatherings," Kramer said.

The idea to charge a ticket price for the concert series has come up but has been tossed for the foreseeable future, said Joe Kboudi, president of the Free Summer Concert Series.

"We had talked about charging a dollar or something like that, but it changes the whole complexion about it. The concerts have been free, and they will remain free, always," Kboudi said. Charging a gate fee also would complicate logistics and produce new costs, Kramer said.

"If you do that, it changes the entire underpinning. Administrative expenses actually go up. : It really changes the entire framework, and we don't anticipate ever going there," she said, adding that the series would be willing to take donations at the gate.

Grass-roots fundraising

With traditional sources of funding lower across the board, Campbell has turned to online social networking to drum up support.

He started a Facebook page titled "Support the Steamboat Springs Free Summer Concert Series," inviting 100 of his friends to join the cause and pledge donations. As of Friday morning, the group had 172 members and had raised $250 toward its initial goal of $1,000. Campbell said he hopes the site will appeal to anyone who has come to a free summer concert and enjoyed it in past years.

"I think everyone's gotten at least $25 worth of value out of that," he said.

Gaylan Hellyer answered the call, pledging $100. Hellyer has lived in Steamboat for six years with her three children and said she makes it to every free concert she can. The shows help set the town apart from other ski communities Hellyer has lived in, she said.

"It's just part of what makes Steamboat, Steamboat. And of all the places I've lived in the past 20 years, I've found that Steamboat is the most grounded family ski community that I've seen," Hellyer said. "It's a family activity - you have all people, all ages, all groups. It's everybody in town."

Campbell, who has spent 13 summers in Steamboat and has gone to dozens of free concerts in that time, said feedback to his fundraising effort has been positive.

"I've actually heard back from quite a few people who have just said, 'You know, I think anyone who has ever gone to a free concert should understand how amazing it is - not just as a music event but as a community-wide event,'" he said.

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