It takes a village to fill Bay City with live music throughout the year

The start time on the Wednesdays in the Park concert poster may read as 7 p.m., but work on the show begins months earlier.

In Bay City, it’s hard to go more than a day or two without hearing live music. In the summer, you can catch live acts during Wednesdays in the Park at Wenonah Park; Thursdays at Uptown; and Friday at the Falls near the Third Street Waterfall Park. In the winter, musicians, comedians, and others light up the stage at the State Theater.

The bandshell in Wenonah Park before renovations. (Photo courtesy of the Rowley family.)Before any of these acts hit the stage, though, a team of people including Mike Bacigalupo, start the ball rolling.

Bacigalupo’s title is Chief Operating Officer at the State Theater, 913 Washington Ave. From his cell phone to the board room, he is in charge of is behind the scenes of outdoor music in three major city parks in the summer and indoor entertainment at the State Theater throughout the winter. Every year, Bacigalupo also lends a hand for several festivals such as the Hop Riot Beer Festival on Aug. 7 and the Mitten State Music Revival on May 7.

Bacigalupo’s involvement includes juggling budgets, punching booking agent digits into his phone, negotiating contracts with the acts, and securing experts for lights and sound. He needs to get the most power for the local dollar. That means considering what acts will entice sponsors and attract audiences. While the theater may be a nonprofit organization, the concerts must make money to stay in business.

“Every aspect of the show I touch,” Bacigalupo says, but adds he doesn’t work alone. “I have a group of volunteers that come in and run the ticket office, concession stand, ushering in the park ... From set-up to clean-up, I have a great group that helps do it all.”

How do organizers decide who performs?

Question Mark and the Mysterians will perform in the park on Aug. 29.Bacigalupo and his team try to make sure there’s something in the line-up for everyone.

“Sara Evans and Justin Moore (who performed July 9 and 10) are both country and Cheap Trick (which performed July 11) is classic rock,” he says.

Tribute bands are frequent guests in the Wednesday series because they draw big audiences.

“When I look for that (Wednesdays in the Park) season, I do look for tribute acts, things that have sparked a lot of people's interests,” he says. “A lot of them I bring in every other year, or a couple every year. Then take them away for a while and bring them back so it's more exciting.”

He also must consider the constraints of the venue and what the local community likes to hear.

“I look for something that will fit on the stage, draw an audience, and that people will really enjoy,” he says.

He also enlists others to help. Years ago, the Bay Arts Council booked the concert series. When Bacigalupo took over in about 2014, he asked members of the Bay Arts Council if they were willing to help. Many said yes.

He frequently hears from Jack Loehr, Butch Waibel, and Charlie Schwartz, who previously served on the Bay Arts Council. Today, the trio goes to shows in Florida and each contacts Bacigalupo when he sees something he likes. In the end, the former arts council members influence about half the acts he books.

“So far, they have done pretty well on the recommendations,” Bacigalupo says.” It's not easy picking 12 shows that people like.”

Tribute bands draw big crowds to the park every year. (Photo courtesy of the State Theater.)Who pays for it all?

It also takes a team to put together the money for the concerts. Admission is free to the 12-concert Wednesdays in the Park series. But Bacigalupo says it costs about $80,000 to put on those shows. Sponsors cover about $60,000 of the cost, while audience members donate the remaining $20,000.

The State Theater Board of Directors approves the budget and may also suggest acts. At every stage, though, profitability matters. “You’ve got to make money on it. As a non-profit, you can’t take too many losses,” he says.

“When looking for acts, basically I call up the agents and say, ‘Here’s my budget, I want something for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night. Tell me what I can get (and) who is touring at that time.’ “ Bacigalupo explains. “I lucked out because Cheap Trick is a Hall of Fame band and they are not going to be touring much longer after this year. They’ve been here twice before and have done very well. Cheap Trick floated right to the top of the dates.”

Country music is always a good bet.

“As we know, country (music) sells well,” Bacigalupo says, adding that ticket sales are only part of the equation. “It sells a lot of booze. It’s not ticket sales or sponsorships that cover the cost, you’ve got to throw the booze in there as an added income that you think is going to help sell the show as well. So you’ve got to see what sells and what sells the beer and wine.”

Throughout the season, little steps are made to keep the budget on track.

“We look at the budget every three months to see if any tweaking has to be done,” says Bacigalupo. “Like we came in low here, so let’s boost this up, or we came in high here, so it kind of stays the same for the rest of the year.”

Who handles sound and lights?

Once the budget is set and the acts booked, the work isn’t done. Bacigalupo still has to call in experts for help with sound and lights. In the summer, he gives a heads up to Joe Christensen from Saginaw-based Jedi Mind Trip Productions, asking him to contact the touring groups for all the outside events during a season.

“He works directly with the tour manager and production manager from each group,” says Bacigalupo. “I let him handle that part and that includes the sound and lights. The outside stuff, you have to bring in different stuff at different times. Paul Phillips does the sound on the inside (State) shows.”

Christensen says each group has unique needs.

“I get tech riders from the artists or acts that we are working with,” says Christensen. “They send me a list of requirements that they have to have as far as what the sound has to be and/or lighting. So I get in touch with them and work out the details of what they need, so when they show up, we put on a show.”

Christensen has deep experience with providing what musical acts need. He ran sound for many local companies as well as the late national country artist Joe Diffie for years. He’s been with Jedi Mind Trip Productions five years.

“If you check off the list and all the things that need to happen, I also provide the crew to load and unload the trucks and buses,” says Christensen. “I work with a stagehand company. You’ve got to meet the contract requirements. If you provide that stuff, everything is golden, everything is a piece of cake.”

Christensen turns to Dave “Duke” Dukarski, who owns Saginaw-based Stage Call Production Services Inc. to make that part a piece of cake. Dukarski works with Matt Anderson.

Together, Dukarski and Anderson figure out how to provide what the artists need. Artists may request spotlights, how many people they need to help unload the trucks and set up the equipment. They often want help packing up at the end of the night too. It’s Dukarski’s job to make sure he has the right number of people on the job to maximize safety.

This year, the sound is more exciting than normal. The World Friendship Shell was re-modeled, which significantly improved sound quality. Bacigalupo expects the improved sound may get people more excited about coming down for a show.
After the renovations, Christensen was stoked to lift the speakers and lights to the rafters for the first time in two years at the new Shell.

“We did a Brett Young show (recently) that was pretty amazing. His production manager/sound guy Joey Diehl was amazing and the show sounded amazing. He really had his stuff together. Everything worked smoothly and he was totally happy with everything we provided. That’s the way it is with everybody we work with. They know what they are getting when they get there and they are super happy. Everything runs smoothly. That’s the way it should be.”