Offroad Blogging - Photographer Justin Hackworth

Photo credit: Justin Hackworth

Photo credit: Justin Hackworth

I'm so pleased to introduce photographer Justin Hackworth as part of my Offroad Blogging series.  

I'm profiling bloggers and creative types who are building offline communities by bringing people together through the arts.  We get to meet them AND we get to learn some practical tips from their experience.

Big events, small events, series and one-off events, local and across the country - it's inspiring to find out the what and the how. 

Other interviews include Megan Gilger of the Fresh Exchange, Danielle Krysa (the Jealous Curator), Jen Cooper of Classic Play, Erin of Art Social and Gabriel, the Artful Desperado. 

It's one thing to hang out with your friends and something TOTALLY different to take the plunge and put on public events. It takes guts and bravery and (quoting my retired movie actress mother-in-law) MORE than a bit of moxie. And to refer to someone a LOT younger than my mother-in-law, it's all about sticking your neck out and making yourself vulnerable (hi Brene Brown!). 

I've been a fan of Justin Hackworth's photography for quite some time. He captures artistic, focused, intimate, and elegant moments. I've seen him in action at Alt Summit in Salt Lake City as well as AltNYC (and kicking myself for not hiring him to take my portrait!). I've also learned SO much from his DSLR 101 and DSLR 102 classes that he teaches online on the Alt Channel. He's talented and approachable and generous with advice. His wife, writer Amy Hackworth is also a creative force, regularly contributing to Design Mom.

Let's here from Justin about his Rooftop Concert Series in Provo, Utah. 

Describe your event

The first Friday of every month from May through October, we host a concert series in downtown Provo, Utah, called the Rooftop Concert Series. Concerts are free, and on the top floor of a parking deck in our downtown area. We get 2,500 - 3,500 people at each concert. It is, if I do say so myself, magic. 

With the sun setting low on a gorgeous summer night, listening to great rock and roll with the Wasatch mountains in the background, we give this town a beautiful gift. And then the sun goes down and the stars light up the sky and the music keeps playing and some people dance, some snuggle with someone they love. You just have to be there to appreciate how spectacular this community event really is.

It started in a committee where someone asked, what can we do to bring more people downtown? Another said, a free concert on the roof. At some point, four of us (myself, Sarah Wiley, Courtney Kendrick, Mindy Gledhill) took that idea, talked for months about how it could work, and finally made a move to do something about it. In 2010 we had our first concert and wondered if anyone would even come. 500 people. Our next show, 1,200 people. Now, we're bursting at the seams. 

Why do you think it's important to go offline and into real life?

This year we're trying something new. We're going to live-stream the concerts for people that can't come, but still want to see what it's all about or be a part of it. But no one would substitute the experience of being at the show for staying home and watching it.

Being at the concert, with all those people, hearing it loud, watching the performers sweat, that's something that just can't be duplicated online. I'd say it's nearly the same with any kind of human contact.

Online is nice, but some things have to be experienced offline and in real life. Music, for sure live music, is one of those things. 

What was your biggest worry before starting your rooftop concert series?

When we first started, our biggest worry was that no one would come. I've never worried about that since. Now, the opposite is true. Our parking deck has limited space and I worry that we'll have too many people and the beautiful, casual experience of coming to watch a live show will deteriorate into something a little more hectic. That hasn't happened yet, so we're lucky.

And we always worry about money. While we're providing a free concert, they aren't free to put on. So we ask businesses to help us with the cost and we, in turn, help them promote their businesses. We couldn't do this without sponsorships.  But rounding up the dough is a constant worry. I wish it wasn't, but there you go. 

What are you proud of having thought of ahead of time?

We've made some good decisions as we've put on these concerts and one reason is because all four of the committee members have something unique to bring to the table. So as we planned our first concerts, we all thought of different things we'd want to think about and implement.

For me, having very cool, well-designed concert poster from show to show would be important to help brand the series. A tiny detail in the overall scheme of things, but one I thought that mattered. We have a designer, Matt Mildenstein, who's gone above and beyond what I had in mind. 

Why should people come to your rooftop concert series?

People should come to the event because it's about our community. For the most part, the bands are local, the sponsors are local and the food vendors are local. This is community activism at its finest. 

How do you know if it's been a success?

Here's how we know it's been a success. People talk about it. People look forward to it. People drive four hours to come to a show. Bands beg to play. Downtown restaurants email us, thank us, and tell us they had the best night they've ever had whenever there's a concert. Businesses that sponsor our series tell us their business is now more robust because of what we're doing.

We know it's successful because people that might have been disparaging about our town, now have good things to say about this place. We even get emails from people that want us to do this in their town. Listen, we're not single-handedly transforming Provo. But we're a cog in that transformation wheel. And man, oh man, that feels good. And it feels like we're being successful. 

From idea to execution, how long did it take to start your series?

From idea to execution it took about one millions years to start the series. (Nine months, really). Two things really kept us from doing it. First, no one was in charge. There were four of us, and I don't know why, but none of us really took the lead. All we did was talk. Meeting after meeting, just talking. Finally, brave Sarah Wiley took the bull by the horns and started making assignments and that made a huge difference.

Another thing that happened (but this was far less of an obstacle) is that we kept hearing over and over again how this would not work, that no one would come, that we wouldn't get what we needed from the city and the list went on and on about why we should just stay home and watch TV or learn to whittle. This was coming from people who had been in city government for 30 years and that spark of making something really special happen, had been extinguished years ago. 

Thank goodness we did not listen to those people.

What is the most challenging part about putting on these events?

For sure the most challenging part is getting money to fund the series. There are other challenges, too, but they are minor. The truth is, this concert series is something we're all so very proud of.

We couldn't do it without the sponsors and without our capable volunteers. The volunteers that help pass out flyers, set up the show, clean up afterwards, they just don't get near enough credit for all they do and it's a challenge to figure out how to show our appreciation. 

Justin brings up three ideas that really hit home with me.  The first one has been echoed in each of these Offroad Blogging interviews - some things just HAVE to be experienced in real life. We gotta get out from behind our screens, my friends!

Especially the arts. Most especially music. Magic happens in that liminal space between the musicians and the audience. We create the performance together. You know what it's like - the goosebumps. The emotions. The excitement. 

Second, it takes more than passion - you need some leadership too. I laughed a bit when he described so many meetings where they talked about the idea but nothing REALLY started to happen until one person took charge. I've been in that situation!  

If you're a leader, lead. If not, let someone else take charge.  

And third, avoid the "negative nancies"! There are always going to be people who have all sorts of reasons why your idea just isn't going to fly. Maybe THEIR "spark of making something really special happen" has died but don't let it influence your dreams.

So what do you think? Do you have anything similar happening in your hometown?