LOWELL -- The 25th season of the Lowell Summer Music Series starts two weeks from now when Ziggy Marley takes the stage at Boarding House Park on Thursday, June 19.
He'll be the first of 16 shows this summer, but organizers Peter Aucella and John Marciano start putting together each year's lineup many, many months ago.
"We're starting earlier all the time," Marciano said last week. "I'm thinking about next year right now."
Similar to the scheduling process that results in a network television lineup or even that of a professional sports league, Marciano and Aucella draw from a large field of potential shows when building the series.
"The way we start things is kind of a big process. First of all, we're identifying artists that would go well here by surveying our audience as well as chatting with people in general. We get a lot of input from a bunch of different folks. Some of it is obvious stuff that we know will work. Some of it we've done before. We're identifying demand. Then we're getting in touch with agents to see who is out there and who is available. If they are out there, available, touring and there's interest, we start working on the booking."
Marciano says that "for the 16 shows, we probably put in 120 bona fide, well-researched offers. Who are the artists we didn't get? They are all the artists at the other places like the House of Blues in Boston, the Orpheum in Boston, the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom and the South Shore Music Circus. If you're looking at someone else's lineup, we're probably in on those guys."
While the South Shore Music Circus lineup includes acts such as Robert Cray and Buddy Guy who have played Lowell before, it also includes Martina McBride, Huey Lewis and the News, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and 3 Doors Down. Likewise, the Casino Ballroom has Cheap Trick, Jamey Johnson, the Go-Go's and Gavin DeGraw.
Aucella and Marciano talked about how they go from research to booking.
"We have to research the offer to make it legitimate. We have to know you're worth the tickets we project you are before putting an offer in, and then that offer needs to be competitive. If we're not competitive, they will go to one of those other four places. We're cyclically competing with those guys," Marciano said. "We haven't gotten Tedeschi Trucks Band yet, but we will get Tedeschi Trucks Band. We've been chasing them for a long time. Last year, we were chasing Emmylou Harris for a long time. This year, we were chasing Gregg Allman for a long time. It is a long process and what we'll probably do as we start thinking about 2015 is start thinking about shows we didn't get in 2014. That's how we started with 2014 is to start thinking about 2013.
Aucella noted that Derek Trucks has played Lowell before. "It was a phenomenal show with a phenomenal turnout. We know it will work. The funny thing is, the first time I wanted to get Susan Tedeschi is before John was involved. She was too small at the time and wouldn't get enough people. I said, 'This is the year we're going to pursue it anyway' and she was nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist (2000), but lost to Christina Aguilera. (Other nominees that year were Macy Gray, Kid Rock and Britney Spears). You have to wait for the band to big enough and when they are, sometimes, they are too big."
And while LSMS prefers to have shows on Fridays and Saturdays, there are times (such as Marley) that the show will take place on Thursday.
"We put a mutually agreeable offer in," Marciano said. "We know an artist or agent is interested when they want to hold a date. They'll say, 'How about Friday, July 10?' On that date, we'll have a first hold, second hold and third hold on interested artists. We stack them straight up. The first hold is an offer we're happy with for an artist we want who wants to come on a certain date. You have right of first refusal. There might be a guy behind you in the second seat or third seat. If the guy in the third seat wants to close the deal, you go to the guy in the first seat and give them 48 hours to take the date or move on to the next guy."
When it comes to an act such as Gregg Allman, perhaps the biggest name in this year's lineup, there are exceptions.
"If we want an artist more, a good example is Gregg Allman, we gave him four first holds," Marciano said. "We want Gregg to be in the first chair for a bunch of dates. That means he got right of first refusal. For a summer season, it's all about real estate. If they are serious about getting the artist in the venue and you're serious about getting them, it's all about closing the deal."
While there have been talks about extending the season by either starting earlier or ending later, there are logistical issues that prevent it from happening. Among them is the fact that the series uses Lowell High School as the backup site in case of rain and school does not end until mid to late June. In the fall, many LSMS volunteers go back to school. Plus, Aucella is clear that the series does not want to compete with Lowell Memorial Auditorium or Tsongas Center.
"The summer is just a great niche and Boarding House Park is a great place to be in the summer," he said. "In the summer, most acts are looking to be outdoors."
The series has also offered Sunday shows, but those usually did not sell well, with the memorable exception of Bob Weir and Ratdog, which did very well.
"When it comes down to us, there is sort of a niche that works with us fiscally. You can't be too small to play here where we're not attracting a large enough audience to pay the bills," Marciano said. "You also can't be too big to play here where you take the ticket price too high. We've traded artists back and forth with Blue Hills Bank Pavilion (Harborlights), but if you are playing there, you are probably playing Tsongas and are too big for us. If you are playing Lowell Memorial Auditorium, with 2,800 seats, that's the market we're in."
While Boarding House Park can hold 1,700 tickets, there's a twist. If there's rain and the show moves to Lowell High School, that can only hold 1,600 people and LSMS will only sell 1,300 tickets in advance so that there's capacity for sponsors, children under 12 who are admitted free, etc., so the shows are budgeted on 1,300 people at Boarding House Park.
Aucella said he's most excited to see Trombone Shorty and Delta Rae this summer while Marciano listed Ziggy Marley, Delta Rae and Amos Lee. They both are giddy about Allman being here after having to cancel a few years ago due to health reasons.
Lowell Summer Music Series 2014 lineup
All shows at 7:30 p.m., unless otherwise noted.
- Ziggy Marley, Thurs., June 19. Tickets: $39 in advance, $45 day of concert
- Delta Rae, Fri., June 20. Tickets: $29 in advance, $35 day of concert
- Amos Lee, Sat., June 21. Tickets: $45 in advance, $50 day of concert
- Lucinda Williams, Fri., June 27. Tickets: $38 in advance, $45 day of concert
- Neko Case, Sat., June 28. Tickets: $35 in advance, $40 day of concert
- Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Thurs., July 10. Tickets: $31 in advance, $35 day of concert
- Andrew Bird, Sat., July 12. Tickets: $39 in advance, $45 day of concert
- Barenaked Ladies, Sat., July 19. Tickets: $52 in advance, $60 day of concert
- Lowell Folk Festival, Fri.-Sun., July 25-27. Free admission
- Howie Day and Carbon Leaf, Sat., Aug. 2. Tickets: $29 in advance, $35 day of concert
- Marcia Ball, Fri., Aug. 8. Tickets: $25 in advance, $30 day of concert
- Gregg Allman, Sat., Aug. 9. Tickets: $44 in advance, $50 day of concert
- JJ Grey and Mofro, Thurs., Aug . 14. Tickets: $28 in advance, $35 day of concert
- Ben Taylor, Heather Maloney and Adam Ezra, Fri., Aug. 15. Tickets: $25 in advance, $30 day of concert
- Lyle Lovett and his Large Band, Sat., Aug. 16. Tickets: $52 in advance, $60 day of concert
- Peter Wolf and the Midnight Travelers, Fri., Aug. 22. Tickets: $39 in advance, $45 day of concert
- Classic Albums Live: Abbey Road, Fri., Sept. 5. Tickets: $28 in advance, $35 day of concert
- 35th Annual Banjo and Fiddle Contest, Sat., Sept. 6, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.