How a season at the Door Community Auditorium takes shape
For more than 30 years, the Door Community Auditorium (DCA) has been the peninsula’s marquee venue for big-name music acts. Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Joan Baez and the Lumineers are just a few who have graced the stage.
But putting together the slate of acts each season is still no simple task for Executive Director Cari Lewis as she enters her 10th season at the helm.
Part of the DCA’s mission is to serve as many members of the community as possible, which means trying hard to offer a variety of genres while keeping a vigilant eye on affordability — for both the auditorium and its patrons. Americana, classic rock and oldies have a history of selling well.
“One thing that it took me a couple seasons to realize is that when people come to Door County in the summer, they’re on vacation,” Lewis said. “So while back in their hometown, they might do edgier or darker programs, when they’re in Door County, they want light, happy, vacation-type programming.”
That’s why audiences aren’t likely to see shows featuring rap, punk and metal music.
“Some of these things might actually work if they were given two or three years to catch on, but so few of us can afford that amount of risk,” Lewis said. “To plan on two years of something not making money — there’s not a lot of the luxury of chasing things like that.”
To book 15 acts for a season, Lewis might make 100 offers to artists and groups, and be in casual talks with 200 to 250 artists. That starts with scouting acts and getting suggestions from sponsors and community members. But after that, it gets more specific to Door County. The peninsula’s geographical location — the venue’s greatest challenge — can make it hard to motivate some acts to travel out of their way to get here.
Often, Lewis scopes out tours that are coming through the region to see whether any of them are on her list, collaborating with agents and other regional managers.
“We’re remote enough that even a venue that’s eight hours away, but in the Great Lakes region, would still be someone that we’d consider trying to piggyback on,” Lewis said. But, sometimes tour managers don’t like to see their artists deviating from the planned route.
And if they’re willing to divert, the next challenge is the venue’s size: about 725 sellable seats.
“We have a lot of people who would say James Taylor would be great here, but he’s probably more likely looking at artist fees of a quarter of a million dollars,” Lewis said. “That’s beyond what we can do.”
She aims to keep prices as affordable as possible, but the DCA faces another unusual challenge: Located on the Gibraltar School grounds, the venue can’t sell alcohol, which means all the shows’ revenue must come from ticket fees and sponsorships.
“We like to keep our ticket prices affordable, and we try to stay within a $75 ticket average,” Lewis said. “Take $75 a ticket times 700 seats, and that means it doesn’t make financial sense to be looking at artists who are playing stadiums.”
Lewis looks at how many tickets an act has sold, the price at which the tickets have sold and revenue they’ve generated. She also looks at how well the act does in a place such as Los Angeles versus North Carolina, or a larger versus smaller venue.
After all that, she has to make some educated guesses about how well the show would be received at the DCA and find a date for it.
Gibraltar School gets first dibs on dates until school is out for the year, then the Peninsula Music Festival uses the auditorium for three weeks during August.
That’s a lot of hurdles to clear, but sometimes Door County and the smaller venue is an advantage in booking.
“Door County has a very strong reputation of being a beautiful place,” Lewis said. “I think DCA has a good reputation of taking good care of the artists and making sure it’s a good experience, and that helps.”
And when it all comes together, Door County music fans get to see some of music’s biggest names on their local stage.
To get more information about the DCA’s 2020 season, visit dcauditorium.org.