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Marion's Chingawassa Days: Rock 'n' roll headache

Staff writer

Bands continue to play at Chingawassa Days because of the effort put in by the members of the Chingawassa Days committee.

The process starts with two or three lists. Patti Donahoe-Fadden a Nashville-based booking agent, puts together lists of classic rock and country acts, and what they charge for a show. She then sends them to Chingawassa committee member Mike Powers.

The groups span a range of prices from the untouchably expensive — John Melloncamp, Tim McGraw, Hank Williams Jr., and George Strait — to the bands that are more modestly priced.

For this year, Powers crossed out the prices of each band on the list he returned to the rest of the committee and then told them the bands that are in their price range.

With the list chopped down to the bands they could afford, the committee began the furious work of choosing bands that fit the atmosphere of Chingawassa Days. Classic rock bands with at least one catchy hit and a recognizable name are given precedence, but many factors are considered in the selection process.

“We’ve put hours into this,” Powers said.

One of the factors is the longevity of a band. The committee is looking to satisfy as many of its constituents as possible. While all bands are considered, a more experienced band — such as the Oak Ridge Boys — may not reach the key demographic of people ages 30 through 55. An up-and-coming band is under the same scrutiny. Cross Canadian Ragweed was a band the committee considered, but were perceived to have a show that might turn off older concertgoers.

Another factor is a band’s complete body of work.

Blue Oyster Cult has enjoyed a renaissance of fame after a “Saturday Night Live” skit, featuring Christopher Walken, lampooned their extravagant use of cowbell. But, as Powers points out, the band’s body of work is much darker and more drug-induced than people realize from sporadic samplings of “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” on the radio.

“We’re afraid that people might show up, but not have a good time,” Powers said.

The committee will even float the names of potential bands out to Marion residents and gauge the public reaction.

Powers said that all the bands mentioned previously will be available in future years.

The sound that has found the most consistent positive fan response has been southern rock.

It is only appropriate the committee leans toward southern bands since it was Nitty Gritty Dirt Band that sired the rock and roll portion of Chingawassa Days in 1999.

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was looking for a place to play in between gigs in Kansas City and Wichita and Marion obliged during Chingawassa Days.

When the committee narrows down the list of bands, they then relay that information to Donahoe-Fadden. The agent will sometimes make suggestions based on inside information. In one instance, she knew that a lead singer of a potential Chingawassa Days headliner was crippled with a hernia and could no longer hit the high notes.

Then Donahoe-Fadden goes to work. She gets in touch with the management of the bands and tries to work Chingawassa Days into the band’s touring schedule.

This can be the most lengthy and unpredictable part of the process. The committee was set to welcome Loverboy to Marion for this year’s concert. However, Donahoe-Fadden, the committee, and Loverboy could not reach a financial arrangement that would allow the band to travel from its home in Toronto to Marion in a cost-effective manner. The band indicated that the flight to either Wichita or Kansas City would be too expensive.

Left scrambling, the committee decided to go with the only band it would even consider bringing back for a second performance — 38 Special. The band fit all the criteria: easy to work with, southern rock roots, a list of hits, and an energetic live show.

“We wouldn’t recycle a band if not for this band,” Powers said.

But, things can go awry when a band is booked. In 2005, the committee had country legend Chris LeDoux booked and ready to perform, but LeDoux died two months before the concert.

The problems are over, right?

Now that the band is booked the committee’s work is just beginning. Accommodations for lighting, stage, and — if a band flies to the show — instruments have to be provided. The band also has a list of amenities it requests in its contract.

According to Powers, unlike other small concert venues, Chingawassa Days will not stiff a band on its requests for food, drinks, and other items.

The bands can be very specific. One band asked for a case of a specific flavor of Sobe energy drink. A different band was upset when they were given the wrong brand of bottled water.

Things can go wrong at show time as well. One musician lost a pair of boots before the show. In another instance, two bands fought with each other for the title of headlining act.

All the headaches are worth it for Marion Chamber of Commerce Executive Secretary Margo Yates. Chingawassa Days has brought people to Marion from as far away as North Carolina and even Australia.

Kansans, from all over the state, flock to the event. Yates talked about a group of women who come from Downs every year and Powers mentioned a large group of people who come from Topeka.

Both Yates and Powers realize that the bands are the reason people are coming to Marion.

“Chinga has put Marion on the map in a lot of ways,” Yates said.

Last modified March 3, 2010

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