Having moved to Harrisburg about five years ago, I missed the heyday of the once-decent Harrisburg Live Music boom of the eighties and early nineties.
To this day, Harrisburgians get a little glimmer in their eye each time they reminisce about going to a show at The Metron or The Vault. Some even recall seeing The Grateful Dead and Metallica on City Island- or Green Day at the Farm Show Complex.
Sure, we’ve got some good shows in small venues. The Abbey Bar at Appalachian Brewing Company has live music every weekend- some nationals- but mostly regional and up-and-comers. Dragonfly as well does a good job at bringing in some good touring acts.
But what about the big stuff? Now, I’m not talking about The Rolling Stones-big- but the stuff we normally have to drive to Philly for.
Do you know that we’ve got four…count em- FOUR venues within the city of Harrisburg that can hold more than 1,000 people that sit dark nightly?
The Zembo Auditorium can hold 2300 at capacity.
The Farm Show has an ARENA that can hold several thousand.
The Forum holds right around 1,000.
And City Island- Commerce Bank Park- right smack dab in the middle of it all HAS to hold close to 10,000.
All of these great venues- but nothing more than bar shows for us.
Why is that?
Some say that the West Shore complained about the noise of the concerts on City Island- hence the reason they stopped.
But the REAL reason we no longer have BIG shows from national acts is simple.
Harrisburg is one of few cities to employ what’s called an “Amusement Tax”.
Here’s how it works-
And how does that relate to concerts on City Island?
From what I’ve found, it sounds like the last concert on City Island was right around 1984 or 1985.
The Amusement Tax was created in 1982.
And how does this Amusement Tax negatively affect local concert promoters?
Simple- it’s all about the money.
You see, there isn’t a HUGE profit margin in producing a concert. Oftentimes, the promoter has an agreement with the venue where the venue will provide the place for the act to play and maybe some assistance with marketing and hospitality for the artist.
Everything else- all of the associated financial risks of producing a concert lie solely on the promoter.
Most times, a promoters profit on an event will be fifteen percent of the settled net.
And when the City takes ten percent of the GROSS- that doesn’t leave much room for the promoter.
And going even deeper, this doesn’t only affect the personal business of those of us who make a living at producing shows, it affects the entire City.
If an event at the Zembo Auditorium sells 2000 tickets to a show- and lets go conservative and say that only 20% of the tickets sold are to out-of-towners who WILL come to this city to see the show- that comes to 400 people.
400 people that will rent a hotel room.
400 people that will eat at one of our restaurants.
400 people that might take a walk along our riverfront or through a neighborhood and see what our city has to offer.
But because of the Amusement Tax, that’s 400 people (from only ONE event) that won’t ever think about coming to our city.
So for now, we’ll just have to keep taking our business to places like Lancaster, Philly, Baltimore or DC if we want to see a big show.
It would sure be nice to have these events a mere cab ride away, eh?