A really cool event that draws a lot of people.
Harrisburg rocks to Millennium's beat
Conference music to city's ears
Friday, June 25, 2004
BY KIRA L. SCHLECHTER
Of The Patriot-News
Welcome to Harrisburg, Millennium Music Conference musicians: You have now entered "the Austin, Texas, of the Northeast."
At least for the weekend, anyway.
The 8th annual edition of the conference, with headquarters at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Harrisburg, started yesterday and runs through Sunday.
Like Austin's granddaddy of all music conferences, South By Southwest, the Harrisburg conference attracts both bands and music fans. The conference also brings business income -- several million dollars' worth -- to the area.
For musicians, the business portion features mentoring sessions and panels dealing with all aspects of the music industry. Showcase concerts at clubs across the midstate feature nearly 350 bands performing original music on 30 stages.
The tattooed, pierced, and T-shirted masses began gathering at the hotel as registration began yesterday.
A small group congregated at the first-floor desk of the hotel, while upstairs, several musicians browsed the trade show. A good-sized bunch filled a meeting room for an early seminar titled "Music Business Boot Camp."
Fliers advertising upcoming shows littered tables. And Red Bull energy drinks seemed to be everyone's beverage of choice.
Conference co-founder John Harris, who provided the Harrisburg-Austin analogy, said the Harrisburg event benefits everyone involved.
"The benefits for the city are that the hotel's sold out and all the people that come from out of town create economy," he said. "We think moving to the better weather (past conferences were held in February) might increase the opportunity for more people to travel and come visit us."
The Crowne Plaza Hotel is completely booked, said senior sales manager Jessica Wolfe in an e-mail.
City spokesman Randy King said Millennium has been "a major boost to the city's tourism economy," adding it generates several million dollars in revenue during its weekend run.
"It fits in perfectly with the mayor's goals of attracting young people back to the city," King said.
Beth Lynn O'Brien, marketing/event/tourism coordinator for Harrisburg Hello, the Downtown Improvement District, said music fans make a night out of attending Millennium showcases.
"They're going to eat and they're going shopping and they're doing all of the things we want them to do when they end up in the city," O'Brien said.
For the clubs that host showcase concerts, Millennium is a chance to do something different, Harris said.
"Obviously, the things that have been going on in downtown Harrisburg, they all have a lot of business now anyway," he said. "This means they could have more. ... [And] some of the clubs on the West Shore that may have suffered a little bit ... [are] going to have maybe some more business."
Matt Eisenhower, manager of Gullifty's Downstairs in Lower Allen Twp., has hosted showcases for all eight years of the conference.
"I get to see 18 different bands from different areas that I've never seen, never heard," Eisenhower said. "It gives the club a little more edge on the music scene, because we've always pretty much been the home of original music."
And it's good for business overall, too, he said.
"I don't have to pay for any of the bands and we get to charge a small cover ... so it does help," he said. [And] it probably does, in a way [attract new customers] -- the people that don't usually come to our place come out for the music conference."
Conferences like Millennium can help musicians "if they keep their eyes and ears open," said Jim Speece, singer and guitarist for the Reading band Cloud Party.
They've played showcases at the conference every year since its inception; they performed at Angelina's Ristorante in Wormleysburg last night.
"Most panels and the like frankly cover familiar territory, but occasionally, especially for newer bands, one can learn something worthwhile," Speece wrote via e-mail.
He called the showcase concerts "generally irrelevant, but fun to do."
"Showcasing is good because it's a gig, usually a fairly well-attended one, and you can show off your stuff," he wrote. "We do them because they're fun and we get to play with new bands and for new fans in new places and ... for some of those people we know who come to Millennium every year. ... For us, it's a bit like a party."
O'Brien of Harrisburg Hello thinks Millennium helps unify the midstate.
"It doesn't just focus on downtown -- it's the region as a whole," she said. "We often wish it would be looked at as the Harrisburg metropolitan area ... as opposed to West Shore vs. East Shore, downtown vs. midtown. The caliber of this event kind of clumps us into the Harrisburg metropolitan area and I think it's beneficial to the region."