How a small city like Summerside attracts big-name concerts

For a city of about 15,000, Summerside, P.E.I., manages to attract a lot of big name acts.

J.P. Desrosiers says it's all about keeping the artists happy

ZZ Top plays Sumerside's Credit Union Place on Tuesday — with newly altered clothes thanks to a Summerside seamstress. (Submitted by J.P. Desrosiers)

Hours before ZZ Top performed in Summerside, P.E.I., on Tuesday, one of the band members requested a seamstress to do alterations on an outfit he planned to wear that night.

Staff at Credit Union Place jumped on the phone, and a seamstress from City Tailor Shop was soon on the tour bus, needle and thread in hand.

It may not seem like much, says J.P. Desrosiers, director of community services for the City of Summerside, but it's that type of service that builds on the town's reputation as a successful concert location.

"It required one of our local seamstresses to close her doors to her shop, come down here, do all the measurements, get things ready and basically take over her shop for a day.

"Is that a big deal? No. It's something that we can certainly do and our community is becoming more and more aware of these small requirements and they support us," Desrosiers said.

After Elton John's successful concerts in Summerside in 2011, other big names followed, says J.P. Desrosiers. (Submitted by J.P. Desrosiers)

For a city of about 15,000, Summerside has managed to attract plenty of big name acts in the last several years. It all started with Elton John in 2011, when he quickly sold out back-to-back shows, Desrosiers said. Credit Union Place normally holds about 5,000 people for a concert, but because of a 360-degree stage configuration, they were able to get 6,500 each night for Elton John.

As long as we can keep our reputation strong, we'll continue to get these shows.- J.P. Desrosiers

Desrosiers said promoters took notice of the the success of the Elton John concerts.

The artists that have played Credit Union Place since then include comedian Jerry Seinfeld, Sting, Alan Jackson, Reba McIntyre, Brad Paisley, John Mellencamp, James Taylor, Gordon Lightfoot, Flo Rida, Blue Rodeo, Bryan Adams — three times — and, of course, ZZ Top.

"The night of Elton John we were actually working on confirming the Jerry Seinfeld date, which came a couple of months later," Desrosiers said. "And then during the night of Jerry Seinfeld we were working on booking Bryan Adams and it's just been sort of snowballing from there."

Bryan Adams has played in Summerside three times in the last six years, including this year on July 31. (Submitted by J.P. Desrosiers)

Desrosiers said in the events business, strong relationships are critical. That's why he's careful about who he books, and sometimes will turn down an act if he doesn't think it's the right fit.

"The last thing we want to do is tell a promoter that we think a show will work in Summerside, P.E.I., and it not work," he said.

Challenge for small city

For the acts that do come, Desrosiers said the goal is to give them whatever they need to make them happy and comfortable.

"The challenge for us being a small town and a small province is that some of the things they look for, whether it's certain catering requests or what have you, isn't readily available so planning is required more so than it would be if the the show were in, say, Toronto or a bigger market."

Country star Brad Paisley played at Credit Union Place in 2014. (Submitted by J.P. Desrosiers)

Desrosiers wouldn't say which acts he's chasing next, but he said as long as they can keep the artists happy — like getting a seamstress on short notice — Summerside will remain a top concert destination.

"As long as we can keep our reputation strong, we'll continue to get these shows."

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Shane Ross is a former newspaper and TV journalist in Halifax, Ottawa and Charlottetown. He joined CBC P.E.I.'s web team in 2016.


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