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WVU students finish 2nd year running concert series

By LORI L. RILEY, Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT, W.Va. (AP) — An idea that started as a way to take advantage of Palatine Park’s beauty has become a multi-faceted boon for several parties.

It started when Marion County Administrator Kris Cinalli began looking into ways to provide entertainment at the park so residents could enjoy the riverfront setting while listening to live music or attending a festival.

“Kris reached out to me a couple of years ago about booking opportunities,” said Joshua Swiger, assistant professor of the Music Industry Program at West Virginia University. “He wanted to make Palatine Park a larger part of the Marion County community. He said, ‘I see that park sitting there with all this potential.'”

Mind you, concerts at Palatine Park were nothing new under the sun. In preceding years, the concerts were booked, managed and staged by the Marion County Parks and Recreation Commission until Cinalli, the Marion County Commission and MCPARC had a disagreement after the 2019 concert series.

Because of Swiger’s dual role as an assistant professor at WVU and a producer at RMA Presents, he saw Cinalli’s idea as the perfect opportunity for students.

“Josh suggested that we create a program that gave students an opportunity to get real life experience in the music industry,” Cinalli said. “Palatine was the perfect conduit for that.”

“I thought it would be great if we could use (WVU students in the music industry program) as interns to help with the shows,” Swiger said.

But Swiger saw more than just a collaboration between the university and the county government.

“West Virginia doesn’t have the reputation of other cities like New York or Nashville, and we’re always asking how can we keep the youth from leaving. So now we can say, OK, you learned it, now let’s apply it.”

The idea took hold. Cinalli worked with Swiger and Darko Velichkovski, director of WVU’s Music Industry Program, to forge a plan that would bring live music and entertainment to the park every weekend from Memorial Day until Labor Day, and at the same time, give students a chance to work on the shows and gain real-life industry experience.

“We started planning it all out. Everything has to be done far in advance,” Swiger said. “We knew we wanted different kinds of music — rock, blues, country and bluegrass. We had tribute bands, too, a nice mix of the best musicians regionally. We wanted to bring in out of town acts and local musicians.”

“Kris knew what he had for a budget, and what we could do at Palatine. We set it up to have two student interns work with Kris on it,” Swiger said.

For the first year, which began the fall of 2019, Sarah Giles and Ben Wilson were chosen to initiate the internship. At the time, both Giles and Wilson were in the music industry master’s program.

The music industry program at WVU dives deep into the business of music, and teaches students about live event production, music publishing, marketing and promotion, copyright laws, and other topics that have less to do with creativity and more to do with technical and people skills.

The program is under the auspices of the School of Music at WVU’s College of Creative Arts, and offers both bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

“We are proud of our students for their exceptional efforts in this endeavor,” Velichkovski said. “And we are grateful to all the officials at Palatine Park who helped make this important opportunity for our students a reality.”

For the interns, the heavy lifting usually begins about three or four weeks before each show. That’s when they have to call tour managers and figure out the logistics of putting on a show. Setting up a live music performance has a specific set of requirements, and the interns learn quickly that the checklist is long and detailed. And with performances scheduled nearly every weekend, the work doesn’t let up for the entire season.

“It’s a massive job,” Swiger said. “Here, these students are learning how to apply what we taught in the classroom to the real world. And it’s nothing like a classroom — they have to know what to do.”

Booking the acts is handled and paid for through Cinalli and the county, and Swiger and other industry pros are there to assist the students as needed.

The level of responsibility increases as the show nears. On the day of the show itself, interns run around handling the myriad tasks in final prep for a live performance.

“They have to do sound checks, staging, all kinds of things on the day of the show,” Swiger said. “But everything’s not fully on them. They’re doing everything, but it’s like a production assistant. And they learn what has to happen if you’re a professional sound company.”

The internships are funneled through WVU’s College of Creative Arts. Although the final product of the partnership required a few hoops to jump through, those involved saw enough value in the relationship that they were able to streamline the process.

This year would have been the third year of the program, but last year’s cancellations pushed most events to 2021. Although just two years in and fairly new, the program itself seems to be working.

The commitment to work with local and statewide musicians has been obvious by the talent that appears at the park. At the Sept. 11 Sounds Good to Me Festival, musician Aristotle Jones worked with Cinalli and Swiger to book musicians who had recently signed on with Mon Hill Records, a division of Mon Hills Music Group, the professional component of the music industry program at WVU.

“Our program’s collaboration with Fairmont’s Palatine Park is a significant opportunity for our students to not only enhance and strengthen their practical live-music management and production experience, but also to contribute in a meaningful way to the community and the quality of its cultural life,” Velichkovski said.

“Whether it was working with Mon Hills and Go 1st Records artists, or them helping us manage the shows, it’s been a great opportunity for everyone,” Cinalli said. “Networking is a big part of building a successful venue, so we’re glad to partner with WVU to help create a regional destination for entertainment here in Fairmont and Marion County.”

The end result, Swiger said, is a real sense of accomplishment.

“It’s more than taking a class, he said. “To be 21 or 22, and their resume says ‘I did this.’ That’s worth a lot.”