Build it and They Will Come

First Merit Event Park Summer Series Packed with World-Class Headliners, Innovative Festivals & Community Showcases

    icon Jun 19, 2014
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When The First Merit Event Park opened last August with local guitar legend Larry McCray hitting a cascading flurry of guitar notes standing upon an untarnished stage at a spanking new venue filled with a capacity crowd of people on a spectacular summer evening in Downtown Saginaw, it was one of those moments where everything that is great about this region coalesced – a harmonic alliance between thoughtful community development in the often tricky terrain between commerce & finance where visionary projections and economic realities actually meet – all sealed together by the homegrown musical talent of an international success story; and populated by a melting pot of cultures enjoying themselves on the ground where an empty shopping mall had once stood for decades.

If nothing else, the first short season of this new outdoor pavilion proved that a new day was indeed dawning in Downtown Saginaw and a Renaissance was underway, especially with a resource that could draw 5500 patrons into the area – all looking for places to go and things to do, which is a welcome calling-card to any new business seeking to generate customers and revenue. In short, this is the way things are supposed to work. 

With the first full season of summer programming before them, the question now turns to whether things will continue to work and grow; and according to General Manager Matt Blasy, he could not be more optimistic about the prognosis. 

“Our first short season of programming with year number one exceeded my expectations,” explains Blasy. “We established a realistic approach as far as booking and when we announced our intentions to open the Park, we never said it was intended to be a ‘major’ concert venue, but more of a place to hold community events and fill a niche in a market for festivals where we can provide quality entertainment for $15.00 or so.”

“My goal for year one was 20 events and so far it is at 30 events, so that pleases me immensely. I didn’t want to bring in too much too soon, but everything we did was responsible and thus far each event has been strongly supported.”

And thus far, all indicators are that the caliber of entertainment offered at incredibly affordable price points will be ratcheted up several notches for the 2014 Summer Season, with events that range in variety from Saginaw Eddy Band Concerts to Z93 Thunder Thursday concerts to world class Tribute Shows such as Brit Floyd – the World’s Greatest Pink Floyd Show on Saturday, June 21st and Get the Led Out – the American Led Zeppelin Tribute on August 16th.

As for world class performers, Larry McCray will join the stage with guitarist/vocalist songwriter, Dave Mason from the legendary British progressive rock outfit Traffic with Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam on July 12th in a benefit performance for the Diaper Alliance, where a portion of the proceeds will supply over 30,000 diapers each month to partnering agencies who work with families in financial crisis. Additional world-class acts include Eddie Money & The Romantics on August 1st and Rob Zombie on September 27th.

Plus the venue is being utilized for several interesting Niche Festivals, such as The Great Lakes Gathering Celtic Music Festival on August 22-23rd; and the 2nd Annual Rock ‘n Rib Fest on August 9th.

“The Celtic Festival forms an interesting niche,” notes Blasy. “Celtic music is popular all over the world and of all the smaller concerts and touring festivals, I believe this one has the potential to become a signature event in Downtown Saginaw. They only hold one other on the west side of the state and get 15,000-20,000 people to attend that is in September, so we’ve partnered up with Siusan O’Rourke and taken this to a 3-5 year event in terms of building international and national attention of acts. We anticipate people coming from all over the state to attend this festival.”

One thing that is very noticeable is the number of Tribute Bands touring the concert circuit this summer.  “There are lots of Tribute bands at different levels touring the country,” explains Matt, “and we’re just doing the shows with the ones that are top of the line. Brit Floyd and Get the Led Out are in the top one-percent of what’s out there; and both come highly recommended by SMG.  As for the popularity of these acts, I believe it centers around the fact they are so effective at what they do, coupled with the demand people have for bands like this who’s music they are familiar with.”

Although Blasy is optimistic, he is also realistic about the ongoing process involved with developing the venue and feeling out the contours. “We’re just getting into the ‘outdoor world’, which is a little different animal than running an indoor venue. But we are pulling together lots more packages and running quality events and the support within the community is amazing. Now we’re in the stage of building the brand and the name of what we do and feature.”

Under Blasy’s wise & watchful eye, the build-out of the First Merit Event Park has proceeded in stages, and has received commitments of $700,000 of $1.2 million in additional funding that it is seeking to make First Merit an even better overall venue, with irrigation systems and an additional 84-foot structure on the premises for storage and dressing rooms.

“I’ve got ideas right now that can enhance the venue and have adopted a 10-year concept,” he explains. “Realistically, our next step is to get the 4-walls of the brick building and storage closest to complete funding for dressing rooms, so hopefully by next fall that will happen. I’ll know more within the next three months.  I didn’t want any fixed concessions area and will say for the dollars we needed to generate to get up and running, it’s amazing how well thought out everything was.”

Blasy adds that an important component to the overall success of the venue is establishing partnerships with local organizations to work together at articulating a strong and varied programming schedule. “We’re doing the Taste of the Great Lakes Bay, which is tied to the Downtown Saginaw Farmer’s Market and also partnering up with the Saginaw Chamber of Commerce to reshape the Rib Festival into a one day event, so my goal is to establish a more cooperative approach,” notes Matt. “It’s a great way to create more exposure about the facility and witness the level of encouragement from various businesses and organizations. We will get to that spot where we can bring more local talent into the fold, which for me is refreshing when you’re not locked into high-guarantees and high-risk touring shows.”

“We’re calling this the Saginaw NEXT series, which is basically five different events that include the Taste of the Great Lakes Bay, the Celtic Music festival and the Ultimate Tail-gate party we’ll be featuring with crafted beer. We want to brand that series as a way to group these types of events and utilize them to change the perception of down Saginaw and the things going on here.”

First Merit Event Park is a community venue first & foremost and we want to make this a focal point for giving and putting back into the community, utilizing the space to generate funds for good causes,” he concludes, “but with the opportunity to go much bigger with it.”

Tickets and a complete listing of events at First Merit Event Park can be obtained by visiting their website at or going to any TicketMaster outlet, visiting the Dow Event Center Box Office, or phoning 800-745-3000.

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