BROOKINGS – Downtown at Sundown is back and bigger than ever.
“To say we’re excited to have this back would be an understatement. I think the whole community would agree with that one,” said Ashley Biggar, director of key operations and development with the Brookings Chamber of Commerce.
After a COVID-19 hiatus in 2020, the community favorite will have a slight location change when it starts next Thursday, July 22, Biggar said.
Moving isn’t the only change to the weekly event which started in 2015, she noted, but fans can still expect lots of good music and plenty of food and family-friendly activities.
Band lineup is available on the website downtownatsundown.org online. Click on Experience, then on Lineup.
“We have a variety of new folks, and we’re bringing back one band, so that’s Soca Jukebox,” Biggar said. “We’re looking forward to all the bands; it’s just nice to get out, right?”
“We play rain or shine – unless it’s severe weather, the show goes on,” Biggar said, adding only one event has been canceled due to a tornadic situation and there is a severe weather plan in place. “So as long as we don’t wreck equipment, we keep going.”
They are looking for volunteers to help with duties like gatekeeping, welcoming people to the event, and keeping track of attendance numbers – “nothing with heavy lifting,” Biggar said. Those who wish to volunteer may visit the website and click on the tab for Volunteer, then Sign Up.
Downtown at Sundown will start at 5:30 p.m. on Thursdays instead of 5 p.m., Biggar said.
They found that people weren’t coming at 5 p.m. It was at least 5:30 p.m. before they started showing up, she said.
“Really the uptick starts at 6, 6:30 (p.m.),” Biggar said.
“I think that makes sense with people getting off work and especially if you’re bringing your family down or maybe you’re getting changed (to more casual clothes). I just think that that timing was a little off,” Biggar said.
With people showing up later, they were missing the opening bands “and we felt horrible about that,” Biggar said. “We really wanted to just capitalize on the audience for when we had them. So we just switched it.”
There won’t be an opening band; the headlining band will take the stage at 6 p.m. and play until 9 p.m.
“For that half an hour, there won’t be any band playing, but we will have background music,” Biggar said.
Audio Connections will be in charge of that, providing a D.J. with mixed music
“Audio Connections is great to work with,” Biggar said.
The event will run every Thursday for five weeks instead of the customary seven it has in the past.
“We found, too, that there was two weeks that historically didn’t perform as well in the middle,” Biggar said. “We’re really looking to maximize the input of our staff, of the vendors, of our sponsors, of our other collaborators; we just really want to make sure that we’re utilizing people’s time because we understand they’re busy.”
It’s a lot of work to set up the booths, and business people are having a hard time finding staff, she noted.
“This was one of the options was just to cut it down to five, instead of seven,” Biggar said.
“I’m sure we’re gonna see just as many people. I really believe it,” Biggar said.
A small change in location is actually the biggest change for the event.
Instead of being confined to the 300 block of Fifth Street, which runs east/west, the event has shifted to the east, keeping the east half of the 300 block of Fifth Street, and taking the intersection with Main Avenue, and all of the 400 block of Main Avenue.
The band used to have its back to the west, forcing attendees to face the setting sun.
“We did a survey back in 2019 at the conclusion of that season and we found that people were irritated by the sun, which we heard pretty much throughout the seasons and we get it,” Biggar said. “I mean, it’s Downtown at Sundown, but the sun in your face … as the sun’s going down ….”
“So part of that was looking to make sure that we could get the crowd facing away from the sun,” Biggar said.
Now, the band will be at an angle in the intersection and have its back to the post office so attendees will face northeast and “we’ll be able to play down both streets,” she added.
With Main Avenue running north/south, the westside buildings will cast a shadow as the evening goes on, offering some respite from the sun, which isn’t available on the east/west running Fifth Street.
“Another change, too, was doubling our space. We found that more and more people are attending. We started off with around 500 people, an average of, attending each night,” Biggar said. “(In 2019), it was over 1,000 people attending each night.”
“(We were) looking at the fact that we keep expanding and keep growing, which is great. Unfortunately, our location prior couldn’t keep up with that capacity,” Biggar said.
“We also got feedback, too, that people wanted to be closer to the downtown businesses,” Biggar said. “Main street is that central hub street for our businesses downtown and … to feel more part of being in the heartbeat of the community and downtown Main street just makes sense.”
Room for activities
Main Avenue will have the Kids Zone, retail vendors and sponsorship tents and other activities, Biggar said. Food and beverage vendors will still be on Fifth Street.
“We’re not gonna have the picnic tables like we used to have, so we are encouraging people to, I say, BYOC – Bring Your Own Chair,” Biggar said.
There will be pub tables so people will still have someplace to set their drinks.
With more space, the event has “the capacity to add several more vendors,” Biggar said, and they are trying to increase the Kid Zone activities “which is huge if you’re a parent, right? You want to have as many bouncy houses or whatever as possible.”
One activity that is not returning is face painting.
“Not sure how to navigate face-painting coming out of COVID, so we’ll just wait one more year to re-implement that activity,” she said.
“We’re going to put up a photo op wall on the fence that’s next to Brookings Furniture Company, so that will be kind of cool. People can go take pictures with different backgrounds,” Biggar said.
“We’ll have like a pong game and just lots of different things,” she added.
The admission to the event has always been and still is free, but the food and drink tickets have been eliminated this year, Biggar said.
Attendees will now just pay for their food and beverages at the booths. Biggar said at a Brookings City Council meeting in June that a uniformed officer would be present at all events.
Biggar has been involved with Downtown at Sundown since the beginning, so she’s heard some things repeatedly, like how annoyed attendees were about having to buy tickets.
“People were irritated with the tickets. You stand in line to get your food and beverage tickets. And then you stand in a line to get your food and beverage. And then, oh, you might not have enough tickets or oh, at the end of the night, you have too many tickets,” Biggar said.
The Downtown at Sundown crew was “really looking to create the best possible guest experience,” and wanted to take away “those pain points,” Biggar said.
Now, each vendor will have their own point of sale and take whatever form of payment they choose, Biggar said.
Glad it’s back
Biggar is glad she and her crew get to put on Downtown at Sundown again.
“I think we all missed a lot of things last year; the coming together of the community,” she said. “There’s something about community and gathering and being able to enjoy live music, the event itself … laughter.”
Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]