Carlisle-based Megan Strong has been a fan of the rock band All Time Low for at least four years.
She’s seen them live several times, once in Hershey, another time in Philadelphia. Whenever All Time Low or any of her other favorite punk pop or rock bands asked fans on social media where they wanted to see them play, Strong said “Central Pennsylvania”. Her husband would laugh and joke that it would never happen.
But then it worked.
In February 2020, Strong sang to their favorite All Time Low songs with the band members themselves at XL Live in Harrisburg.
“I couldn’t believe when I heard you were coming to Harrisburg,” she said.
She didn’t know at the time, but that would be her last concert before COVID – a long year without music for Strong, who described herself as “a huge concert goer”. But now, over a year later, she has tickets again for her first concert after COVID – All Time Low on XL Live.
“It gives me chills just thinking about it,” she said. “One of my favorite things to do at concerts is to be in a room full of people who are there for the same thing and sing the same songs.”
All Time Low is just one of over 20 bands and artists Harrisburg University Presents brings to the area in late summer through fall. There are among others the singer-songwriter Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, the rockers Young the Giant, the alt-rock bands Grouplove and Cage the Elephant as well as the Mexican-acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela. For a while, it seemed like the university’s concert production team, HU Presents, would be announcing a new show every few weeks.
Harrisburg has grown as a live music destination in recent years, said Frank Schofield, director of live entertainment and media services at Harrisburg University. As the music world recovers in a post-COVID world, HU has been working to build on the momentum it had before.
But behind the scenes, according to Schofield, a lot has to happen before an artist steps on stage with a “Hello Harrisburg!”
Schofield said his secret pleasure is seeing artist lineups for upcoming music festivals. He scans the lists and determines which band is trending or which artist is gaining popularity. But they have to pass some tests. They have to be a fit for Harrisburg, and they have to be a band that Schofield would hear himself.
When he finds a band he needs to have, the weeks of work begin. There is a lot of logistical work, communicating with agents, deciding on a venue and choosing a date. It’s a long thread of email that goes on until Schofield sees a word – “confirmed”.
“Once it’s confirmed, boom, that’s the golden word,” he said. “It’s always a thrill. It’s like shooting a hockey goal. “
If Schofield really played hockey, he would be wearing the team. He has scored left and right with bands he is convinced will make the trip to Central PA. Jason Isbell and Cage the Elephant are some of the big bands he’s thrown into Harrisburg’s net, though he couldn’t pick a favorite out of the 20+ bands he had planned for this summer and fall.
“It’s amazing how much work he’s done,” said Chris Conduit, venue manager at XL Live, a concert hall on S. Cameron Street in Harrisburg.
HU Presents and XL Live have been partners since 2018. Schofield handles all negotiations with agents and XL Live handles the ticketing and provides the space, staff and facilities for the show. The partnership was critical to helping XL Live grow and attract better-known bands, Conduit said.
He explained how difficult it is to book bands in a relatively new venue like XL Live that hasn’t yet built a list of big-name artists. It is especially difficult to attract bands to Harrisburg, a smaller city, as the typical tour stops are in places like New York or Philadelphia. Often times, Conduit and Schofield need to find bands touring the area and snap them up for a layover.
“He [Schofield] doesn’t take no for an answer, ”said Conduit. “He’s very determined.”
Not only has XL Live benefited from Schofield’s work by bringing bigger artists to their venue, but the region as a whole, Conduit said.
“This is really good for Harrisburg,” he said. “Harrisburg has not seen anything like it in decades.”
Schofield has always loved music. The former radio DJ at Wink 104 and iHeart Radio, among others, never thought he’d end up where he is, but he’s happy to have ended up at HU.
“I don’t think it was ever a planned destination or trip for me, but it’s perfect for me,” he said. “I run to work every day.”
Before COVID hit, Schofield had just put on HU’s biggest show to date – Death Cab for Cutie at Riverfront Park.
“That was when the industry noticed what we were doing here,” he said. “It was a turning point for us”
The same was true for XL Live, which was building momentum and preparing for its biggest season to date.
But then the pandemic struck and all future concerts were canceled. It’s been tough for Schofield, Conduit, and the live entertainment industry at large.
“Nobody really talked about the live entertainment industry that has so many people on it that has just been decimated,” he said. “There was no fundraiser to help people, and there was no government funding for these people. People just lost their jobs. “
It’s been a year and a half of slow bookings, cancellations, watching and waiting for Schofield, a stark contrast to the energetic months before. But when post-pandemic life came into focus, the industry quickly picked up speed again.
“Suddenly it was like ‘Bam!’ and the alarm went off, ”he said. “It was just crazy. For four or five weeks everyone in the industry was just upside down. “
Schofield’s eyes were blurry from reading and sending emails all day when he got home from work. It was crazy but exciting – live music was back.
From mid-August, bands will perform at Riverfront Park, XL Live, Hershey Theater and The Englewood.
Even though this concert season is just beginning, Schofield is already booking bands for 2022. Fans can expect some even bigger names to travel to Harrisburg in the coming year.
But right now he’s just looking forward to going back to concerts.
“Central PA has never been this good,” he said.
For more information on Harrisburg University Presents or to purchase concert tickets, visit www.concertseries.harrisburgu.edu. To learn more about XL Live, visit www.xlhbg.com.
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