A few years ago, Mt. Gretna Cicada Music Festival organizer Ceylon Leitzel told fans after the last show of the season that the organization was going to try something new: Season tickets.
"I let them know that they'll be processed first," Leitzel said. "We got about 200 takers without us promoting it when we first announced it a few years ago. Patty, who took over, was already involved in the ticket office. Patty Gokey said it made a lot of sense, so we implemented it."
Gokey and Leitzel were both right, as the 21st annual festival sold out in record time.
"We have ticket sales for individual tickets ($14) and tickets for season tickets. The other perk of being a season-ticket holder is that you get a two-week head start on everyone else," Leitzel said. "From April 15 until May 1, we process all season tickets and only season tickets. On May 1, we start at the beginning of the postmark again and we process single tickets and any season tickets that may come in late. We go until we are done. This year, we were done by April 26. We had no tickets left. That's 11 days of orders."
"It's a first for this soon," added Doug Lorenzen, committee member. "Pretty much by the night of the performances last year it sold out every seat for every concert."
One of the reasons the season tickets are so popular (60 percent of their total sales, according to Lorenzen) is the reputation that the festival has.
"There's a number of reasons. One of those are that people have become familiar with the concert series and they look forward to getting their tickets," Lorenzen said.
The season tickets don't come with a discount or any perks, really, other than locking in seats for each show of the season, which is a big enough perk in and of itself.
"People are getting season tickets even if there aren't shows they want to see, just so they can make sure they have their seats for the other ones," Leitzel said. "What happens there, then, is that they get exposed to something that they aren't used to and they end up thinking that it's pretty cool. I've had that experience, too."
Performing at this year's festival, which features six shows from Aug. 3 to Aug. 11 are "The Bronx Wanderers" (Aug. 3); "Beginnings: The Ultimate Chicago Tribute Band" (Aug. 4); "Tusk: The Ultimate Tribute to Fleetwood Mac" (Aug. 5); "We've Only Just Begun: The Carpenters Remembered" (Aug. 6); "The Lettermen" (Aug. 10) and "Phil Dirt and the Dozers" (Aug. 11).
It's a mix of different styles, eras, tribute bands and original acts. It's something that Leitzel and his wife, Karen, look to implement while they're scouting the bands out.
"That's part of the trick to putting a lineup of six nights together. If we find the excellent quality no matter what type of band it is, as long as it's between the 50s and 80s, they have an opportunity to end up in the lineup," Leitzel said. "We try to balance rock 'n' roll, tribute and original, if at all possible."
Leitzel said that he and his wife see every band that plays at Mt. Gretna live before they schedule them, because quality and personality are two of the biggest things they look for.
"We first do our homework behind the scenes. Then we go see the shows," Leitzel said. "There isn't a show that comes that we haven't seen firsthand. We meet the band, promoters and whoever is involved with them. We find out what their personalities are like to meet our criteria. At Gretna, everyone is very friendly and personable. We want that presence on the stage, as well."
As well as mixing up the genres of music and original vs. tribute – which Leitzel admitted comes down to dollars and cents for the all-volunteer committee – the Cicada Festival has to keep up with the times and ages of their audience members.
In fact, their connection with "younger" music is one of the reasons they were appointed to select the bands.
"That's how my wife and I got approved. They asked if we knew who Jimmy Buffet was. We said yes, and they said that we were the only ones on the committee who knew who he was," Leitzel said. "That was the start of an era."
"You have to adjust with your audience. As you see with your range of music this year, we're capturing the earliest of the oldest group, which is 52 years old," Leitzel went on to explained. "So, we've got that, but we have 'Chicago' and 'Fleetwood Mac,' which are taking us into the 70s and 80s. We have 'The Carpenters,' which is dead center in the 70s. It sold quicker than anything else. We seem to have found that era, but it's also the quality of the acts."
And yes, for those familiar with the Cicada Festival, the mainstays "The Bronx Wanderers" and "Phil Dirt and the Dozers" will once again be the bookends of the event.
"When we brought them in six or seven years ago, that was our first step in getting to where we are today. They were the caliber of show that my wife and I wanted the Cicada Festival to come to," Leitzel said of "Phil Dirt and the Dozers." "That band has been together for more than 25 years. They are a personable, variety, rock 'n' roll show. The variety and quality and the presence on the stage brought a new level of quality to the playhouse."
"The Bronx Wanderers" also impressed Leitzel with their performance, as they reminded him of "Phil Dirt and the Dozers."
"'The Bronx Wanderers' did a 15-minute medley of all of their songs, and I happened to find this out. One cold December one year, we drove to the other end of the state and met the band," Leitzel said. "It matched up with Phil Dirt did, but in a different perspective and music.
"They have become our bookends. Either one of the bands either opens or closes our festival each year. They have become our staple, and they sell the fastest, even though they are repeated each year. They change up their music each year," he continued. "Some of them are the same, but there's always something new and exciting. That excitement is contagious. The relationships, their personalities and their true love to do what they love to do is very successful with both of those bands."