Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Connecting the Dots: The Decades of Experience Behind Williamsburg Live

With Williamsburg Live just around the corner, event director Jon Martin will draw on 45-years of event management experience to make it a success. (Courtesy of Virginia Arts Festival)

WILLIAMSBURG — It was hard not to be impressed when the Virginia Fine Arts Festival announced that Mandy Moore, Jason Isbell and Martina McBride would headline a respective night of the three day music festival known as Williamsburg Live in June.

Williamsburg Live, which is an annual event put on by the Virginia Arts Festival, is typically held in mid-June on the Lawn of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg. The event has had a few iterations over the years, most recently it was called Funhouse Fest until 2018.

All three artists at this year’s event are internationally known and have sold out massive venues across the country. Getting just one of the names would have been a feather in the cap of Williamsburg Live organizers.

Whether they had top tier headliners or not, putting on a multiday concert can be a herculean task for any municipality. Coordination with the City of Williamsburg, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and local businesses and private citizens is vital to an event’s success.

Luckily for Williamsburg Live, its director, Jon Martin has more than four and a half decades of experience coordinating almost every conceivable kind of event.

Throughout his career Jon has managed multinational tours for the music acts such as Bruce Springsteen, Jennifer Lopez and Van Halen. He had overseen traveling museum exhibits for the Baseball Hall of Fame and Bodies: The Exhibition, as well as running day to day operations for venues such as the Portsmouth’s Ntelos Pavilion.

In his years on the road, putting on shows Jon was a problem solver for any dilemma that might arise. From the everyday tasks like coordinating lodging, payment and soundchecks at venues. To more dire situations like the time New York City suffered a power outage just as Jennifer Lopez went on stage at Madison Square Garden.

“We had 18,000 people in Madison Square Garden standing around under emergency lighting,” Jon remembers. “The lights were not coming back on real soon, so we had to get those people out of the building. We had 120 tour employees with no place to go. The buses to transport them were stuck on the other side of the tunnel in New Jersey and could not get into Manhattan.”

In short, Jon and his crew were able to arrange for a police escort for the buses and the show was rescheduled for the next evening.

With decades of varied on the job training moments like that under his belt, Jon is diving headfirst into putting on Williamsburg Live. Not only in planning this year’s event but helping to make sure the festival continues to benefit Williamsburg and the Historic Triangle for years to come.

Inspired by a 50 city tour of Germany with rock legend Joe Cocker, Jon has a clear picture of what Williamsburg Live can be .

“These are small communities embracing artists they like,” he said of the Germany tour. “The whole community comes together. It’s in the city center. Sometimes its in the center of a castle that is on a hill and you play in the courtyard. Sometimes its just literally on the main street.”

Jon sees the potential for a similar kind of community involvement in Williamsburg. His mission is to continue to cultivate that involvement by bringing in high profile acts every year.

“We have to book the talent,” he said. “Create the demand, bring tourists in to make a weekend out of it.”

As for locals Jon noted that instead of trekking to Virginia Beach or Richmond to see big name artists, they will be able to just head downtown.

Even with these goals, Jon is cognizant of the fact that Williamsburg Live has been running successfully in one form or another for more than twenty years.

“We know what we’re doing,” Jon said. “I am about trying to connect the dots in town. That is what my job is. I want to be able to talk to people about the festival and grow the business a little bit.”

At the end of the day, Jon is exactly where he wants to be. After years on the road, he glad to be able to stay in Williamsburg, where he has had residence for the last 25-years, and help his community.

“I use to do at least 100 shows a year for at least forty years,” Jon recalls. “I’ve probably done 4,000 concerts so I should be able to get through three. Though it’s not about the amount of shows. I want to make it the best weekend, best three shows possible. I want to connect with local businesses and see what their needs are and what our needs are. How we can continue to build in the market so that citizens in Williamsburg and the Historic Triangle can feel like they have something really special here.”

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