Downtown at Sundown Starts its Third Year

By: Jodelle Greiner, The Brookings Register

“Melting pot of Brookings” keeps attracting more attendees

Downtown at Sundown is back for its third year and will have more kid-friendly activities and retail vendors, as well as some big surprises, said Jennifer Johnson, executive director of the Brookings Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The weekly events are set from 5-9 p.m. Thursdays, starting July 13 and running through Aug. 24 in the 300 block of Fifth Street. The top draw will be a musical headliner with an opening act.

Admission and activities are still free, Johnson added.

There will be an area for dancing, but if you’d like to give your feet a rest, there will be picnic tables, courtesy of Brookings Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department.

“We do encourage everyone to bring a blanket or bring a chair,” Johnson said.

And maybe an umbrella if you don’t want to get wet.

The show goes on, rain or shine – but it was cancelled once the first year due to a tornado south of town and shut down early another time because of lightning.

The music

There will be a wide range of musical styles.

Sgt. Rock will start this summer’s line-up on opening night.

“Sgt. Rock is the 147th Army band; they’re sort of a rock ensemble,” said Emily Braun, communications and marketing coordinator for the CVB. “They’re made up of citizen-soldier musicians who are stationed in Mitchell. They have a three-piece horn section; pretty awesome dance moves, I would say. Dynamic vocals, they play your top hits as well as rock and roll.”

Sgt. Rock is one of two bands back from last year’s Downtown at Sundown. The other returnee is The Outer Vibe, which will make its appearance on July 27. The Outer Vibe is the only band to have played both of the previous Downtown at Sundowns and be scheduled for the third, Johnson said.

Expect something different July 20 because the organizers have been listening.

“We do have one band this year, Robert J and The Most, which has a reggae vibe to it, and that is by request,” Johnson said. “The last two years, each year, we have had a few requests for a reggae band and so, we’re fulfilling that request this year, making good on our promise to bring some of that flavor to Brookings.”

“It’s a six-member band, lots of horn instruments. I think that’s kind of like the unique aspect,” Braun said. “It’s not normal pop and rock. It’s that mix of funk and jam band and reggae, classic guitar riffs, that kind of thing.”

The mood switches again on Aug. 3.

“We have some Southern rock and roll toward the end,” Braun said. “Female artist Kirsten Thien, she’s kind of unique, as well. She has a soulful, bluesy voice (hearkening back to the 1950s and 1960s).”

August 10 will be The Rude Band’s first appearance at Downtown at Sundown, but area folks might already be fans of the local band since it has played the Uncle Sam Jam and other area events.

Get ready for some arena rock, courtesy of Guilty Pleasures, on Aug. 17.

Braun describes the Sioux Falls-based band as having “a ’70s-’80s kind of throw-back, Hairball vibe.”

Carolina Reign will finish up Downtown at Sundown on Aug. 24.

“We do have local openers each night,” Johnson said. “We’re still looking for a couple openers. We’ve got two or three spots open, so if there’s anybody out there that would like to showcase their talent, they can contact us through the website.”

The site is downtownatsundown.org. There is a link to click and a form to fill out to be considered as an opening act.

Activities, surprises and mysteries

There’s lots of other stuff going on in the block-long area.

“Inflatables and face painting are back,” Johnson said. Other favorites are sidewalk chalk and other interactive things, as well.

“We’re very fortunate with support from the city and our sponsor First Bank & Trust and our encore sponsors. We’re able to bring many of these activities back, which is great.

“That’s what makes this such a wonderful event and very community and family friendly,” Johnson added.

In addition to the favorites, there will be surprises.

“Some of our sponsors are going to be doing more kid-friendly activities, and those are going to be new and different each week. So you’ll just have to come each week to find out what those will be,” Johnson said.

There will be new things for the big kids, too.

Since they had a good response from the retailers last year, Johnson said, they expanded the retail vendors “so we’re gonna have a variety of products from clothing to shoes, to sunglasses, to children’s books, (and) accessories.”

One new activity Johnson’s not saying much about is a life-size interactive art piece.

“We’re really excited about that. I can’t give you all the details now. It’s gonna be a little bit mysterious,” she said.

One thing she did confirm was Downtown at Sundown will have “great vendors, food and drink, and brew vendors.”

“We’ve had just a really great response from our local businesses and we’re excited that they’re gonna be back on board,” Johnson said.

They’re hoping that free WiFi from Swiftel Communications will encourage more people to “share their experience” and entice their friends, Braun said.

What the public wants

“It’s something that the community wants and has asked for,” Johnson said.

That’s reflected in the numbers.

The attendance has gone up each year, and Johnson and Braun want that trend to continue.

The first year saw a total of 3,682, which was an average weekly attendance of 526.

In 2016, total attendance was 5,939 with one week topping four digits with 1,005.

“Last year, there was an average of 848 people who attended each week, and that was a 38 percent increase from our first year. So that is exponential growth that we’re obviously thrilled with,” Johnson said.

“I really appreciate hearing back from people that they enjoy it and that they have had a good time and they are coming back from last year or this is the first time they’ve seen it,” she added.

Lot of fun, lot of work

It takes a lot of work to have all that fun.

“I always give the stat … each week takes 102 staff and volunteer hours just to run the event. That’s set up, running the event, and tear down and the time afterward to account for everything,” Johnson said. “That does not include the planning time from February to June that we spend finding bands, making posters, marketing plans, figuring out logistics, working with our community partners, connecting with sponsors. There are a lot of facets to putting on the event.”

They do it all gladly.

“I always look forward to the first night,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of a combination of you’re nervous, ‘cause you’re not exactly 100 percent sure how are things going to come together, but it magically does every year.

“What I love about it is the mixing, it’s like the melting pot of Brookings in terms of everybody shows up, everybody can interact with the event in whatever way best aligns with them but still all be in one space and be enjoying the time and each other,” Braun said.

Tip of the hat

Johnson remembers where it all started.

“This event wouldn’t even have happened had the city of Brookings not come forward three years ago and said, ‘We are gonna help kickstart this project,’ so they provided the funds to get things rolling and have continued to support the event the last three years,” she said.

“I would say the same is true with First Bank & Trust. In our initial meeting for all of our sponsors, but especially for First Bank & Trust as a headline sponsor, it was just a concept, so it takes a lot of courage to step forward when something is a concept and say, ‘Yep, we’re gonna come forward and come alongside you guys and help support this event,’” Johnson said.

Contact Jodelle Greiner at jgreiner@brookingsregister.com.

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