Robert and Rio (Catherine) Sandidge have been in the event planning business for more than a quarter of a century.
Success, they’ve learned, comes from finding a way to create an experience.
“Not just another event or show,” Robert Sandidge said.
Enter ... Ohme Gardens and Sandidge’s RLS Productions’ Concerts in the Gardens series that’s set to start its annual five-Thursday summer run next week.
The 22-piece Wenatchee Swingin’ Big Band takes the stage June 27. After a break for the July 4 holiday, the concert series picks up again with four tribute bands — nods to Journey (July 11), Def Leppard (July 18), Phil Collins and Genesis (July 25) and Bon Jovi (Aug. 1.).
The venue is hard to beat — an alpine oasis with acres of evergreens, meadows, rock pools and waterfalls that provide relief from Wenatchee’s hot summer sun.
“The concerts are in a magical setting overlooking the entire Wenatchee Valley in the background behind the artists,” Sandidge said. “It is a great date night activity. We have even had several guests make wedding proposals at the concerts along with the usual birthday and anniversary celebrations.”
The custom-built stage is designed to look like an infinity pool, he said.
“But in our case an infinity stage, where it appears to be just hanging off the edge of the sky and the musicians are performing on a floating stage,” he said.
Attention to detail helps make sure concert-goers enjoy the full effect.
That includes everything from decibel level checks on the music to assuring access to a shaded seat and providing a free shuttle, reducing the stress of finding a parking space. Food and drink are available onsite from Wenatchee-based restaurant Tastebuds and a welcoming committee and ushers help guide guests to their places.
“All the guest needs to do is come and be prepared to enjoy a great evening of music and socializing with new guests they just met or other community leaders they know who support the series. Many of our guests say they not only come to hear the music, they come to hang with all their friends,” he said.
Attendance is limited to between 290 and 330, depending on reserved table seating, general admission and shaded seating layouts.
In addition to providing a musical experience, the concert series, which started in 2014, has specific goals:
Increase mid-week tourism outside a 50-mile radius of the valley and its bedroom communities.
Build a concert series with top artists, increasing budget and marketing, further increasing local tourism and community promotion.
Raise funds for a Wenatchee Valley College Foundation scholarship endowment. RLS commits 25 percent of the net ticket sales to the endowment.
“We have reached and surpassed goals we set for each year’s marketing efforts for the Wenatchee Valley and Ohme Gardens,” he said. “The first objective of the series has been very successful.”
About 45 percent of the general admission guests travel from up to 300 miles away — from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Canada.
The second objective is coming to fruition as well, Sandidge said.
“Our television shows that are produced from the recordings we generate in-house has also helped with the series recognition and has resulted in more verifiable traffic to the valley and Ohme Gardens,” he said.
RLS Productions also is coming close to endowing the scholarship.
“We originally promised $35,000 but have now raised the endowment amount to $43,000 which will allow for a $1,500 yearly scholarship to Wenatchee Valley College in perpetuity,” Sandidge said.
Others have committed to the effort as well.
“With the help of our supporters and businesses like Horan Estates Winery, we have been able to award an additional $14,000 in scholarships between 2014 and 2018,” he said.
Once the endowment has been established, the Sandidges will decide whether to continue adding to the scholarship fund or select another local charity in need.
Developing the concert series has come with its own set of challenges.
Early on, Sandidge said, it was the cost of the development of the venue and figuring out how to make it work. They had to look at power upgrades, venue layout, flow, security, limited seating and limited parking.
The melding of the summer months with wildfire and smoke season also has made for some tense moments.
The day before a concert one year, Ohme Gardens was put on high level fire evacuation notice. The notice was dropped, but it was a close call. They’ve also had concerns with smoke, but haven’t yet had to cancel a show.
“When there has been smoke in the valley, the gardens have always been just above it. We can count on one hand how many folks didn’t come because they thought it might be too smoky,” he said. “Up at Ohme Gardens, the sky and air around the gardens always seems to clear out.”