Here is a story I ran last March about the series:
The Brown Bag Concert Series, presented by the Salt Lake City Arts Council, will celebrate its 35th anniversary this August. Few know that the 34th iteration came close to being its last. The council's Casey Jarman is the organization's only full-time staff person responsible for the Brown Bag Concert series, and the Living Traditions Festival and the wildly popular Twilight Concert Series. The demands on his time, as well as tightening budget constraints, threatened to force his hand.
But Jarman continues to believe that the downtown needs free, accessible arts programs in a downtown about to be revitalized by City Creek Center. A shopping center isn't the only thing that invigorates a city it's the arts, the council contends. "I'm glad we can still have a month of the Brown Bag Concert Series," said Jarman, who has seen the series contract from two months two summers ago to just one month last year.
This year's series is scheduled for August. It's not as if there aren't enough local performers to fill the free series, which runs weekdays from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in a handful of downtown venues, such as the Salt Lake City & County Building, Exchange Place Plaza and City Creek Park. In 2011, there were 120 applications for 20 concert spots.
Jarman invites all performers to apply, including dancers, filmmakers, actors, poets, rock bands, chamber quartets or solo acts. "We'd take the Utah Symphony if they applied," he said. Gerald McDonough directed the first years of the series, and Jarman a gifted mandolin player performed in several Brown Bag concerts in the early years with his group, the Jarman/Kingston Quartet, before taking over programming the series in 1985.
As a past performer, Jarman acknowledged that it can be a tough gig when "people are eating lunch and you don't have them wrapped into the palm of your hand." But for the 50 to 75 audience members who show up for the concert, and the musicians happy for exposure and a stage, the series is a gem, dedicated to spotlighting local performers in the summer concert season that's dominated by nationally touring acts.
"It's nice to have a free concert series downtown," said Will Sartain, local musician, concert promoter and co-owner of Urban Lounge and Kilby Court, who has performed in the series. "It livens up downtown."
John Flanders is a local tenor saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist who performed a Brown Bag Concert last year with his jazz group Double Helix. The series is "a real asset to the city," he said. "Things like that let you know that things are happening."
Joe Muscolino, who performed the first Brown Bag concert 35 years ago, said that the concerts are especially important this year as City Creek construction is completed. With a new downtown, he said the Brown Bag concerts should help ignite the same vitality as during the 2002 Winter Olympics.
In its first decade, the series became so popular that Jarman convinced the Arts council to create an evening series. The Twilight Series will celebrate its 25th anniversary this summer, after rapper Lupe Fiasco drew more than 50,000 people to Pioneer Park on last summer's final night. (The Twilight Series will once again be held in Pioneer Park, Jarman confirmed.) But while the Twilight Series shines the spotlight on nationally touring acts such as Bon Iver, The Decemberists and Modest Mouse, the Brown Bag Concert Series is almost exclusively reserved for Utah acts who want audiences on their lunch break to lend them their ears.