County approves use of new talent booking firm for state fair
Cascade County Commissioners voted during their Feb. 14 meeting to approve using a new talent booking company for the Montana Expo Park, including the state fair.
Two commissioners voted on the item as Commissioner Joe Briggs was out of town.
Commissioners voted to use NesteLive! for talent booking services this year.
The county solicited proposals for talent booking services through the Rocky Mountain Association of Fairs.
Those requests for proposals don’t appear to have been posted to the county’s bids and RFPs section of the website as they are for public works and the sheriff’s office.
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Three proposals were submitted to the county from the current firm Romeo Entertainment Group, as well as NesteLive! and Pepper Entertainment.
The Electric was asked whether local entertainment groups had a chance to bid and Susan Shannon, Expo Park manager, said that “the county solicited proposals from full-service talent buyer/entertainment booking and contracting service providers for the night show entertainment at the annual Montana State Fair as well as off seasons shows. The Rocky Mountain Association of Fairs database was used to identify the full-service talent buyer/entertainment booking and contracting service providers for the solicitation. The Newberry is an event venue, not a full-service talent buyer/entertainment booking and contracting service.”
Scott Reasoner, a partner in Newberry and general manager of the Voyagers, said that they are a talent booking entity and book all their own shows at the Newberry, as well as book talent for the Downtown Summer Jam, Hootenanny, the ballpark and other events.
Reasoner said that had they been contacted or made aware, they would have submitted a proposal and that they work with many of the same agencies and agents that other talent booking companies use.
Carey Ann Haight, deputy county attorney, said that talent booking services don’t fall within the statutory requirement for competitive, advertised bidding.
“Despite not being statutorily required to do so, Cascade County advertised the RFP in a targeted public offering when it solicited competitive proposals from the full-service talent buyer/entertainment booking and contracting service providers identified in the Rocky Mountain Association of Fairs. As a result of this solicitation, we received competitive proposals to evaluate in the public’s/Cascade County’s best interests,” Haight told The Electric in an email.
The county has used Romeo for years.
A “Cascade County evaluation committee” consisting of the Montana Expo Park manager, marketing and sales manager, event coordinator and administrative assistant, met three times to score the proposals, according to the staff report.
The committee recommended NesteLive!
Susan Shannon, Expo Park manager, told commissioners during their Feb. 8 work session that the company hasn’t made recommendations for this year’s fair act and there’s no cost associated with the agenda documents for the Feb. 14 meeting.
Shannon said previously the county contracted with Romeo on an annual basis.
Commissioner Joe Briggs said that this action would approve the use of NesteLive! as the booking agency and they’d review the contract for acts separately.
Last year, the county said the fair revenues were $1,882,000 and it was a “near record breaking year, only to be surpassed by 2021.”
County financials in 2021 showed the fair generated $1.8 million in total revenues.
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The Electric requested the county’s expenses for the fair and according to that document, the total estimated expenses for the 2022 fair were $1,791,784.
That equates to a net estimated profit of $90,326 according to the county financials.
In 2021, the county voted to disband the fair advisory board, which typically reviewed the financials annually.
The night shows generated $547,000 in revenue in 2022, according to the county, for “the greatest producing night show revenue in the history of the Montana State Fair.
County releases fair revenues; fair board says there’s room for improvement 
In July 2022, commissioners approved a $451,000 contract with Romeo Entertainment for the night show concerts that included Mini Pop Kids, the Beach Boys, Skillet, Cheap Trick, Chase Rice and Dwight Yoakam.
In 2021, the Romeo contract was $496,060 and night show ticket revenue, according to financials provided to the since disbanded fair advisory board, was $481,134.