Public radio listeners nationwide — including the listeners of our own Utah Public Radio — are undeniably familiar with Performance Today and its ever-inviting host Fred Child.
Performance Today has been in production for over 30 years with Fred as the host since 2000. The crew at Performance Today has traveled the nation showcasing some of the worlds best musicians. They’ve won awards, yes. But the main distinction between PT and other programs is its here-and-now approach to classical music — live recordings of stellar performances pressing the boundaries of what classical music actually is.
“It’s about performance, and it’s about today,” Fred Child said in an interview with Utah Public Radio.
What’s pressing the boundaries today is what’s happening at the Moab Music Festival — a small, niche festival nestled in the pale-red dust and brush of the desert near Arches National Park. It’s the first time PT had covered the event in 12 years.
In the back room of Moab Garage Co. — a small café on Main Street where a PT meet-and-greet had been organized — Fred’s enthusiasm for music and the wilderness of the surrounding desert is nothing short of infectious. Fred talked about all things music, from classical music to punk-rock (namely, Ian MacKaye’s post-punk band Fugazi) along with backpacking and hiking. It seems only natural for Fred and the crew at PT to reaffix their gaze on the festival after such a hiatus.
"I love the red rock and the slick rock and the sandstone," Fred said. "I love the sun — I love the night sky. I just love it here."
What makes the Moab Music Festival particularly unique are the venues. There are no concert halls, opera houses or grand theatres. The majority concert venues require the listener to hike to a natural rock amphitheater or ride a fan-boat down a river to a remote location.
“This festival is about the music in the place,” Fred said. “And it's one thing to describe that — it's another thing to actually see it."
Fred says their approach for covering the Moab Music Festival is very different than what PT has done in the past — to shift the focus to videography in lieu of audio for radio.
Jon Gohman, an associate producer for Performance Today who journeyed with Fred to the Moab Music Festival, says they even choose not to bring an audio engineer for the trip. Gohman says the reason to forgo an engineer was partially influenced by resources, but mainly it was their newly found focus on visualizing music in the red desert.
“It’s kind of our focus here," Gohman said. "To try to express where this festival is and what it means.”
While radio is great at conveying the emotion of a performance, Digital Producer Nate Ryan said being able to take photos and videos of performances in such unique landscapes takes the emotions a step further.
“We are more and more and digital platform," Ryan said. "Online we can just go further and we can go a little more indepth."
For summer festival season, the preparation starts eight months in advance. The PT crew drove a straight shot to Moab after flying into Salt Lake City. The next day, Nate said it was an early rise and a hike on the Moab Rim — a short, intense trail near the Colorado River — to shoot video with Fred and to scout locations for a music video with violinist Tessa Lark.
Lark is classically trained, but began her musical career playing Appalachian fiddle — a dichotomy that neatly represents what is musically interesting about the Moab Music Festival.
Despite the months of preparation, the days are long for the PT crew. Lots of scouting. Lots of hiking. Lots of weather and lighting considerations. But the days are not without reward.
"The balance of music and landscape, I think, is just really special with this festival," Ryan said.
For footage of last year’s Moab Music Festival, visit Performance Today’s Facebook page as well as their YouTube channel. Next year’s festival starts on Aug. 26, and wraps up on Sept. 12.