Palling around with Ted Nugent, calmly dispersing the Crosby, Stills & Nash crowd in the midst of an oncoming storm — these are some of brash radio jock Tim Barron’s Common Ground memories. He emceed the music festival since its 2000 inception; now he’s claiming “M.C. Emeritus” status, gracefully retiring as a self-proclaimed relic from the festival’s original era.
“This year was the first year I just didn’t feel in my heart that I was the relevant person to be onstage, and that I had basically aged out, which is fine. A lot of guys like me have egos that don’t allow them to admit that,” Barron, 58, said. “They get all whipped up about it and try to stay young. They do the comb-over, dress inappropriately and date a teenager. But not me.
I understand I’m old and a young person should do my job.”
But Barron’s age isn’t the sole reason he’s leaving the volunteer position — festivals simply don’t need prototypical emcees anymore; social media and D.J.s have taken over the role Barron once filled at Common Ground.
“They have a lot of social media and a lot of screens with the information, ‘Thanks to SpaghettiOs for the main stage, thanks to so and so.’” Barron said. “They don’t need a guy out there talking about SpaghettiOs! It’s no longer the way the model works.”
Barron’s retirement from Common Ground comes as another symbol of the festival’s changing identity for veteran concertgoers. For its first dozen years, the festival carried the reputation as a week of classic rock.
Peruse the old lineups and you’ll see nearly the entire pantheon of legendary rock acts — save the bands whose members faced untimely deaths.
“I was not even 40 when this all started. I was a younger person and REO Speedwagon, Styx, Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth were younger people too,” Barron said. “We were presenting the acts of our time. Nobody really noticed that 20 years had gone by.”
The change in scheduling becomes glaringly apparent in 2009, when eight artists named with the DJ prefix were booked alongside the likes of Huey Lewis and the News.
Fast forward: More hip-hop and alternative acts entered the fray until 2018, where the only classic acts were DJ Jazzy Jeff and Tone Loc — both without a single guitar between them.
Barron said Common Ground’s gradual retooling was a no-brainer and a “wise decision” by co-founder Kevin Meyer’s booking company, MiEntertainment Group.
“We were all getting older, and the acts that we were used to were getting older. There are some old dudes out there. Many of these cats are in casinos with air conditioning and they take the elevator home at 10:30,” Barron laughed. “Fewer classic artists were touring at all, those that did were doing casinos or giant festivals. We had very few to pick from, so the demand was for younger acts for younger people.”
Though some of Common Ground’s audience may be disappointed by the recent lack of acts like Blue Oyster Cult or Lynyrd Skynrd, Barron said the “economic reality” is that their demographic is not the one keeping the festival afloat.
“Common Ground’s mainstay are people between the ages of 18 and 35. That’s who they were before. It’s really just staying with who they were attracting before, and the newer acts are what it’s going to take.”
According to Barron, the older crowd aren’t as game to spend a day baking in the July sun as they were 10 years ago. He also suggested the absence of those upset by the change hasn’t hurt Common Ground.
“You can complain all you want, but you weren’t showing up. People tend to moan, especially when it’s so easy to be negative anonymously on Facebook,” Barron said. “But the fact of the matter is people who make their living in this industry and don’t pay their bills unless they do it right, all got together and realized the older demographic was not showing back up for these events.”
But Barron isn’t too certain that MiEntertainment Group are completely closed off from the idea of a separate festival that brings back the legacy rock acts.
Barron suggested that if such an event were to be booked, he would be more than happy to throw his hat in.
“If we go back to older acts and steer it toward classic rock again, I’ll come back for that,” Barron said. “We’re also talking about possibly leaving Common Ground completely alone and doing another weekend. We have a lot of weekends in the summer.”
Correction: This article has been edited to reflect the 2017 name change of Meridian Entertainment Group to MiEntertainment Group.