February 28, 2017
Saluting an Older Brother in the Business
The concert by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band–founder John McEuen was coming up, and they needed to get a stage into the middle of an amphitheatre, but they couldn’t afford to build one. The solution was obvious to Gary Justesen, owner of Salt Lake City’s Oasis Stage Werks: they’d bring in the SL250—on a crane.
“Your heart’s in your throat a little bit when you’ve got a quarter of a million dollars hanging on by a piece of wire rope,” laughs Justeson, recalling getting the SL250 into the defunct Triad Amphitheatre in downtown Salt Lake City. But the crane wasn’t a new idea—when Justesen contacted us to find out if any of us had done it before, we sent back a bunch of pictures of our adventures craning an SL250 onto a boat to Europe.
That wasn’t the first time he’d had that sort of interaction with us, either—previously, when he had the idea of using two snowcats to pull a stage up to 8,000 feet on Deer Valley Mountain for a concert series at the World Cup of Skiing, he gave Stageline a call. That time too, he’d found us a willing partner in imagination.
“I called Marius up and said, ‘We want to do this crazy thing,’ and he said, ‘Let me send you some photos of the things we’ve done!’” Justesen recalls.
Our relationship with Justesen and his Oasis Stage Werks has been long and loyal, and founded in this kind of mutual appreciation for staging possibilities. But as we begin to celebrate our 30th anniversary year, we have to tip our hat to Oasis and Gary. This year marks Oasis’s 40th anniversary, making them effectively our older brother.
The company began after Justeson got a few years of lighting under his belt with dance companies and decided to strike out for himself. To begin with, it was a lighting company. But then Justesen got an idea.
“We weren’t doing any stages 40 years ago,” he recalls. “The way we got into mobile stages is that I was on a tour in Europe. I had an afternoon off in Amsterdam and was wandering around. They were having a little festival, so I went over to take a look—of course, I went around the backstage side. That’s where I saw my first stage-van. I looked at the nametag and thought, ‘Hey, that’s made in Montreal!’”
Justesen was in luck—he had a summer season booked the following year in Saratoga Springs, NY, a town that he describes as “Just down the street.” On a day off in the late 1980s, he booked a flight to Montreal, met us, and let us show him how the SL250 deployed in a venue.
“I looked at it and knew exactly that it was something we wanted to do too,” he says. “I came back home and bought my first one within the next year.”
These were early days still for Stageline, Justesen notes. “Our first one was serial number 12!”
After a year of using the SL250 for a free concert series on Las Vegas’s Fremont Street, the organizers asked him if he could get another. No problem. Now he had two 250s going up every other week to (literally!) support national talent like the Dixie Chicks.
“We were pretty excited about that—it got us going,” he says.
As Oasis branched out into other kinds of shows, Justesen was working with a local promoter using a 90’x40’ ground-support stage, but he was ready to power up.
“I told him about the SL320, and he said, ‘We could do radio shows in ballparks with a stage-van. It’d be a lot less money and labour,’” Justesen recalls. “So we bought our first 320 with that promoter in mind, primarily. Little did I realize how popular the 320 would be.”
Five years later, a second SL320 found its home at Oasis as well.
“I really did need a second one,” he says. “We took delivery of the second 320 at a gig in Monroe Washington. We met the trailer-transit driver there and drove it right into the racetrack. Then we shook hands, said ‘Thank you very much,’ and started setting up the show.”
These days, with the company entering middle-age in human years, things aren’t as crazy as they used to be, but Justesen and his team are still working hard—Oasis does between 60 and 70 dates a year.
“We built up a clientele that keep the stages pretty busy, so we don’t really take them to too many weird places,” says Justesen. “It’s all pretty straight forward stuff. A lot of ballparks, football fields, city parks, a couple of racetracks.”
That’s the kind of middle-age we at Stageline look forward to as well. From here, as we turn 30, we’re happy to watch Oasis a decade ahead of us, showing us how it’s done. Thanks, Gary! Here’s to 40 more years of good business and great events.