Tuned In

Kevin Cheney broke into song — and dance and sports and traffic — with a can-do attitude

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

Kevin CheneyKevin Cheney owns a music fan’s dream collection of posters, many of them autographed, framed, and hanging at the offices of Green Mtn. Concert Services Inc., the Hinesburg company he launched in 1995. The company’s two divisions provide security, crowd management, parking, site production, event planning for major music and sporting events internationally, and traffic control for utilities and construction companies.

If Brian Cheney ever needs to prove he has Vermont roots, the evidence is easy to find. His grandfather, who grew up in the Barre area, was a member of Troop 12, the first Boy Scout troop in North America. “The Baptist church in Barre has a plaque, and his name is on it,” says Cheney.

There’s a record in the Champlain Valley, too. “Every time I go to Memorial Auditorium, I see the names of both of my grandfathers on plaques there, because they both served during World War I,” he says.

Cheney has lots of opportunities to visit Memorial Auditorium. As president and CEO of Green Mtn. Concert Services Inc. in Hinesburg, he runs the only crowd management company in Vermont, northern New York, and northern New Hampshire. 

He was 24 and still seeking a career path in 1992, when the opportunity arose to work a concert venue. A Milton native, Cheney and his family had left Vermont in 1970, when he was 2. His father, a long-haul truck driver, moved his family to Virginia, a more central point from which to haul loads. 

They stayed for 15 years, until his father yearned for home and they moved back, this time settling in Bridport. Cheney finished high school at Middlebury Union, graduating in 1987. “I took a couple of classes after high school,” he says, “but I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do.”

He tried a number of jobs, and a couple of years later, started classes again — “a history course, a business course” — at Community College of Vermont. 

In 1991, still at loose ends, Cheney joined the Vermont Army National Guard. He received basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., and advanced individual training to become a combat medic/medical specialist at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Back in Vermont in ’92, he was with the 3rd/172nd Mountain Infantry at the Jericho/Underhill Firing Range.

That same year, he landed a full-time job with Peregrine Outfitters. He laughs as he recalls that he was in one of the photos published in Business People-Vermont’s March 1995 issue, which featured a story on Peregrine. “I was one of a bunch of us working in the warehouse.”

Not long after he joined Peregrine, he attended an Allman Brothers show at Stowe Performing Arts Center with a buddy who usually worked the shows. “I said, ‘If you guys ever need any help, give me a call.’” A few weeks later, that call came; the first concert Cheney worked was Lynerd Skynnerd in 1992.

He enjoyed the work, and it soon became his regular part-time job, although he continued full-time at Peregrine. In ’93 and through ‘94, he worked major shows, such as those at Stowe and the big Metallica concert at the Champlain Valley Exposition.

Brian Hadley and Jeremy SpaldingGreen Mtn. Concert Services moved out of Cheney’s home and into its 2,000-square-foot Hinesburg headquarters in 2007. Brian Hadley (left), is vice president of the traffic control division, Green Mountain Flagging LLC, and Jeremy Spalding is vice president of the security division.

By the end of ’94, he says, “The guy who was running it decided he wanted out — was going back to school. He said to me if I wanted the contacts, it was all mine.” Cheney jumped at the chance and, in March 1995, created Green Mtn. Concert Services.

Jobs included crowd management at Memorial Auditorium and the occasional show at the Flynn Theatre. In ’94, as an employee, he had worked the Grateful Dead concert in Highgate, “and in ’95, the Grateful Dead came back, and we did that.” 

He continued at Peregrine, working the concert services part time. “Then in 1997, a little band called Phish did, I think, a benefit show at the Flynn,” says Cheney, “when Ben & Jerry’s created Phish Food. That was the catalyst.” The promoter approached him and asked if he could take some of his security staff in August to Limestone, Maine, for the Great Went, the second of the Phish weekend-long festivals. 

In January 1998, a call came from Great Northeast Productions, the promoter of the Phish festivals, asking if Green Mtn. would take over the security aspect at Lemonwheel, the second festival at Limestone. “I said I needed to talk with my boss at Peregrine Outfitters, because it happened to fall on the same weekend as the outdoor retail show in Salt Lake City.”

Lori Anne Kimball and Robert SinkewiczThe number of employees rises to over 250 in summer. Lori Anne Kimball is in administration. Robert Sinkewicz, vice president–finance/administration, joined the company in December.

His boss, Bob Olson, suggested that it might be time to make a choice between continuing to work for him full time or going full time with the concert services company. Cheney decided to take the plunge. He gave Olson two months’ notice — “He was terrific about it,” he says — and left to pursue his career.

The big Phish presentations — Camp Oswego in upstate New York, the Millennium show at Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation in Florida — led to more requests. “I got back from the Millennium show, unpacked my bag and repacked it, because we had the ESPN Winter X Games down at Mount Snow in January of 2000. Things really started taking off.”

The company worked both years of the Winter X Games at Mount Snow and the first three years of the ESPN Great Outdoor Games at Lake Placid. His Phish work garnered an invitation to consult on security at Bonnaroo, a big music festival in Tennessee, which he did for two years, until the date was moved and it conflicted with the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival.

“I’d been working with the Discover Jazz Festival since 1998,” he says, “and I really look forward to that every year. I like jazz, so I decided not to go back, but stay up here — to stay local.”

“Kevin is a huge partner to this festival,” says Brian Mital, managing director of the Jazz Festival since 2003. “He is in charge of crowd control and security throughout the 10 days, whether at the waterfront, the Flynn main stage, or the Church Street Marketplace.” Cheney is also the site manager for the festival’s Marketplace series.

 By 2003, other local events had called — Green Mountain Chew Chew; the Brewers Festival; the Maritime Festival. “Pretty much anything that happens down at the waterfront, we are part of it,” Cheney says.

In 2004, a contract with the University of Vermont brought work for campus events and concerts, plus sporting events such as hockey and basketball games. Champlain Valley Exposition came calling, as well, and the company these days keeps an office trailer on the fairgrounds. 

The year 2004 was another watershed. Cheney took a call from Michael Bandelato, whom he had known from All Points Booking, asking if he had an interest in doing traffic control.

Bandelato was doing part-time work for Vermont Gas Systems, which had expressed a need for a traffic control company, says Cheney. “I said, ‘Well I need to do some research; find out what we’re going to need for training, etc.’”

He spent September researching, and by Oct. 5, he had launched a subsidiary, Green Mountain Flagging LLC, and was working with Vermont Gas. 

Now, he had two companies to run: Green Mtn. Concert Services, doing security and crowd management; and Green Mountain Flagging, doing traffic control for utilities and construction companies.

“Since 2004-2005,” says Cheney, “the flagging and the security sides have rivaled each other. It’s kind of funny: When one doesn’t do as well for the year, it seems like the other picks it up.”

As business has increased, so has the need for administrative staff. Each division has a vice president: Brian Hadley runs Green Mountain Flagging, and Jeremy Spaulding runs the security division. In 2007, Cheney moved operations out of his home and into a 2,000-square-foot office and warehouse space in Hinesburg; quarters are already tight. He hired Robert Sinkewicz as vice president–finance/administration in December 2008. 

With only a couple of exceptions, all of the administrative staffers are licensed security guards. The number of employees depends on the time of year; in summer, the number rises to over 250, most of them part-timers. They can sign up for coming events on the company’s website, ensuring they will be called first.

“Right now, in 2009, we’re looking strong,” Cheney says. “Our goal this year is a 25 to 35 percent increase, and we’re up in both divisions. In January, combined, we were up about 41 percent beyond projections.”

Cheney’s can-do approach has served him well, in both his business and personal lives. He and his wife, Michele, whom he met while working the U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships at Stratton Mountain in 1999, have two children. They enjoy snowshoeing and skiing in the winter, and summers, they get away to Bridport, where Cheney’s mother has a place on Lake Champlain.

He is a founding member and remains on the board of the White Ribbon Campaign of Vermont, a group of men who campaign against men who violate women. He also serves on the board of First Night Burlington and is active in national groups such as the International Association of Assembly Managers.

His father died in 2000, and he received the news at Mount Snow, just as the ESPN Winter X Games were going live. “A Wednesday,” says Cheney. “I got a call from my brother who informed me that my father was in an accident and had died. My guys took over, and I didn’t have to worry about anything.”

Every event brings challenges, he continues. “The good thing, I feel, is to learn as you go along, and I feel very blessed that people have taught me a great deal in this business. In this economy, if we can stay steady and grow a little, that’s a wonderful thing.” •