Goldenvoice’s Wiley Dailey Is Not Who You Think He Is

You think you know someone.

We all have those people– not family or BFFs – that we assume we know. That person we see every year at the holiday party, that coworker we talk to in in the breakroom, that friendly volunteer that shows up at every church function. Yet we don’t really know them; we just think we do.

This writer/interviewer has spent literally decades talking to the so-called intriguing bigwigs that everyone gravitates toward, it’s possible to zip around those whom are closer.

Enter Wiley Dailey, longtime boots-on-the-ground production manager for Goldenvoice. Those in the industry on the West Coast — throughout California and Las Vegas — and up in Alaska have met this friendly persona, as have those who worked with the traveling version of Lollapalooza or visited his second home, the Sahara Tent at Coachella. Alongside Dailey these people have equally spent time out with his bestest buddy, Kobe, the chihuahua who is always showing up at the production room with a doggie bed.

And yet, there is much you may not know about Wiley like, for instance, that’s not even his real name. Or how he knew Marlon Brando. Or why it’s so hard to locate his birth certificate.

This interview began with the premise that we’d talk about how a promoter can cut show costs and ended up as a fascinating journey into an acquaintance’s background.

It’s long, but that’s because it’s too interesting to cut.

  • Let’s start with the basics. Wiley is a cool name but I didn’t know you had another cool name, Orion.

Orion Star Dailey is my born, given name. I have a twin brother and our mother didn’t know she was having twins until two weeks before she gave birth, and she gave birth early. She had gone in to UCLA where we were born for a checkup and they took an x-ray that told her she was going to have twins.

We were fraternal. I was born first. I’m seven minutes older. When my mom went home to go to sleep that night she found she was having twins, she had a dream. She had the dream every night for seven nights. She was in Bethlehem, it was in color. She heard the voice of God cry out “Name the first born Orion and the second born Arion.” His middle name is Maximillian so he goes by Max.

My middle name, Star, was because I knew Orion was a constellation and I was fascinated by astronomy as a child, so I was able to add my middle name when I was 3 years old. People would paint me pictures and I would go to the observatory and look through the telescope. My mom helped with the name addition. My godfather, who was an actor named John Barrymore – Drew Barrymore’s father – signed our birth certificates to add the new names.

I actually have scanned prints of the birth certificates. My brother and I went to get our licenses later in time and we couldn’t find our birth certificates. Turns out, our mom went to go see “The Deer Hunter” and she came home and set them on fire on the front porch. She was afraid we’d get drafted. She had lived through Vietnam and all the neighbors were going off to war, and disappearing. All the kids older than us were getting drafted.

  • Didn’t “The Deer Hunter” come out in 1977?

Yeah, something like that. The movie terrified her and she came home and burnt our birth certificates. So, when we went to get our student drivers permits in high school, we asked our mom for them to take the class. You didn’t have an ID in those days; just a school ID. We had to go to the Hall of Records and get our microfilmed versions on file.

No, but it’s funny because people freak out when they find out about my real name because I go by Wiley. It’s been that way since I was as small child. I’d be on my Huffy bike, we’d build skate ramps and ravs and I’d be Evel Knievel and jump out of windows, doing all kinds of crazy Wile E. Coyote type stuff. Evel Knievel was huge when we were kids, so I got the name Wile E. from the neighbors because I was a “wily guy.” That sort of stuck.

  • Glad I asked. Didn’t expect such an interesting answer.

Wiley will get you on the bus for free, and if you say Orion, they’ll just shut the door and start driving away.

  • I don’t want to linger too long on your childhood but it’s quite an aside to mention in passing that John Barrymore is your godfather.

He was insane. He’d be at my house partying all night long with my mother. Then he’d take me to school. He’d go into the principal’s office and say, “I’m taking Orion for the day” and the principal would sign a slip of paper, hand it to the dean, and I’d get out of the school with John, and my mom wouldn’t know.

  • But’s he’s royalty. He’s literally Hollywood royalty.

He would go to a famous drug store on the Sunset Strip. It became the Virgin Megastore and is now a Whole Foods or something. It was called Schwab’s Pharmacy, at the bottom of Laurel Canyon. John lived there along with David Carradine from “Kung Fu.” He was a family friend so we’d go to their house.

Everybody knew everyone in town at that time. My mom was well known.  The door to our house was always unlocked and people were always hanging out. My mom was friends with The Byrds. The first concert we ever saw as kids, at two or three years old, was a love-in in San Francisco Golden Gate Park. I think it was The Animals, Janis Joplin and maybe others. People were throwing flowers into our baby carriages.

Anyway, John would always come around. Marlon Brando was a family friend. We’d go to his house for three days and watch his cable TV because we didn’t have cable. He’d be off doing movies. In those days, you didn’t know these people were superstars. Maybe you’d see them on TV or go to the movie theatre to see them, but you didn’t have your phone or Google to instantly look up someone. To research them you’d have to go to the library or the movies, and there weren’t any VCRs or DVDs back then, so they were just normal people to us.

  • Wasn’t expecting any of this. What’s the background with your mom?

My mom used to work, when she was pregnant, at a club called The Ash Grove. It was like a jazz club. Different bands played there. She was a waitress there. She told me a lot of times the bands would be playing and we’d start jumping in her womb and she’d have to go outside to stop us from kicking and dancing inside her belly.

She just knew everybody. It was just a different time.

And my mom was a seamstress so she’d make costumes for movies and TV. She’d sell stuff at the high-end shops to help take care of us. That’s how she knew a lot of people. Karen Black was a family friend; mom would do all of her clothes for her movies. We’d go to Karen’s house and eat dinner because she had a big place on Fremont Place next to Muhammed Ali. You’d see him walking around in his garden. It was a crazy childhood.

  • She was a single mom?

She was. My dad wasn’t around much.

  • A lot of these stories begin with “I did some shows for a fraternity while in college.” In your case, it sounds like you could have gone in any direction you wanted. You could have pursued TV or film.

Well, I tried the acting thing. I had people who’d approach me as a child. I’d be at a liquor store and they’d walk up and ask if I’d want to be in movies. My problem was I was a shy, dyslexic kid and couldn’t read scripts. They’d hold cue cards in front of me. Then they’d put an earpiece in. I did a few things here and there but there were parts I wasn’t comfortable with. I got into it for a minute but I was too afraid, too shy, and too insecure.

The first music job I did was in a store called Music Plus. It was a chain record store, but there were only a couple of them. This was on Vine and Sunset. Now it’s a Kinko’s. I would go and clean up the parking lot when people would buy tickets; there would be lines around the block for Ticketron. I’d come and take displays down, put them up. Then I would take all the old display stuff and sell it at swap meets. That was always fun.

  • So that wet your whistle for where you might be heading in life.

And then — I wouldn’t ever talk about this story – but for almost all of my high school I worked for a ticket broker. I’d drop tickets off, pick them up. You know what ticket brokers do; back then they weren’t one of the storefront ones you have now where you see the big marquees that have the coming attractions. They were sort of private. They took care of all these elite, rich people. It wasn’t regular people who came into their offices; it was Carol O’Connor. Carol would call all the time. The guy who owned the business would go see college football players and become friends with them and when they became pro, and got into the Super Bowl, he’d get tickets. That was a whole thing to see: hundreds and hundreds of Super Bowl tickets.

  • Ticketron. Talk about going full circle. My predecessor at this job – one of his first jobs was to train people on how to operate Ticketron machines.

I knew this guy who owned a camera store in Hollywood who had a Ticketron machine in his basement, and he was paying for the license on how all that worked but it was never public, so he would print tickets when they went on sale. He’d print hundreds of tickets for, like, Rolling Stones ’81 at the Coliseum. He’d print 500 tickets and go sell them to brokers. I don’t know whatever happened to him but he had a great business because, in the old days, when you went to The Forum for an onsale, all the tickets were printed already.  All the Ticketron depots were pulling off the system but most were going to the Forum. Neil Diamond was playing, like, eight nights there and Carol O’Connor would call on the private line. He’d call and say (imitating Archie Bunker), “Orion, it’s Carol O’Connor. I need 12 seats for each night of Neil Diamond.” He had seating charts for all the venues at his house, sitting on the table. When he wanted to go to the Dodgers, or the Lakers, or a concert, he would tell you what he wanted. You pretty much had it or would go find it for him. He would want the front row.

It was so funny. He’d sound just like Archie Bunker every time. You’d deliver them to his house, you’d send him a bill, and his manager would pay for it.

  • Funny that the chair that dude used to sit in is now in the Smithsonian.

The ‘80s was a different time and this broker had a rich clientele. OJ was friends with my boss. When OJ got Super Bowl tickets he would come into the office and sell all of them. We’d go have dinners for my boss for his birthday at restaurants. They’d reserve the whole restaurant. OJ would be there with his wife and other football players like Roman Gabriel, Bart Starr, all these legends, eating at a prime rib house. Pretty wild.

  • Did this seal your fate, your future? Or did you still have free will and chose to move forward with the concert business?

Well, right at the end, working for that ticket broker, I was strung out and drunk and fuckin’ loaded. Everything you could think. I just walked out of the office one day and never walked back in. A few years later I cleaned up and have been clean ever since. It’s been 34 years.

Working in that business, with all that was going on, it was nonstop. There was a lot of money in the office to buy drinks, to buy stuff. Not like you’re spending all your money; it was just sitting there on the table like See’s Candy.

  • So, you and your “god-cousin,” Drew Barrymore, have a similar story arc.


  • You disappeared for a while? Made a conscious effort to get into this business after that?

Well, I worked with bands when I was crazy and strung out, roadie-ing and stuff, and I knew I could do that when I got sober, and had to pay bills. So, I started working for shows, working for Goldenvoice, doing load-ins, load-outs, working on crews, then started repping shows. They’d ask if I could cover a show and I’d say yes. Word would get back I did a great job and the bands loved it, and I’ve been working on shows for Goldenvoice and my own shows – which I do now – on bigger levels since around 1990.

  • Set me up on the timeframe when you started at GV. It was Rick van Santen and Paul Tollett, having bought the company from …

Rick and Paul, who bought it from Gary Tovar. Gary was in jail at the time. Rick and Paul had a very small office. They had a few but the one that stuck was at the Palladium. We had the exclusive there. Paul and Rick would book the shows and the tours that would come through, like Smashing Pumpkins and Beastie Boys.

The crazy thing about Rick: if there were available dates at the Palladium, like a Tuesday or a Thursday, Rick would be calling agents, every agent all over the country, saying, “Hey, I have these open dates. Let’s do something. Let’s do LA, Hawaii and Anchorage.”

He’d put packages together that were not touring packages; they were to occupy the building. It was amazing to hear him on the phone, calling all the agents out of the blue. If a band was on the road, it would be one-offs. Mainly you’re buying a tour that’s coming in or buying a show that’s on tour the day before, when it’s in San Francisco and the next day in San Diego. He was great at buying things outside the packages. It was amazing to hear him talk on the phone, all day nonstop.

It was a little office there. It was Paul Cutler, Mikey Borens, Paul T, Rick, Adam and Danielle there, and the promoter reps. That was me, Kevin Lyman, Mitch Cramer. It was a small group of people.

Kevin Lyman gave me my start. He’d put me on more shows to be a crew guy and then one day I’d cover for a stage manager who was sick. Then, when I was a crew guy and a stage manager, and knew how to unload a truck and to do rigging and lighting, it was time to do my own shows.

It’s different once you have to hire your own crew, ordering your own catering, handle the parking. You have no idea what’s all involved with that. This was at the Palladium but they got bigger, got some buyers who came in, and Moss Jacobs joined. We got a two-story house down on La Brea. There was one before that, on Sunset just across the street from the Chateau Marmont. We ended up moving to the AEG offices on Wilshire but I’m jumping around.

Wiley: “Got to hang out with this guy Tom Ross. What an amazing treasure. The conversations went on for hours “
  • Speaking of jumping around, clearly you were there for the first, chaotic year of Coachella.

Yeah, I ran the techno tent, known as the Sahara Tent. I’ve ran that stage for, I guess, 23 years. We had 1999, we skipped Covid – think it’s 23.

  • Legend was that the bands helped save Coachella the first year because they loved it and talked to their agents …

They helped. But you know who helped us a lot? Who moved us out of our office and saved us? Paul Gongaware and John Meglen (of Concerts West). They bought GV, bought the debt and took this small group of about 10 people and saved us. They threw the life raft out. Every time I see them, I say, “Thank you for the life preserver.”

I just saw Gongaware in the elevator and said “Thanks for the life preserver.” He just laughs. Gongaware is the best.

  • Avalon was looking at it too, during Coachella, right?

I’m sure they were but it was just AEG at the time. We’d gotten the phone call and it was the best news ever.

  • Did I skip over a giant chunk of your life?

GV did a lot of shows all over town. We did The Roxy, The Whisky, The Palladium, The Palace, the El Rey. We did a bunch of other venues. We hadn’t operated any at that time so we went into venues that were open rooms. We had exclusives but we would go and book other venues. We’d be all over town. One day we’d be at The Fonda, one day we’d be at The Palladium. That was the fun part of it.

And San Diego and Las Vegas. At one point Rick was booking so many shows at a venue called The Huntridge Theatre in Las Vegas that I would fly out in the morning, do the show and fly back that night.

  • Maybe you can help me with the definition of your job.

It’s called production manager. You’re in charge of managing productions but you’re also a promoter rep. You’re the contact for the band and its entourage. A couple of terminologies. I have to be the smiling, happy promoter rep; the “responsible” person.

  • The adult in the room.

It goes like this: Susan Rosenbluth has George Lopez at the 10,000-capacity arena in Ontario. She’ll say to get a budget together based off the rider, get the stage hand catering stuff. Basically, she gets the show, she’s getting ready to book it with the agent and then I get the show handed off to me and I take care of everything. The ticketing is taken care of but as far as the advancement with the building, advancing with the artist, making sure that George Lopez has the soundboard they require, making sure the load-in is scheduled, making sure all the lighting and rigging and staging is in the right place based on the seating chart, the dressing rooms, all the parking, that’s me.

And George Lopez is pretty easy. Basically, a microphone and a barstool.

Usually, you get the show handed off to you and you put budgets together or some shows are already booked and handed off to you with the budget already done. It’s different every show.

  • You’re an affable fella and have even given me a farewell hug after visiting your show in Fresno. I assume there are actual friendships with the folks who actually go onstage.

Yeah, friendships with artists and stuff – a lot of them are hard. You meet a lot of people who are really cool and then the next day they’re gone. You deal with them so much on the phone. You have a thousand emails from a production manager and become good friends talking on the phone, texting each other, meet each other day-of-show, you feel like you know each other forever and the next day they’re in another city. It’s heartbreaking. You have to really appreciate and like some of the road managers who come in. Especially LA where things are more involved than Bangor, Maine. LA is the most stressful for tours.

Well, now there are other places. A road manager says along with LA and New York for stressed out guest lists now we have Nashville and Miami. Miami is becoming a stressful place to do a show.

And you have friends like Stuart Ross. There are nameless people you know because you’ve worked with them. I work with Stuart on Lollapalooza, on all the touring festivals.

Maybe I left that out. When Lollapalooza started out in ’91 until it ended in ’97, I went out as a tour carpenter in the summer and did my summer vacation working on the Lollapalooza setting up stages. I was there for every show. On top of all the times we promoted Beastie Boys, I got to see them play 37 times at Lollapalooza. It was as joy.

In ’96 The Ramones were on the bill. Every single day my lunch break was at that time when they were on stage. I’d eat a bowl of Cap’n Crunch and watch The Ramones in the broad daylight, when they were in all leather, in 110 degrees. Every single day.

Tim Armstrong from Rancid and I would sit on the side of the stage and watch The Ramones. Every time we see each other we talk about. We must have seen them 60 times.

  • Do you think acts recognize folks like you and Susan?

They do but a lot of them don’t. I tell bands to make friends with the promoters. In the old days, I’d be on Lollapalooza and I knew who I’d see in St. Louis, Chicago, New York. I knew Delsener/Slater. You’d see these legendary buyers. You’d see Ron Delsener at shows. He’d get you Lollapalooza shirts with a Lollapalooza logo and his shed name on it. You always knew you were going to see him. Now it’s all one big company but I’d always try and introduce myself to the bands and tell them you need to be friends with the promoters or at least the building people.

  • Yeah, but why? Good advice but …

I say it’s important for you know who your local person is going to be. I’ve worked with a lot of bands over the years.

  • I was on a tour bus once with a band that stayed on it until stage time because they avoided promoters.

At the Greek, we have all these sold-out shows, we bring them a gift. We’d go upstairs and give bands a bottle of Dom Perignon and on it would be engraved the date, the logo the words “sold out.” The bands love it because they can take it home and put it on the shelf. Or drink it on the bus. Or make it a vase. It’s just a way to say hi; no photo or nothing like that.

I usually introduce myself to all the bands, let them know if they need anything to come down the hallway and talk to me.

At the Greek I would tell them if they want to, in the afternoon, we’d get a runner and let them go look at the telescope at the observatory. If they want to go across the street and golf, we’ll get you some clubs. I like to do that a lot.

We had a band a little bit ago who came in with a lot of little kids; we told them about the little park across the street with the merry-go-round and slides.

  • You have a lot of praise for K-pop acts like BTS.

They’re beyond genius. It’s amazing how much they put into their shows, programming and rehearsing. The way they do their load-in and load-out, how they advance all their stuff. It’s pretty remarkable. They’re perfectionists. How the upbringing is, the schooling – they don’t fuck up. There might be a Co2 tank that doesn’t fire off because a hose busted off but their rehearsals, how detailed they are, how they send emails and checklists, it’s done really well.

  • Any genres that are the exact opposite?

It depends. Some tours it’s basic stuff. K-pop, they send you a checklist that shows you what they want. And if you can’t get it there’s a list of substitutes. You enter it all into a spreadsheet and send it back. They’ll say, “We need to find the lights we need; we don’t want to use this other spare or suggestion.”

Mostly, bands will tour with 8 or 12 people, these will have 30-35 because they have their own camera people and spotlight people. Some shows you have a local camera and spotlight operator, and the LD will talk to them before the show. Here we have a Korean-speaking lighting designer who has his own camera guys who speak Korean, and spotlight operator.

There’s no delay because otherwise you have to have a translator on the headset. The guy could be speaking Korean, the translator would need to translate it into American, then the guys who are running the spotlights get the translation so there’s a two-second delay. So, they bring all their own people. There’s no delay, no translation errors. The show’s run much more smoothly.

  • It would seem that the opposite would be the TikTok stars that you had mentioned once.

It’s weird because there are all these TikTok stars that are going to play venues and I don’t know all of them, but the kids do. There was this one, I don’t know his name, but all the kids came to see him play his music and do his rants and play his visuals and blow up his pyro. And he was a TikTok guy.

  • But did he have an efficient road crew?

He had a sound guy, light guy. The one kid had mostly his friends doing it. But it was fine, it was fine.

  • We talked about this recently and it sounded like the whole TikTok genre caught you flat-footed.

It’s weird because I learned from Paul T. that if you don’t know who the artist is, research them. Obviously, now you can go and type them in, look up the manager, see their routing. All that stuff.

In the old days, I’d call you (at Pollstar) or get that Pollstar venue directory to try and find road managers.

But back to TikTok, yeah – I don’t know who these stars are. I had to research them, then get a TikTok account. I guess there’s quite a few of them out there.

  • Are you seeing that become part of your repertoire?

Yeah. At Coachella we had a DJ / gamer and it was massive with 30,000 kids waiting for him to go on. I said, “Who is this guy?” My friend Bob Forrest (Thelonious Monster)’s son, Elvis, responds, “Oh, he’s so and so and this and that.”

I had no idea. These kids are all on their phones or playing games with each other. It’s crazy. To keep up – thank God for the internet. It’s pretty wild. It’s a lot different from when you heard of the Smashing Pumpkins, waiting for their record to come out, then waiting for their video.

  • Sorry about the military plane going over my house. It’s flying out of Fresno, going to Alaska, then coming back. Part of my life.

I’m actually going to Alaska next week.

  • Really! I recall Pollstar running a trade shot of you and Susan in front of a little puddle jumper up there or something.

We landed on a glacier in the middle of the ocean. After we did Elton John dates, I got Susan, a surprise. There are helicopters in Girdwood who take you on scenic trips and will land on one of the glaciers and let you walk around. I surprise her. Susan gave me a weird look like, “Are you kidding me?” And we boarded and flew around, walked around, and took off and went to the airport.

  • “Landing on a glacier” doesn’t sound that special but I bet it’s beautiful.

Oh. I do it every time I’m up there. It’s the craziest thing to fly around, especially in the wintertime, and land on a glacier. It’s sturdy; it’s not going anywhere. They’re receding. I’ve been going up there for 30 years and to see how small the glaciers are getting because of global warming is pretty sad. They’re millions of years old and they’re not always going to be there.  It’s sad to see how warm it’s got there.

  • Odd question but after decades of travel, do you pack well?

I have suitcases that have all my winter stuff in them. I have an “Alaska suitcase” that has the boots and the snowboard suit. I keep it under 50 pounds. I have another one that’s all winter stuff, all the cleats you put on your shoes, gloves, underwear. I actually have my Alaska suitcase open right now, checking to make sure I have everything ready and can get the hell out of Dodge.

  • Would you ever feel comfortable staying in a specific market?

If someone like Paul T, John Meglen or Gongaware called me and said they were opening a 1,200 capacity club in Alaska and wanted me to run shows there, I’d say, “I’ll take it. See you later!”

  • What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?

Not really. When I tell people how active I am in the recovery program they find that surprising. It’s not that well known that I’ve been clean and sober in AA for 34 years. I’m not a “guru” but people who are beginning have someone.  Also, a lot of people don’t know the time spent taking care of my mom when she got cancer.

Also, as most people know, I’m an avid Lakers fan. I’ve been to thousands of games; I’ve been to playoffs. I have some good, signed stuff at the office and at my house. If I’m not wearing a Lakers jacket, socks or hat, it’s noticeable. In the old days, I would rewatch the games over and over again. I’d study the game on the flight home from the playoffs. I don’t keep score like they do in baseball – all those statistics – and maybe not paying attention as much now that they’re doing so well and with Kobe and Shaq off the team, but it’s a big passion. Baseball too – Dodgers.

  • OK, so what about the puppet?

The puppet came from Thomas, a kid who’s worked for me at the Sahara Tent at Coachella. Thomas has been my technician to take care of the DJ gear. Every DJ has a different setup, they have all their own gear, and want to be set up to the left, right or the middle of the stage. Thomas is in charge of that. His full-time boss came to Stagecoach this past year. His girlfriend’s bosses came too. So they had a great time and give something to me that I didn’t have. They couldn’t figure it out but they knew I liked puppets (I love the Muppets) and play around with them at shows and stuff. Long story short, I go have dinner with them and handed me something in a bag. I thought it was a stuffed animal; I could feel it through the cloth bag.

I open it up and its got a pair of cargo shorts like I wear, a pair of my black sneakers, a jersey, a button-up a Lakers logo, my name on it, a baseball hat, the eyes look like me. It was the most personal thing I’ve ever gotten. I told them they outdid the Kobe-signed basketball, the car, the Rolex watch. I’ve got to get him an Instagram page to figure out where to terrorize people.

  • We can’t do an interview without talking about your little doggie.

Kobe. Kobe is 15. He’s losing his hearing. He sleeps a lot. He’s having some trouble with his arthritis and his back legs. It’s hard to watch him get old quickly. It’s like watching a candle melt a little bit. He’s taking a nap, sitting on the bed next to me. He’s still going to shows.  We’re going to fly to Alaska. He was at the show last week, hanging out in the production office. My friend Zowie will come to the shows and take him out for a few hours, let him run around.

  • He’s kind of a mascot, right?

Oh, he’s a mascot. He’s very well-known in Korea because of all the K-pop bands we work with. They’d put Kobe on their Instagram feeds. I think it was BTS – we were doing the walk from the dressing rooms at Citi Field to the stage and I’m walking with the band and the security, with Kobe. They had taken some video of him playing with one of the guys in the bands, posted it and got millions of likes.

Every show if we do BTS or K-pop I’ll take Kobe out back to go pee and you’ll see these kids waiting in line with these little Korean girls going, “Kobe? Kobe!! Can we take a picture with Kobe?”

  • What’s crazy is we never got to the original concept for the interview: How to cut costs on shows, how to reduce a $60 invoice to $40.

What’s funny is at The Greek it’s a union house but what gets costly is catering, and wasted catering. I order brunch rather than breakfast and lunch because nobody eats breakfast. We have an 8 am load-in, all the departments are on stage and nobody from the tour will be able to eat for two hours. By then, they’re setting up for lunch. They’ll say they want breakfast, but nobody’s going to eat it. I know that. It goes uneaten and I get upset with that because that’s a band wasting money and, if they’re in percentage, that’s their money. That’s hard to see when there are people out there going hungry.

And with Covid, we can’t just pack up food and send it somewhere because of the contamination issue. The caterers get blamed for that if someone gets sick.

  • Your whole life is about cutting costs.

Right. You have a $25,000 stagehand budget for a show and you get a rider sent to you that’s, “We booked a show with a rider not received,” right? Next to that $25,000 for the stagehands it will say “Rider not received.”

Then you’ll see the rider, and you’ll put the calls down, and it comes out to $37,000 because they want all these hands. We get back to them saying we need to stagger these calls. We have an 8 am load-in for rigging, 9 o’clock for lights, 10 for audio and try to break down these calls for the heads and stuff but it’s hard when you have a rider that’s not received. That rider is just typed up by a production manager without even thinking about budget sometimes. They just type what they want.

Same with the dressing room riders. All this stuff on it, not thinking, “We’re supposed to be paying $500 each show on our dressing rooms.” There will be 10 pages sometimes. What is all this? They don’t look at the offers and the budgets, and find something that will fit into the building budget for each show. Just do something that’s around $500 because there’s always about $500 in there.

You’ve got to save every nickel and dime because if the shows aren’t selling well you want to save the loss and if the artist is in percentages, you want them to walk out making the most money they can. If they’re not cutting these laborer calls back, or cutting catering down, they’re not saving money. It’s THEIR money.

Most artists sell out in LA sell out the whole tour but I just get upset sometimes when staff or artists don’t care. I don’t like wasting food or money.

Then again, some are awesome.

It all adds up.

  • Before we go, any go-to stories regarding artists?

Do you know who Lou Reed is?

  • Of course.

His wife Laurie Anderson was playing the El Rey theater in the early 90s. She had two shows and we were setting up. I was at the soundboard talking to the production manager. I hear the phone ringing in the production office so I go running. I had one of those caller IDs on the phone so I could see it was as 212 area code. I’m thinking, great, what is the agent calling about? Did the production manager call and complain to the agent and not me directly?

I answer the phone and it was Lou Reed.

“Can I speak to Wiley please?”


“Hi, my name is Lou and I am Laurie’s husband and I want to send her some flowers but can you tell me a local flower shop?”

I’m digging around my desk for the Yellow Pages to find Moe’s Flowers on Crescent Heights and Melrose. There wasn’t Google back then. This was about 1995. I gave him the number, he said thank you very much, hung up and we had the most beautiful flower arrangements delivered each day.

Me answering that phone and having him say thank you very much? I thought that was pretty fuckin’ cool.

There are some that are just crazy, you know? But we just did Robert Plant at the Greek and he was in the production office signing a guitar we had got for MusiCares and was just going over there to make sure he had got to it so I could call the MusiCares people (they basically had a person waiting on the phone to buy it for auction). He started talking to me but I had to get going and just said, “Hey, thank you for giving us all a day of work – the firemen, the police officers, the caterers, the stagehands – we all appreciate it.”

He gave me a funny look and just said, “Well, thank you very much.”

It was fuckin’ Robert Plant!

A Conversation With Backline’s Hilary Gleason

As the pandemic made tectonic shifts in the music business, one thing that emerged was a new, significant nonprofit service called Backline. Founded in late 2019, and launched mere months before the lockdowns, the organization provides music industry professionals and their families with mental health and wellness resources.

The service did not begin as a small project but quite the opposite. Because of events in 2019 and a laser-focused industry, an organization that connected artists and crews directly with mental health services was quickly embraced.

Backline has reached name recognition, and is often mentioned in the same breath as MusiCares and Sweet Relief. There are still those who are unfamiliar with Backline, however, and we’d like to fill in the gap. To do so, we asked executive director Hilary Gleason to give us the basics.

Along with others, Gleason launched Backline using her experience and name recognition in global health, having worked with organizations like Global Citizen, The United Nations Foundation and Global Health Corps. She also worked with the Duke Global Health Institute since 2007, supporting a neurosurgical training program in Uganda with Duke and Stanford Hospitals.

  • What is the genesis of Backline?

The initial spark was, unfortunately, a series of losses in the music industry to depression, substance abuse and suicide in the summer of 2019.

I have a background in global health and nonprofits and when we suffered these tragic losses, I was on the receiving end of phone calls and outreach from artists, tour managers and promoters asking the question that really is the core of what we do at Backline, which is, “Why are people slipping through the cracks?”

Recognizing the music industry as a whole has been struggling with this question for a long time, and that I wasn’t the only one having those conversations, I saw the need to bring them into a collective space. A few of the folks that eventually became cofounders and I set up a series of conference calls in September 2019 with more than 150 people from across the music industry that wanted to have the conversation around where do people go when they need support, what organizations already exist that we can be pointing people to, and what are the needs that maybe haven’t been filled yet.

So, we got on that first conference call and we had MusiCares and Sweet Relief, and a few other organizations to really speak to the work that they’re doing and initially we were hoping to point people in the right direction so that everyone had an updated idea of the flow to get their artists, crews and themselves the support that they need.

However, in those conference calls we realized that there was no one-stop shop for this. There was no place to go to figure out what you needed or what you were eligible for, or how to proceed through uncharted personal challenges. So, we built Backline to be that first stop.

We are able to refer people to places like MusiCares and Sweet Relief when folks are eligible for them, but we’ve also built out a full suite of mental health and wellness tips & tools, and resources for people to tap into at any time. That is also complemented by our case management program, which provides one-on-one support in navigating the mental health landscape for music industry professionals and their family members.

  • It’s difficult to herd this industry of cats. You literally had 150-plus people on a single phone call? And how did you recruit them?

I think we sent out the email to about 50 folks that I and my cofounders knew in the industry and encouraged them to forward that to anyone they knew who wanted to have the same conversation.

In 2019, we had – in my music industry space – some losses but on a larger scale the music industry was grieving the losses of Mac Miller and Avicii, and watching tours get canceled for mental health. There was a real willingness and desire from the industry to have the conversation and be alongside people who were really going to take strides to make changes here and make it easier.

  • I have this vision of you founders hanging up the call and saying, “Holy smokes, there is a need for something and we need to get our asses in gear…”


  • “…and one of us needs to set up a 501(c)3. One of us needs to recruit and vet providers.” Meanwhile people are automatically contacting you because they want to get this ball rolling. It may have been overwhelming. I’m making this up. I figured things happened quickly.

Yes, they sure did. Fortunately, I have a group of eight other folks who are now Backline’s cofounders that were personally touched by some of these losses in the industry or had mental health journeys in the industry themselves. They were willing to do whatever it took to provide a better path forward for our community.

In that group we have an agent, we have a lawyer, we have a marketing person, someone who was able to build a website, somebody who was able to build the branding. The nine of us, immediately after we got off the first conference call, said, OK, there’s clearly a need here and we’re going to build this.

I think a lot of that was because of our own grief journeys and wanting to channel the pain we were collectively experiencing into something positive. But it also felt that if we could do this work and helping just one person would be worth it.

Recognizing both that there were 150 people who wanted to support this work and there was a much larger community of people who were struggling, and people who were grieving, we built this incredibly quickly. We launched Backline less than six weeks after the initial conference call.

We had applied for our 501(c)3 paperwork at that time but had to launch the organization with a fiscal sponsor. So, while we were unable to receive tax-exempt donations at that time to make this a reality, you can do that under an umbrella organization.  We were really fortunate to have the right people on the call who were willing to put in 18-hour days over the period of six weeks to make this a reality, and to build a better music industry.

  • When it came to music professionals needing help before you came along, what was the flowchart that they used, and where did it end? What does that flowchart look like now that you are here?

I’m not sure that before we built Backline that there was one flowchart that folks were using. We heard that a lot of times people were running a Google search to see what resources were out there, or picking up the phone and calling someone else in the music industry that they know needed therapy or had therapy, and ask what they did in this situation. The reality is it is not a one-size-fits-all matter and so what worked for one person might not work for you. With the Google search, you were finding organizations and resources that you might not be eligible for.

A lot of organizations have eligibility requirements so they are able to vet and approve folks that need financial assistance. If you are in crisis and running a Google search and you come across a resource that you’re not eligible for, that can be a closed door. That can really stop the flowchart, so-to-speak.

We took it upon ourselves to understand the landscape of organizations that already exist to serve this community, what their eligibility requirements are and what resources they provide.

We also built out a clinical network of more than 350 providers around the country that have experience and interest in serving the music community, and we’ve personally vetted them.

Now the flowchart is folks come to us and tell us what they are struggling with, or what they think they need to thrive on the road, and we are able to refer them out to providers and organizations that meet their exact need because we do the work of really getting to know the people who are coming to us and understanding their role in the industry and what resources they have available to them. For instance, if they have insurance, if they’re able to pay for resources or not, and then they receive a customized care plan from us.

  • Your care providers: are they easily defined? Drug addiction counselors? Mental health physicians?

Yes, sort of. Our primary program is a case management program. That’s our one-on-one individualized support and referral process. Anyone in the music industry or their family members can go to our website, fill out a quick form and then they receive a link to schedule time with one of our case managers, all of whom are licensed mental health providers that have an understanding of the music industry. So, on that intake call, we do the deep dive of asking if they have insurance, what they have tried before and what kind of a provider they are looking for.

Then they receive a custom care referral care plan from us that passes them onto our care providers, which includes therapists, life coaches, psychologists, psychiatrists, sober support, substance abuse treatment centers, as well as local and national organizations that serve a variety of needs      

  • Is a lot of this tour related? And by that, I mean do you specifically target a resource to the market that the touring professional is in?

When we built this in 2019, it was primarily built around the touring industry. We really understand the touring lifestyle and the difficulties to access care around routing. A lot of our providers are able to meet with folks at home and then continue care when they’re on the road.

But also, for folks who are touring, therapy or video therapy might not be the best fit.  They might benefit by tapping into one of our wellness practices that is going to help them stay grounded on the road.

We also now have virtual support groups that people can Zoom into from anywhere so we see a lot of folks calling in from tour and just finding a group to connect with about the difficulties surrounding the lifestyle and some of the challenges while being in a safe, private space that is moderated by a therapist. That therapist is able to see if there’s additional support needed for someone and provide that moderation, support and escalation support as needed.

  • Back to your chronology. This was founded mere months before the lockdowns. As the rest of us sat on our hands, I can imagine Backline getting a rush of traffic.

I like to say our crystal ball was working really well in 2019 when we built this.

Luckily enough, we were in full swing to receive that surge. The numbers of people calling in for case management support quadrupled in March 2020 and have only grown since then.

The first week of lockdowns we launched our support group programs, which was not something we were planning to do but we were able to recognize folks needed a safe place to address the uncertainties we were feeling, and to address the grief. We had been built as an organization to operate virtually and nationally, which really set us up to quickly make sure that anybody who needed the resources in that moment were able to access them.

  • I had a conversation about two months ago with someone in the industry and we both felt that there was a general malaise. People were taking their time responding to emails, to respond to voice messages, that they weren’t back into their fast-paced lifestyles. Do you have anything to say to that? First of all, do you think that’s accurate?

Definitely accurate. We are seeing a collective grief and a collective response to the trauma and stress put on the music industry by the pandemic.

One of the biggest things that was lost in that moment was human connection, life outside of a screen. The music industry is really centered around      live music and the communities that it brings together. Without that, it was really hard for folks and we saw a lot of people turning inward – a lot of depression, A lot of insecurity.

So, now that live music is back in full swing, we had hoped that a lot of those problems would go away but you’re seeing an uptick in social anxiety, an uptick in people approaching things from a new perspective and that’s not always a positive thing.

So, there were losses during the pandemic: there were divorces, there were really challenging things that came up, so it’s not like getting on stage or going to a show or sending an email feels the same way as it did three years ago.

I also think the amount of emails sent right now is so much higher than it maybe was prior to the pandemic because you still have a lot of folks who are still at home and the methods of work have changed.     .

I think what you’re saying is absolutely correct but I would also say there has been a real positive shift in the industry where folks are asking someone how they are, and listening to the answer, and not wanting the answer to be just, “Oh, I’m fine.” We are now wanting to look for a deeper level of vulnerability that we are able to share, and we now have an industry that is focused more on who people are and how they are doing rather than about a level of productivity and output.

  • There is some crossover with MusiCares. How do you complement their program and, in contrast, what is your individuality?

MusiCares is a wonderful organization and they provide much needed support, especially financial support to folks who aren’t able to pay their medical bills or aren’t able to work, or need to get into a substance treatment facility.

We often refer out people who are eligible to MusiCares, to their resources. They also have a lot of support groups, particularly sober support groups.

What we do is not the same. We’re really digging into the specifics of mental health and trying to point them to long-term resources that are going to support their journey, but we work in tandem with MusiCares and also recognize that this problem is far too big for any one organization to serve. The work that we are doing specifically around wellness and around that individual guidance and support to resources really complements them so when folks have additional mental health needs that they’re not able to serve, they’re also pointing people over to Backline.

  • People can obviously help by clicking here and providing a donation. What else can they do?

One of most helpful programs right now is a backstage signage program where venues, promoters and festivals from around the country can download 8.5” x 11” pieces of papers, print them, and put them up in the green room or backstage at the festival. It says something along the lines of, “Life in the industry isn’t always easy. If you need additional support, go to Backline.”

It has our website and a QR code on it. We’re currently up in about 200 spaces around the country but that’s a really powerful way for people to get to know us, in places that they already are and where they can pass the information on to other folks. To download signage go to

We also need conversations and ambassadors to really spread this message. Wear a Backline T-shirt. Include us as a beneficiary of an event, or in a workshop or training for staff. Just really reaching out to us and starting a conversation is a huge part of how we get ourselves in front of more people who might be able to benefit from our services.

  • As we speak, tours are getting canceled. What are you seeing over there?

We do see a fair amount of cancellations      happening and recognize the rigors of touring can be really hard on artists and crews that would necessitate the cancelation of such, but also recognizing that canceling any show or tour has a huge ripple effect through agencies, promoters, venues, the whole ecosystem.

So, a lot of the work we’re doing is preventative care so that when folks are going out on the road they feel confident in their ability to finish the tour because they have the support of a therapist, or a support group, or a wellness practice that will keep them healthy both mentally and physically to allow them to finish a tour.

Cancellations are a natural occurrence but we are hopeful that more people are being proactive about our mental health and wellness programs and we can kind of support them through a tour and let them know they have the tools needed.

  • Any crystal balls for the end of the year, in general and how Backline may react?

Our crystal ball has turned into real feedback from the industry so we keep our ears to the ground and expect folks in the industry to let us know if they need something that isn’t currently offered.

One example of that is a program we recently launched that is for partners of folks in the industry and recognizing that your spouse or partner experiences the stress of you being in the industry as well and may need additional support, too. That is something we were hearing from a lot of people so we built out a resource for that. We will continue to do the work of being a listening ear and then working quickly to build programs that will meet that need.

  • Is there anything you’d like to add?

The last thing is something that is top-of-mind for us: recognizing the diversity of the people in the music industry and that there are different needs based on the many different people who exist in it.

We have a real commitment to breaking down barriers to accessing mental health care and recognizing there are so many more barriers for Black, indigenous and people of color in the music industry as well as the LGBTQIA+ community, so we are really focusing our resources on making sure that anybody who needs a Backline referral or program can really find somewhere to land.

We’re doing a ton of outreach into the rap, R&B and hip-hop worlds to make sure that they’re utilizing our resources and that our resources are appropriate and affordable.

For further information visit

Van Gogh Experience With Ian Noble

Immersive experiences are one new avenue of investment for promoters, with the most prominent being the Van Gogh exhibitions. There are several that are touring North America currently. Ian Noble of Metropolitan Entertainment is involved with the version known as Beyond Van Gogh, and NACPA talked to him about it.

  • I can’t escape the Van Gogh experience. It’s all over Instagram and Twitter. Here in Fresno, everyone has been talking about it. Is my perception off?

No. I’ll go as far as saying it’s a cultural phenomenon. It seems to be the first one of these to hit critical mass. Immersive experiences have existed in various forms for a long time. It’s not a new thing but this format is.

I’ve been intrigued by this art form for several years. I’ve always liked art galleries and, as a promoter, am always looking for ways to do new, cool things that can make money. The turning point for me was when I was in Tokyo in 2018. I went to see teamLab Planets. It is this Japanese company that has exhibits all around the world. Their flagship show is called Planets. It’s a little different from Van Gogh: It’s more complex, it’s in multiple rooms. It’s more of a physical experience with things like giant balloon and water. Van Gogh is all about projections.

I saw this and it just blew my mind. I wanted to be involved.

I started developing my own idea, and I kept my eyes open for events to produce. I heard of the first version of the Van Gogh show in Paris. I was reading how it was drawing a thousand people, then 10,000, then more than a million. Then I saw that it was starting to appear in North America in 2020. I reached out to a couple of the companies that were doing them and had some conversations.

It seemed that even with Covid, these events could take place because they were socially distanced by design.

It seemed to be a perfect storm. And it was a new thing with a well-known artist. It just took off.

We became involved with Beyond Van Gogh. There are five or more shows out there. The intellectual property is in the public domain so you, too, can start your own. Many people have. Sometimes two have played at the same time in the same city, like New York and other major markets.

This is a byproduct of technology advancing. The projectors are cheaper and more powerful. They are still expensive but 10 years ago, it would have been just too costly to mount a show like this.

The Van Gogh thing has sold millions of tickets around the world so other things have popped up. Now that Covid is less of a concern, people can go out again and it’s no longer the only game in town, but it’s still very popular.

I think it’s a new thing that’s here to stay, like television or radio. Immersive experiences are an art form that will be here a long time to come.

  • This particular experience will stay in a market two to three months. Is that the usual protocol?

Yes. Basically, you sit it down as long as you can. We did Van Gogh in St. Louis and I think we opened for six weeks initially and ended up running for six months.

Did you enjoy it?

  • Yes. By way of example, I went home and ordered Lust For life. I also had to come to grips with how little I knew about Van Gogh. Apparently, all I knew was a flower and a starry night.

Yes. That’s like a lot of people. I think it educates them. I shouldn’t speak for art galleries because they tend to be purists, but I think this helps their cause.

  • What is the genesis for this particular experience?

As far as I know, this company in Paris created the modern-day immersive experience at Atelier des Lumières. They made the show which spawned all the others. That’s my understanding: credit the French.

  • This just seems like a healthy financial nut, to rent out a convention hall for months, to install the production, to hire staffing. How many people go through it per day? I was there for 40 minutes and got a head count, but wasn’t there all day.

You can do a thousand or more a day, depending on the hours. We sell staggered tickets every 15 minutes to keep people flowing through.

I guess, like every show, there is the gross revenue, the expenses, and the net income. To run for a long period time is a fairly healthy nut. There’s running costs of the equipment, which is plentiful. These are high-tech instruments. It costs a fair bit to utilize them. Advertising adds up. The staff and technician costs add up too.

But tickets average about $50. If you’re selling thousands of them, you can generate a fair bit of revenue. It can be very lucrative.

There’s real risk. When we got involved in 2020, it was the middle of the COVID dead zone, and promoting anything new was a big risk. Like every new show we’ve done it took a fair bit of belief to take it on. Now we look like geniuses! Every once in a while, you get things right.

Tim Taber, Transparent Productions

Transparent Productions, the newest member of the North American Concert Promoters Association, continues to grow with shows coast to coast as well as festivals. Operating in the Christian music space, Transparent has emerged from the lockdowns through elbow grease, thinking outside the box and working in churches.

Tim Taber learned the basics of promotion while playing in the alt-rock band The Prayer Chain, then by managing bands and as the previous owner of Floodgate Records.

  • How did you get into this business?

I grew up in the Christian music scene seeing these bands mostly in churches and doing alternative, punk rock stuff.

That was the inspiration for me to start The Prayer Chain and get a record deal. We put out a couple records and got to tour around the world. When I got back, the scene I grew up in was kind of dead. I decided to put on shows: indie, punk rock, whatever.

  • There are some touring artists that will do anything to avoid the promoter.

Yeah. It’s kind of an interesting dynamic. When I started promoting, a promoter was labeled a weird outsider. The artist – especially when they’re brand new – love their label. The manager is a trusted member of the team, steering the ship. Then you’ve got the agent, another trusted member but one step removed from the manager. The promoter was the guy who they thought was going to rip you off. The manager and the agent are there to protect you from this guy.

It was irritating, especially in the past 10 years. If I’m doing 50 dates on some act, or even 20, I might be putting up more money to market the artist than the label! That’s especially true these days where the marketing budgets and recording budgets aren’t what they were when CDs were hot. I’m happy that these days promoters are getting recognized more for their work.

  • So, you just jumped off the road and into promoting?

There was a band called DC Talk, which was a massive Christian band, sold millions of records, and they did a benefit for Habitat for Humanity. John Huie, their agent at CAA called me. I think it was because I did a show with a British band called Delirious, one of their first US dates, and it went well.

He asked if I wanted to help and connected me with Nick Masters. I don’t recall what Live Nation was at the time – Clear Channel, SFX – but Nick came from Avalon, and I basically did marketing on that show. That went well, so Huie sold me more shows.  These were the acts that were selling more tickets and were on the radio. I think the reason I got a shot was that there was really only one guy doing Christian music shows out here.

  • Was there a lot of dialing out? I figure once you’re locked in with a John Huie, other agents start to call.

Yeah, there wasn’t a ton of agents at the time. There was Third Coast, Mike Snider, which became the Christian division of William Morris. Then there was CAA spearheaded by Huie.  There was Jeff Roberts & Associates, which is still big. Knowing the right guys was super important but also working with marquee acts like Amy Grant and putting up good numbers, and not botching the show, is helpful.

  • Have you built relationships with “baby bands” and artists and continued alongside as they grew into larger buildings?

Right now, a big artist for us Phil Wickham, who is based out of San Diego.

We took a deliberate step a few years ago to invest in the church space. It’s a tough nut to crack. It’s more nuanced than a club or theatre show because you’re dealing with nonprofessionals and sometimes it has to go to the church committee or the board of elders. It’s not just as easy of a process. Even doing the dates are a lot more labor intensive because you’re not going into an arena with a savvy box office team, ushers, security and union labor. Frankly, it’s not that lucrative and it’s more work intensive. But that is the space whwere we can build artists’ ticket sales and that is what we have done with Phil.

  • Any others?

We’re big believers in Anne Wilson and Jared Gibo, our President, just finished up a deal for us to do her touring.  We are also doing the touring for Brandon Lake.  One new artist for us, but not a new artist at all is CeCe Winans.  We are doing a 21 city tour for her this fall and the on sale numbers look really strong.  Our growth strategy is not to take artists away from others promoters, but to build them.

  • Are most Christian acts easy to work with?

I think it’s like any other genre. You have some super-easy acts to work with and you’ve got some challenging ones. Just because artists are Christians doesn’t skew that percentage. You hope these artists have a view of their career that goes beyond themselves, and it is about hope, love, joy and a relationship with Jesus. In that, there might be less ego or it’s all about demands on the rider. It’s kind of an exception to the rule that artists are difficult to deal with.

  • Is there anything unique to promotion of this genre?

It’s tied together by faith so we’ll have hip-hop artists, hardcore bands, worship, contemporary Christian and R&B, but it’s all under the moniker of Christian music. Outside of Christian music, you’re segregated by different music styles. It’s an odd genre in that it’s tied together by the message, not by the music.

When you come to market a show, I think we probably employ the same strategies with our counterparts. When Facebook launched, it was a great thing for us. With Jared on our team, we were early on in embracing social media to get the word out on shows. In the early days we were spending a ton of dough on Facebook and getting massive results. Since then, they’ve changed the way you do business, they’ve changed the algorithm, and clamped down on stuff. But social media is still a big driver for us.

Interesting, though, is that in the last few months is that Facebook is clamping down on our ability to target Christians. A lot of the keywords we would choose to get our ads in front of our consumers are not allowed. It stems from the hate speech issue. They don’t want you to target someone because of their religion.

  • How was business during the lockdowns?

As an entrepreneur, when it first came on, we thought it would last 60 days or whatever. But when we could see this was hanging around, we tried to pivot and become more of a digital company. As churches couldn’t meet, they were all turning to Zoom. We were offering a service to plug well-known Christian artists into church services. For some baby band that might be $500 and for some well-known artists it might be $10,000. We really thought we were onto something cool. I thought we did a good job rolling it out; we even got the blessing of the agents. But it didn’t fill the gap at all for the lost revenue. It wasn’t even close. We did optimistic projections that this might plug the hole and it just didn’t.

In March 2020 I didn’t think it would be a thing a year later. Then we decided to launch a merchandise brand called Support Live Music. We gave a bunch of grants to touring professionals and pretty much exclusively crew people. It was kind of a no-questions-asked that, if you emailed us, we’d give you $500. It wasn’t supposed to do much more than help cover rent for a month or help buy groceries. Other companies could make more of an impact but, for us, it was what we were able to do.

But we had to let half the team go but kept on 10 people who were moving the shows forward three months at a time.

We had the benefit over mainstream counterparts in that the government took a different approach toward churches than they would with nightclubs and theatres. There was leniency for letting events take place in a church. Our VP of booking, Kyle Burnside, took a trip to Missouri and Florida. He came back telling us that the rest of the country wasn’t operating like California. He thought there would be opportunities if there was reduced capacity, temperature checks, and masks. We could get an artist on board in a partnership model that is not expecting a massive guarantee. That was when we slowed the cash-burn, in December of 2020. It spilled out into the spring of 2021 and kept the team employed.

  • Did you do drive-in shows?

We never embraced that concept. Artists were very thankful they could work, and we did a few dates including For King & Country at the Rose Bowl parking lot. While it didn’t make a ton of dough it was profitable and was a good experience for the fan. But other drive-in things we worked on, man, I really just didn’t think it was a good fan experience.

  • How does the future look?

We did over 250 shows in 2021 and we’ll do over 350 shows this year. Things are rolling along just fine.

Dave Brooks

For this installment of the newsletter, we talked to Dave Brooks, who covers the concert business for Billboard and has organized its Touring Conference.

NACPA is neutral to all media, from trades like Pollstar to CelebrityAccess to Billboard. In fact, the Executive Director has worked for two of the three and has worked with several of the talents, from Ray Waddell to Andy Gensler to Deborah Speer to Ian Courtney.

Yet, we only thought it would be of value to share with readers the background of someone from the media, someone who may be calling soon, and Dave fits. Many times we pick up the phone and talk to someone without knowing the other person is as real as you. I can say that I’ve been fascinated by someone, yet they had no idea that I have fascinating stories, too. We hope that this helps give people a background on that mysterious person who calls you once in a while, and we hope this can be extended to ALL media personalities.

Brooks’ background includes his own e-zine, Amplify, and the daily email blast The Real, along with experience at Venues Now and Pollstar. He’s also moderated dozens of panels worldwide at various live industry conferences.

The interviewer has known Dave for years yet did not know his history, from his relationship with reporter Gary Webb (played by Jeremy Renner in “Kill The Messenger”) to his time exposing corruption in the community of Watsonville, Calif., to being administered a lie detector test by his father.

Where did you get your start? Do you have a degree in journalism?

I think of myself as a good writer and a great reporter/investigator. I should say I’m most passionate about investigating and finding things out before anybody else. How good I am at it is subjective.

But I got that from my father, Chuck. My parents split when I was young and I spent a lot of time with him. He’s an investigator with a degree in criminology.

He probably imagined he was going to go into the FBI, like a lot of young people do. But after a few years working for the government, busting welfare fraud or whatever, he arrived at the private side of the business and started working for retailers, catching shoplifters. For a while he worked for a company called Service Merchandise that had offices all over the country. My dad became a polygraph examiner. Sometimes he’d hook up a polygraph to the company’s own employees to find out if they were stealing.

I was always fascinated by the machine. Its outer case looks like a briefcase and you literally snap it back together at its half. You just go on your way; nobody knows what’s in that case.

My dad taught me a lot about how the machine works. He’d hook me up to it for fun and say, “Go into the other room, pick up a red ball or a white ball or a blue ball, put it down and come back.”

He’d ask me questions. I really thought that was fun and cool, and he was so good at it. He’s a master at detecting deception.

It eventually was outlawed in court. I asked my dad if that made his job harder or easier. “It makes my job so much easier,” he said,  “because all that stuff is a distraction.” He’s more comfortable going with his gut instinct.

He taught me a lot about how to deal with people in those situations – how to seek the truth. How to build rapport. How to sense if someone is being honest. Also, how to think logically. We used to watch the show “Unsolved Mysteries.” There’d always be something about aliens and my dad would say, “Fake!

People don’t have the skills to say, okay, did an alien intend to kidnap these people, like how to deduct that it’s BS. It really had an influence over me and how I approached my job.

And tell good stories.

Does that mean you have a BS Meter?

I do think so. What I’m good at is analyzing the facts. If someone tells me something, my BS Meter can tell me if I’m being fed a line, or if this is spin, or if it’s not realistic. It’s just based on the facts being presented to me.

What I struggle with is detecting if somebody is being deceptive about something that could or could not be true.

My dad says there’s a lot of disagreement in criminology about the tells of deception. I try not to rely much on stuff like body language because I haven’t been trained in that. Besides, journalism is different than criminology. I’m trying to get to the truth but I’m not trying to prosecute.

Don Henley has a song lyric that goes there are three sides to a every story – yours, mine and the cold hard truth. A local newspaper might paint someone as a bad guy but a simple phone call can reveal a little truth on both sides of an issue.

Exactly! Especially those stories involving assessing blame when things go wrong between promoters.

Until you hear one person’s details and delivery it’s easy to convince yourself that person is the good guy and the other is the bad guy. That’s so rarely the case. People are complicated. They have different motivations. Most people operate under the pretense under they’re doing the right thing. Also, a lot of times it has to do with money but it’s because they want to do the right thing because they deserve something for themselves. It’s rare that there are people completely motivated by greed and malice.

How often do you get the casually threatening suggestion of “If you report x, we will respond with y?”

More often than I like. A couple times a year. To me, that’s the worst tactic to take. It just lets me know I’m over the target. That means there’s no debate left, no explaining. You’re just going to go to a threat? Okay, well, we have counsel and, second, I know my rights and a decent understanding of libel laws.

I just don’t worry about it. But I try to be careful and, if I do, I know I’ll be ok.

It’s nice to publish something on Friday and know that nothing will happen on Monday.

Right? That’s the thing. You struggle with that sometimes. I’ll write a big story and, after a while, nothing comes of it. That can be frustrating if you think something should be done.

But I tell people that I don’t operate on outcome; I just want to share information. Now, if I think something is scandalous, I clearly want something to happen but that’s how I bring myself back down to earth. When I’m disappointed from a reporter’s standpoint, if nothing happens, it’s ego. I don’t see much upside in ego as a motivator.

Have you ever anticipated a big problem, and it turns out the explosion comes from something small, like a misspelled name in the tenth paragraph or misquoting an offhand remark from a fifth party?

Totally. Sloppy work. That’s on our shoulders. That’s not fun. That really sucks. It’s happened to me and will probably happen again. I hate it.

Fact check and challenge your assumptions. I try to do that a lot. You really have to break down the obvious assumptions and ask yourself why 1+1=2. If you don’t do that you can make mistakes. It’s embarrassing, especially when you’re about to put somebody on blast and you’re the one who’s wrong. Not only is that not fun, it’s not a way people should operate. It’s irresponsible.

Going back to your childhood. You were under your father’s wing until you were an adult?

I was under my parents’ wing the whole time. I was born in Iowa then mom and dad moved to Texas. When my mom met my stepfather, also a very influential man in my life, they moved to northern California when I was about 7. My dad stayed in Texas. It was school year with my mom and stepdad, summertime with my dad. I did that until I was 16 and had a license to drive. Then I basically stayed home and did teenager stuff.

My mom died of cancer during my senior year of high school. I had a 16-year-old sister and a six-year-old sister and I was really worried about them. I was still a dumbass at 18 and not emotionally prepared.

I didn’t know how I felt about it until much later in life. It was absorbing. I didn’t know how to deal with it. I didn’t even really deal with it. That was a mistake. I don’t think I was emotionally equipped. None of my siblings were. I compartmentalized it. I put it in a box and set it aside.

There was a lot of shame. My family was totally screwed up by religion. Irish Catholic. There’s so much more anxiety when it comes to death in the Catholic church. I’m not religious but I’m the most religious non-religious person you want to know.

So you go into college. Did you go into the sausage factory, with the background of your dad and polygraphs, expecting to be ground out as a journalist? Or did you just look at General Ed?

Yes. Yes I did. I loved newspapers. Always had. I read the Contra Costa Times. It was a great paper. I wouldn’t say he was a mentor but a very influential in my life was a reporter named Gary Webb.

Gary Webb? I have a buddy who worked beside him. Go ahead…

Did he work at the Mercury News? That’s where Gary did his best stuff.

I was introduced through a mutual family friend. He would spend time with me and talk to me at family parties. It wasn’t like I wanted to be a journalist; it was that I wanted to hear all the behind-the-scenes stuff, the way the world really works.  I loved that.

My stepfather was very liberal, my mom was really Catholic, and we would talk about the war on drugs, when I was at a very young age, just telling me how stupid it was. Gary’s best work was about the connections between the government and South America and cocaine trafficking. He knew all the people; it was so fascinating. I was, like, 14, and he wanted to tell me about drug dealers in Panama and the Sandinistas flying coke for Pablo Escobar. Hell yeah, I was totally into it. I loved it.

He felt bad for me because of my mom. She was sick a long time before she died.

Then, when Gary killed himself, it was really, really fucked up. I was hurting when that happened.

I remember it being acutely painful, unlike my mom’s death because I knew was going to die. I didn’t know what to do with the pain I was feeling.

He influenced me and I had a small personal relationship but I wouldn’t say he was a mentor necessarily. There were others.

At one point I worked at a newspaper that had the same partial coverage area as the San Jose Mercury News and I was super excited because I would work with Gary – because I didn’t know how shit really worked. By then he had already left. He was in his downward spiral which I didn’t even know about until long after his death and the book came out. He was basically betrayed by the entire journalism industry. I had no idea; I was a young dumbass.  But a fuckin’ cool ass guy, man. What a legend. Everything about him epitomized what a journalist should be. I think he’s awesome.

So, originally, I wanted to be in the Foreign Service. I didn’t even thing about being a journalist in college as a job. I wanted to work for the State Dept. I was also a newspaper reporter in high school. I just did it because I wanted extracurricular activities to help me get into college. I thought it was fun but my goal was to join the Foreign Service, take the exam, and I was studying Spanish, in Spain, partying my ass off.

Finally, I enrolled in a program called UCDC. A semester in Washington DC. I interned for the Atlantic Council, which is now a huge conspiracy theorist target. People distrust it. But it’s the most ineffective place I’ve ever been in. They couldn’t do anything right. QAnon calls it part of the New World Order. And I hated it. I hated DC. I hated the people. I totally changed my mind about being in the Foreign Service. I was a California guy.

I was challenged by really competitive people operating at a really high level and it was my realization that I wasn’t the shit. I just went back. I came back to Santa Cruz to probably bum around Europe. But someone from the paper at UC Santa Cruz got a job at a tiny little newspaper in Watsonville, about 15 miles south. I applied and became a beat reporter for the Watsonville Pajaronian. That’s when I became a professional journalist.

More there in Watsonville than cabbage, eh?

I just knew I could do this as a job as opposed to how I had treated it before, more of a social, fun thing. A lot of people take Drama for four years but don’t expect to become actors. It’s what you do for a hobby. That was my scene. A lot was about chasing chicks.

The way local governments are set up, people aren’t set up naturally to handle power. People are not equipped to purely serve the public good so there is always ego and scandal. I’ve always treated everything as if it was the most important thing going on in the world. Fights about building a Home Depot on whatever road. Farming issues about water. There was crime. Immense poverty. Some of the poorest people I’ve ever met. Then there were people preying on them. A guy with a dilapidated house with 50 migrants living in it. Is that unethical? I dunno. You could find stuff. It’s also where Cesar Chavez organized the UFW.

There was some cool shit going down. There was a group called the Brown Berets. They were the migrant Mexican group who wanted to be in the vein of the Black Panthers. They were militant. I found stuff.

I did some great work there. I revealed that the mayor of the city, who was 26 years old, was going out at night and getting in bar brawls. Straight up fist fighting people. Going out, getting drunk, hitting on a wife, then challenging a husband to a fight in a parking lot. A whole cadre of wannabees covering for him. I won an award and it’s basically how I got to the Los Angeles Times. Yeah, there was plenty to report about even if it was a sleepy place. That’s where I became the Dave Brooks that I am now.

I don’t know this progress. From there to the Times.

I graduated in 2002, wrote these stories, got a lot of recognition and Times had an opening in its community news division and I took it. I moved down to Huntington Beach.

Back in 2004, the Times was really invested in local news. They would do all these inserts for the various cities and I covered Huntington Beach. Most of my stuff would be inserted into the section every Thursday. I covered mostly government. I then got promoted to the Orange County bureau; now I was in the California section of the Times, covering Orange County. My area was mostly business in Newport Beach, Irvine, Costa Mesa.

I did that from 2004-2007. I didn’t realize that was when real estate was booming and when the meltdown happened. Many of the mortgage companies were based there – Nationwide, Countrywide. I had no idea what a default swap was or derivative financials. I didn’t know shit. I didn’t know anything about the financial housing market but I did know there were kids my age who were complete dumbasses making $300,000 a year.  I really questioned at times my pay. I think I was getting $13 an hour.

I just didn’t want to work at the paper anymore. It wasn’t as cool as I thought it would be. I saw a listing for Venues Today and I applied. I met Linda Deckard and started working for her. It was a very small company. I started when there were three people. When I left there were seven or eight. By year four I was contributing to every part of the business. It was really interesting. I learned more there than at any other job I ever had.

So, you got into reporting on the music business just like any other reporting gig: you had no background, but you learned.

Exactly. I love music but I didn’t know anything about trade writing. I didn’t know what a fuckin’ trade publication was! I didn’t know anything about the live music business.

But I knew how to do reporting and writing. I just happened into it at the right time. There were no raises there, only cuts. I learned from Linda how venues worked, how businesses worked. How concert arenas and stadiums have cyclical calendars. The IAVM crowd of people, our core.

There was always a back and forth with Linda. We did not see eye to eye on certain things. I viewed it could be done more artistically or in a different voice. But it was Linda’s magazine and I accepted that early on and did it how she wanted – folksy and informal. Linda has a detailed way of explaining things. It was written as if you were explaining something to a 65-year-old; I wanted it to be cool.

It wasn’t sexy but it was cool to go to concerts and travel. I wasn’t writing about the coolest bands; I was writing about how Feld was going to create ice faster.

But the readership was interested.

Yeah. It took me a while to understand that. It took a while to understand what we were doing. I disagreed with how things went down but I understood it was hers, it wasn’t mine. I just focused on what she wanted. She deserved that. It was her publication and I learned a lot from her – who the readers are, where the business came from. She’s a really nice person and this was her life.

Working for her was worthwhile. I got an education in the venue world. It would have been impossible anywhere else. Linda was always an insider. She was not peering in from the outside, and that was important to her. I learned so much about how venues were operated. I also met all the people who ran the arenas, convention centers and stadiums of America.

I regularly attended 15 conferences a year. I even went to Australia. I thought I knew it all. Once I left, I really quickly realized there were large swaths of the business I did not know, especially the agency business and to some level promotion. But, at Venues Today, I saw what we weren’t doing as an opportunity. I had a vision. I just wanted to create my own thing, to do it my own way, to use technology. I think technology quickly hastened the divide at Venues Today.  My view was that I could compete by using technology in a way that would close the gap much faster than anyone expected.

What’s funny is that I told a friend of mine what I wanted to do and that friend told Michael Roth (spokesman for AEG), who told Linda. I had to make a decision right then and there. I decided to go.

I pushed every button that I could. A lot of people asked me why I was messing with them. I would say it motivated me. I regret it. Somewhat.

You were growing up.

Yeah, I wanted to be my own guy. And I thought it could be cool. It’s the business of rock ‘n’ roll. And there was all this scandalous shit happening. I think I emailed that I was on a fact-finding mission. I ended up on the model of The Real, the email newspaper. I had all kinds of ideas. A concierge service! Anything that could make money.

But after a year I was done trying all this other shit and focused on running the newsletter. Make it a must-read for gossip and news nobody else had. I’d look at what people clicked on.

When you were putting it together did you have Billboard or Pollstar in the future?

I didn’t even know who Ray Waddell was. Pollstar? Up until the launch I didn’t know who a Gary Smith was. The first issue was August 2014 and by September I was at a panel where Smith was on it. He asked people about that album U2 uploaded to iTunes libraries. He asked who had listened to it; I raised my hand. He said, “Well, of course you would listen to it,” which acknowledged he knew who I was.

He sort of became interested in me. We went back and forth and it was a weird courtship. For all I knew he was a billionaire.

I ended up paying $600 for a subscription. I thought maybe they could buy me out or something. The Garys started to do some kind of dance. They wanted to be interested but not spend any money.

They paid me $200 a column. I made $800 a month, paid my office. I remember Bataclan happened. I called Gary B. He said that we were going to use the wire reports rather than original reporting. That disappointed me.

There was another story. The illegal venue that I exposed. It killed me. But they stood by me on that. And they didn’t have to. The Ghost Ship fire had just taken place. The band that played there the night before played this illegal venue. I tried to get them to talk. I wrote an email to them “Exposing you tomorrow you’re running an illegal venue.”

I got death threats. “I hope you die.”

It was just a low moment. At one point I was reporting on a panel where a member came up to me, “Hey, I want to talk to you about the damage you’re doing to the LGBTQ community.”

I was stunned. He rode my ass for 10 minutes. For the first time I heard, “You cis-gender, alpha male piece of shit.” What does that even mean?

I made a lot of mistakes. Would it change a lot of my personality? I had to overcome a lot of things.

How about your relationship with Michael Rapino?

It’s been really interesting getting to know him. Regarding Ticketmaster, I think those outside the business say things flippantly that are unfair. It doesn’t acknowledge the realities of what’s happening. But I’ve noticed with him that there’s this increasing lack of tolerance for “towing the line.” They do things that I deserve a lot of scrutiny. And I’ve noticed the expectation of loyalty and the demand to be given the benefit of the doubt.

I did a story on Michael Rapino’s pay. During the pandemic he was not going to take any salary. A year goes by and that was the assumption. Then the disclosure comes out covering the past year and, six weeks in, he started getting half salary. And they made a lot of money in stock options. Pointing that out drew all this intense rage. “The headline should have been How Much Money He Left On The Table.” No, it shouldn’t have been. That’s not how any ordinary person would ever view it.

Rapino has always said in interviews he has a fear of losing touch with the common man. He was the common man and if he really lost that he was done. I just see increasing evidence he doesn’t know what it’s like out there for most people.

You had mentioned the controversy regarding Morgan Wallen.

Cancel culture. Who is canceled and what does that even mean? And what Morgan Wallen did.

It’s an interesting thing. All this debate with what he did. Using the N word. And how long should he be canceled?

I noticed nobody every bothered to ask Blacks what they thought about Morgan Wallen drunkenly calling his friends the N word. What do they feel in general?

To me, I thought it would be a reasonable question to ask how long to cancel someone and to what severity. That said, he was canceled during a real demand for his music. He was canceled when his album was No. 1, he had airplay and it was interesting watching WME join in the initial reaction, dropping him. Slowly people changed their behavior and wanted to go see him.

Kevin Neal’s son, Austin, was basically booking shows for Morgan “off the books.” He wasn’t doing shows while representing WME but, you know, but he was doing it with their quote-unquote blessing. An independent promoter like Outback would pick up some of the shows. OK, it did OK, under the radar.

Then Live Nation decides to do his tour, but it’s couched cautiously, not mentioned like it would normally be, but they’re doing it. You gotta really wonder how these calculations are made. Like, what areas of the country want to see Morgan Wallen and don’t care and won’t raise a stink. It kind of goes around that. They’re already booking his tour dates and he’s making a comeback without announcing.

What’s your take on it?

I spend time at a local sports bar and when “Whiskey Glasses” comes on, guess what? Nobody cares. Nobody is upset, nobody stands up in support. It’s just a song and people are worn out. Lots of fatigue.

I agree. People are just worn out. Either they did it on purpose to float the reaction or somebody was not thinking. Right or wrong, it’s going to get a substantial negative reaction. It’s so weird to me. What is the end goal for Nashville? What are they trying to say? Are they trying to move on from past sins? Are you saying Morgan Wallen can’t apologize and be forgiven? That seems to be lost in all of this.

This whole idea of being canceled. Saying something racist, homophobic or transphobic will always be hugely problematic. It should never be done. Everyone agrees on it. But what does cancelation mean? People don’t really know. More broadly, domestic issues this country has been through that I don’t think there’s an upside to saying something political on a domestic issue because people are very hard to change their response to it. Can you be political anymore in music? I think the answer is no. There’s no upside. If you believe in it, will you make a statement about it? You’re not making a moral statement; you’re signaling an ideology.

I wonder if that’s brave or what the point is. I think music will become political again and it will be authentic. I think there are things to protest, especially authoritarian governments. It’s happening abroad.

A great example is China’s repression of Hong Kong. I can’t see a lot of people arguing that’s a good thing. There’s so much authoritarianism and so many totalitarian leaders over the world that, basically, there are interesting things to talk about. Human rights abroad. Issues like killing and tyranny. To me that’s what people should look at. Not domestically; that just makes things worst. The right is not going to take it like they have before.

Regarding Morgan Wallen and alternate routing ideas, Louis CK recently put out an advertisement where one can pay to watch a full performance, in front of a full theatre, via his website. It’s almost as if “life finds a way.” Louis CK may be “canceled” but he’s found a way to get to his audience anyway.

Right. I don’t like the phrase “life finds a way” as much as maybe “supply finds a way.” If there is demand for something, entrepreneurial people always find a way to meet it. If people want something, somebody will find a way to get it to them. And people always want their music.

That’s the underlying issue, right? People are always going to find a way to give people what they want. It’s like the failure of the War on Drugs. People want something, someone will get it to them. If Morgan Wallen was “canceled,” and people still want his music and be around him as an artist then, well, he didn’t really get canceled.

He could apologize and fix the situation but he’s going to have to determine how to do it. Nobody is going to defend what he said drunkenly to a bunch of white people but if they still want his music, the ruling class can’t really determine that he’s canceled.

For me, I think the wrong conversations are happening.

Charles Johnston: Select Artists Associates

Charles T. Johnston, known to his many admirers as Charlie, has been a staple of live entertainment since the ‘60s.

Much like the iconic Barbara Hubbard, his visibility and affability belie a storied history. Few, if any, can claim starting out in the biz by promoting a Rolling Stones concert and, along the way, disobeying direct orders from Frank Sinatra and having Little Richard play piano in your house for Thanksgiving dinner.

That’s just the byproduct of spending more than 50 years in the business. Johnston’s main contribution to live entertainment is taken for granted: sports event performances. Sure, halftime shows at the Super Bowl are part of American culture, with marching bands since 1967 and Carol Channing taking the field in 1970. Yet, Johnston and his company helped solidify the culture in the mid-90s with staging that could be moved on and off the field in minutes and was used for a pre-game show at Super Bowl XXX for the Doobie Brothers.

His company, Select Artists Associates, has worked with the NFL for 16 seasons on the production of pre-game, halftime and post-game field presentations. It has staged on-field shows for every MLB All-Star Game since 2003. It has produced more than 150 post-game shows for MLB including 18 at the New York Mets’ Citi Field. The company’s credentials also include NASCAR, the PGA, Major League Soccer, the NCAA and special events for clients like GoDaddy. It also produces Devilpalooza and InfernoFest for Arizona State University. Staging is also used for events like trophy presentations for the College Football Playoff National Championship.

NACPA’s interview delves into all of it, along with answering the question why a production company has a name that sounds a lot like a music agency.

First of all, how’s the day going?

I see business starting to pick up.

How would you define your company?

A production company. Sports and entertainment production. We purchase the artist, we put the package together. We create the show and it’s a one-stop shop.

But you do what a promoter would as far as the actual show goes?

Right. In fact, we did a show at Ak-Chin Pavilion for a client. He was promoting the show, but we booked all the artists and did all the production. He just paid us to do what we do. We haven’t done many of those because when you look at the Live Nations of the world, they do all their own stuff.

But you’ve worked alongside such promoters as Messina Touring Group.

Nov. 10 was the start of my 55th year in business – and there’s no book. A CPA has all these rules and gets licensed. In this business, there are no controls. It’s all about ethics, relationships and integrity. I take a lot of pride in having strong integrity and tremendous relationships. That’s what’s making it all work.

This shakeup with the pandemic has been an interesting thing for all of us. Look how many people have changed from big agencies to starting their own to just getting out of the business altogether. And look at the acquisition of ICM by CAA, which is a huge deal.

Let’s go all the way back. Your career and my life sync up. I’ve been on this planet 55 years, and so has SAA.

I started before ‘66. I started as a musician. I knew in the third grade what I wanted to do. I thought I wanted to be a musician. I taught myself. My grandfather gave me a trumpet. I got good enough that I got myself a full-ride scholarship at Arizona State.

While I was there, we won the Intercollegiate Jazz Festival in 1964 and I started booking bands. I’d see a band and say I can book them; I’m booking mine. I was doing that while I was in school and I was playing five, six nights a week while booking other bands. I graduated and I went to graduate school, Then I went to law school. I taught myself how to do this.

I didn’t finish law school. I came back, got myself an office and the first big show I did was April 24, 1969 with the Rolling Stones at Phoenix International Raceway.

People say how did you do that? Well, it was a whole other world back then when you made phone calls. I worked with GAC, their agency and I had the balls to make the phone call. I had no idea what I was doing but I made it work. That was the beginning.

Music has been my life. I love it and I’m glad to say that. And I was a fairly good musician.

Do you still kick around with the trumpet?

I do and I learned how to play bass and I also play keyboards. I have a grand piano in the living room in the house. About five or six years ago I did a halftime show for the Sun Devils and I had Little Richard come in. It was for the UA game. I had Little Richard and his band at my house for Thanksgiving dinner. I’ll tell you what: he got on the piano and he was singing. They’re great people. He was just coming to my house. You’re traveling, you’re working with me, you’re coming to my house for Thanksgiving. I had it catered and they had a hell of a time.

GAC – who was the Stones’ agent? Frank (Barcelona) was everything back then.

Chuck Barnett. He’s still in the business. He’s managing. He was pretty young at the time. His dad was a jazz player I think and that’s how he got in the business.

How did the Rolling Stones go?

It was a great night. It was two weeks after Altamont Racetrack with Hell’s Angels and the murder. Hell’s Angels showed up at my show. They were following the Stones around.

Then I got into lounge acts. I could control them, rehearse them. At one point I had 35 acts out on the road. Working places like Reno, Tahoe, Vegas, nightclubs all around the country.

So, you switched from being a promoter to an agent. Did you continue to promote during that transition?

Yeah, I did shows at the Celebrity Theater. We did some really interesting shows there. I did Jose Feliciano, Jimi Hendrix and The Doors at the Coliseum. Janis Joplin at the Tempe ballpark. When it started to change, I just did my own thing with my own groups. When the ‘80s and disco hit, that was another change because now the club owners were having a DJ come in rather than a 10-piece band. We started doing special events.

I came up with the idea of putting sports and entertainment together. I started to design these roll-on stages and audio systems. I went to an engineer, and we designed a stage. The first place we used it was the Dallas Cowboys/Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl here in Phoenix at Sun Devil Stadium in 1996.

Diana Ross came in on a helicopter and we had The Doobie Brothers on a roll-on stage for a pre-game show.

That was the first act under the new model, and the first booking.

I got the booking because I was producing entertainment for the Cardinals and when the Super Bowl came into town that year, they had a production meeting. They were having a conversation about wanting The Doobie Brothers for $15,000. and I said I could make that happen.

I’ll never forget. Bob Best from the NFL looked at me and said, “You’ve got a week” – as if to say, “What are you even doing here?”

The meeting was on a Saturday. On Sunday I went to my office and said, “I know I said that for a reason, but the Doobie Brothers are getting $100,000 to $150,000 a night.”

I looked them up. The leader of the band is Tom Johnston. But his first name is Charles.

Charles T. Johnston. I looked at it and thought, that’s why I did this. So, I called their manager Bruce Cohn and said, “I’ve got a Super Bowl gig for you guys.” He said, “Who is this?”

I said, “Charlie Johnston from Phoenix.”

He goes, “Really! My daughter goes to ASU.”

I said I was a graduate. We cliqued. It was one of those moments and I made it happen. I never looked back.

Was there another carrot other than cliquing with the manager and having a common name with the leader of the band? I figure exposure, for one.

Exposure was phenomenal! They were guaranteed broadcast time live to 300 million people worldwide. We’ve done a ton of pre-game Super Bowl shows after that. We were primarily doing pregame because our equipment didn’t damage the field. We’d take a big production out there, on and off in, my gosh, two minutes.

Can you please tell us how you first met CAA’s Rod Essig?

I had all these lounge bands working and I traveled a lot. There was a bowling alley in St. Paul, and I had a band working in that area. I went there and there was a kickass band playing with a black drummer who was named Moose. The whole band was about him. He was phenomenal. So, I’m talking to the band, and he walks up. It was his band! I ended up stealing the drummer. I bought him a ticket, flew him to Phoenix and built a band around him. That’s how I met Rod. He was the agent for the band that I stole Moose from.

He was a lounge agent. That’s how he started. I talked to him twice today. We booked a couple of stadium shows today – post baseball game shows. He’s one of my best friends.

We never had a hatchet to bury. We are both still here doing it. And where’s Moose?

What were some of the lounge acts? You had 35.

I had a group called The Gringos. Calliope, Southern Flavor, Phoenix Express. I can’t remember all of them. A lot of horn groups. There were a lot of places to play.

But disco ended all that.

That’s why I came up with sports & entertainment. In 1994, I ended up bidding on a management contract for Chase Field for all the non-baseball events. It was an RFP process and we won it. I had Chase Field for 20 years. Then the Diamondbacks got involved with politics and a new board of supervisors. They said they would leave town unless they took over booking. They said they could do a better job. They haven’t done anything.

So, Select Artists was established November 1967. You just transitioned it from an agency to what it is today and kept the name.

I have a company that runs our warehouse and our office building called Beans & Roses LLC. It’s named after two of my dogs. I’ve got another company, Mountain High Staging and Production. That’s an LLC that owns all the roll-on stages and the semis. I have a deal with a company out of Porterville, Ind., which supplies drivers. We’ll schedule their pickup and delivery times.

What was the history of employment throughout all of the incarnations of SAA?

I started with four employees. We went up to six and now I’ve got 12.

The importance is – and I’ve done the last 20 All-Star Games for MLB – I can walk onto the field and say, “There’s my guys!” And the MLB can say, “Well, I don’t have to worry about this!”

It’s good business. And these people have been here a long time. They’ve been here when it was good and I’m not asking them to take any risk.

Twelve people. Must be lots of subcontracting.

We have an audio company that we use. Believe it or not, they’re out of Greensboro, N.C., called SE Systems. I’ve been using them for 22 years because they get it. I’d rather pay the extra trucking. They’ll be doing the All-Star Game in Los Angeles. They’re coming from Greensboro!

You know there are plenty of sound companies in LA that can do the All-Star Game. But we’re using SE because they’ve done 20 of these games and this is 21. I’m going to have my crew there. It costs a little bit more but there is no margin for error because all of this is televised.

Your client list: What is the background?

We have a long-term relationship with the Angels. Nets. Pirates. Nationals. We’ve done a couple one-offs with different teams. Might do something once then, again, a couple years later. We’re very proud of our 23-year relationship with the MLB.

We still do some of the football teams but not nearly as much as with baseball. There, they rope off the infield, we’ll put something behind second base and put about 1,000-1,200 people on the base paths. The team might mark something up as VIP. It’s a nice promotion. Think about it: “Gee, I’m going to go onto the field and I’m going to see this great band.” It’s a nice experience for the fan.

How many Super Bowl Pre-game Shows have you worked on?

Probably 18 to 20. It’s our equipment and just being a part of it. We haven’t been involved the past five or six years but different levels of involvement because we know everybody.

So business is picking up, you said.

Yes. NCAA. Shows with the Angels and with the Pirates. We’re in talks with several other teams for the season. We’ll be doing the All-Star Game again at Dodger Stadium. I’ve got a number of corporate clients like a huge country club operation in town we’ll be doing shows for. Some repeat stuff from the past couple years. I’m working on a deal with the Miami Marlins. We don’t have that deal yet, but I hope I’m going to get it.

How quickly did things change for you when the lockdowns hit? Was it a 24-hour period?

Some of it was. We had a huge event booked at the Glendale Arena on March 27 and the governor shut everything down on March 23. It was 18 to 20 months. Nothing postponed; all canceled. Every day was something else.

Now look at a football game and how many people are wearing masks. Nobody. It’s coming around.

What are the mandates in Arizona?

They have some but people are pretty much ignoring them. I think the general population has had enough. Of course, there are some mask-wearing for doctors’ offices and Starbucks and whatnot.

The political component of the whole thing is frightening.

You’re doing work with Texas A&M.

Yes, we won an RFP as the company to book and produce shows in College Park. We’re just taking those opportunities and turn them into new business.

This has to be massive.

It’s Kyle Field. 102,000 seats. They haven’t had musical events for the past 15 years, only football, so we’re looking at this as possible dates in 2022. We’ll wait and see what happens.

Meanwhile, the World Cup is coming here in 2026. I’ve seen what we’re doing and I’m quietly positioning myself as this event provides a great business opportunity.

For the rest of us, 2026 is so far away.

The folks from Soccer United Marketing came here to meet with us and we let them know that SAA is serious and would like to be on the radar.

Is it that unusual to plan four years in advance?

If you want to get it, you better look for it. I don’t know how many people think that way, but I do, and I know if it’s going to be here, let’s be the guys.

There have got to be 50 years of stories to tell.

Oh my, and a lot of good ones. People can focus on the bad but there are a lot of good stories. Dealing with Paul McCartney was a joy. The first time I dealt with Paul we did the Super Bowl pregame show following 9/11, in New Orleans in 2002. Two years later he was in Jacksonville. I had nothing to do with it, but I walked into the tent, and he yells at me.

I’m probably thinking he remembered the white hair. But it blew me away. “It’s Charlie Johnston! Come over here! Have a Coke!”

Chuck Berry never pointed a gun at you?

Nope. He was great to book. You paid him $25,000. He got a white four-door Lincoln and a driver, a Fender Reverb with two 12-inch speakers, and you provided the band. That was it.

Dick Alen, his agent, said he was the most literal client he ever worked with. He would do whatever was in the contract and nothing else. If the contract said it was 45 minutes, that’s what he’d play.

Yup, not 46. Dick Alen was a terrific guy.

Anything else?

I had a funny experience with acts that opened for Frank Sinatra at Caesars. Jose Feliciano was one and a singer out of Phoenix, Lee Meza, was the other. Jilly (Rizzo, longtime Sinatra aide) comes up to me and says, “Each of dese guys getz two songs, got it?”

I said OK. I sat down with Lee and Jose, rehearsed them and said we were going to do two medleys.

They went out for the first night and did two medleys which was, like, four songs for Lee and five for Jose in a medley format.

After the show, Jilly comes up to me and says, “Frank wants to talk to you.”


I’ll never forget this: They walk me into the dressing room. On either side – it’s gotta be 75 feet – was a table. Red shag carpet about an inch and a half thick. He’s sitting at the end.

I thought, I gotta walk down and see the King?

They walk me down to him and say, “This is Charlie. He’s the manager of those two acts.”

Frank says, “Who’s idea was it to do those medleys?”

“It was mine.”

He says, “You’ve got some balls. I like you.” And he hugged me.

I about shit my pants.

Then we sat down and had a drink, and then I left.

That’s nuts.

I also handled the Righteous Brothers before Bobby (Hatfield) died. I have a picture here with Bobby, Bill (Medley) and my three daughters. My youngest daughter was six; she’s now 40. It was that long ago. We did a bunch of stuff across the country with them. Quality people.

That alone – working that long with the Righteous Brothers – is worth a book.

Here’s an example of what we deal with. I did a show with 50 Cent. This is for the Mets. I’m sitting with owner Jeff Wilpon. He says, “I want a younger crowd. I want 50 Cent.”

I say, you mean Fiddy Cent! I told him I’d book him but I’m putting an indemnification clause in the contract because you’re going to hear M-F- all night long.

So, I booked the act. We do the rehearsal. Halfway through the first half I walk into the dressing room, I give him the balance of his money and ask to see his song list. I say that the game will probably be over around 10:30 PM and we’ll need an hour of music. We want to be offstage by 11:30 PM.

He gives me the song list. Thirty-eight songs.

“Fiddy! You can’t do 38 songs in an hour, man. All I need is an hour. I want to get out of here before midnight. It’s a Saturday night.”

“I’m gonna do it! I’ll get it done in an hour.”

Well, I know he won’t be able to, but my only other option now is to turn the power off or just eat it. And what the team is eating is 1,116 employees that will be paid overtime.

Fiddy comes out. I’ve got a hand clicker. First song he says muthafucka 87 times. I showed Jeff.

“I had no idea!”

I said this is what I do. You run a major construction company and a baseball team. I do this.

So Fiddy plays all 38 songs. He gets offstage at 1:20 a.m.

So, 1,160 employees got paid overtime because they went from Saturday to Sunday.

You go through those stories and try and tell people what to expect. Country artists will do what they’re asked to do. I’ve worked with Garth, one of the biggest artists there is and never had a problem.

Speaking of Garth, he came to Phoenix when I was booking Chase Field. I got a call from his manager who said Garth likes to do a baseball camp for underprivileged kids and asked if I could help.

I said that I couldn’t give the building away. So, I sat down and worked out a Rental Agreement for $1 for Garth’s Charity.

It’s not a comp. I paid a buck. So, I gave it to him and then I went to the Diamondbacks and said we’ve got Garth Brooks coming into the building. I think I can get photos for you and maybe an endorsement of the team or whatever, but I need gloves, balls, bats and maybe some jerseys.

The Diamondbacks gave us what we needed. I gave it to Garth. He shows up and we had about 130 underprivileged, 15- to 16-year-old kids. None of them knew who he was. Garth starts to play ball with them, running bases, and he stops about an hour in and sits on the pitcher’s mound. He says, “Come up around me. I want to talk to you.”

He said, “I want you to understand how we’re doing this. There’s no I in team.” He goes through this whole thing; I’m watching him and I’m thinking it’s pretty cool. They’re not here because he’s a star. They have no idea who he is.

He goes out and plays ball another hour and a half. They’re on the field three-and-a-half hours. At the end he sits them down again. “You guys got to understand another word that’s important in life: Love.”

He does a whole other thing on that. They leave. He comes to me, and I have my daughter, Jessica, who was taking pictures. Garth suggested dinner before he did his show.

Those kids never knew who he was! But that’s what you’re dealing with when it comes to some of these people. It’s really fun stuff and interesting.

Going back to 50 Cent, I was under the impression that it would be difficult to get a hip-hop artist to play the allotted time, much less do a marathon.

You’re right! But think about it. It’s 30,000 people. What I’m doing now for an artist – I have a nontraditional production. I don’t care who the artist is, I’m going to put your artist in front of 30,000 people. You can’t do that with most artists. They’re going to be in an amphitheater, an arena. Seventeen, 18, 20 thousand. I’m going to do 30,000 at a stadium. There’s so much value in that, with good sound and production that it’s a classy boost for the artist and if it’s one coming out with new product it does nothing but help.

We have not had an issue with production, or being able to get it done, something failing.

No wonder you want to keep the same crew.

No issues. These guys: I love them. And they understand that word. We talk about that kind of stuff. We need to take care of each other. When you see this age of rage we’re living in, you’ve got to stop that!

That’s our attitude and, boy, does that work.

Meanwhile, considering some of the tragic situations that have come with staging, that is not part of the formula.

No. There’s no roof on at all and we do ground support if we have to do lights, which we can roll out. Basically, it’s a quick on and off, plus we have floor lighting on it. Plus, we’ll do three or four long throw Follow spots on the 200, 300 level of a stadium. Like I say, it’s a nontraditional presentation. It’s not all the bells and whistles you might get from a normal show, but it’s real and it works.

We’ve had U2 on it, McCartney, Mariah Carey. We have had the biggest acts in the world on this staging. We did the Super Bowl in Detroit (in 2006) – we had the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. You want to talk about a show? Whoo!

Well, at least one of those artists was known to have some eccentricities with live performance, but I assume most of the people who play at this level consider these to be “just another show.”

I had Steve Miller Band when it rained. We were doing a stadium show in Pittsburgh after a Pirates game. It poured, but nobody left. They were all soaked, and they still talk about the night with Steve Miller.

The owner of the team would say, “I was standing there with you, and it was raining like crazy.”

Steve’s production manager was yelling at him to get off the stage, but Steve said, “These people came to see me, they’re going to see me. If they’re not leaving, I’m not leaving.” And he kept playing.

What an attitude.

Considering the vast majority of artists are professionals, any stories about the exception to the rule? Any “Sly Stone” moments?

I have to think about that. Well, I did a show years ago at a theatre we were booking. This comedian was an opening act and he had to have three or four bourbons before he could go out on stage because he didn’t like crowds. I can’t think of his name. Oh, yeah: Don Rickles!

Don Rickles? Don Rickles didn’t like crowds? Vegas staple Don Rickles didn’t like crowds?

Yup, so, I got him the bourbon and we had a great show.

Select Artists Associates is available at

Chris Semrau: A Venue Perspective

As the U.S. events return with or without restrictions, NACPA decided to take a look at how our friends in facility management are handling it. Chris Semrau is the GM of the once-named Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, a venue that was recently renamed Paycom Center and is home to the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.  It was an SMG-managed building until that powerful company merged with AEG Facilities to become the venue’s facility manager, ASM Global. Paycom Center can house up to 16,591 for concerts and has 18,203 seats in its basketball configuration.

Chris, can you give us a brief background?

I’ve been in this business for over 20 years now. I opened a building in Grand Forks, ND, called the Ralph Englestad Arena, the most palatial, unbelievable hockey facility in the country in my opinion. Mr. Englestad hired me right out of college back in 2000. I was part of building and opening that facility and was a tremendous experience to have my first job to be one of constructing and opening a brand-new arena.

I opened and worked at a new facility in Sioux Falls, SD, called Denny Sanford Premier Center, which is managed by ASM Global. I was there 4.5 years. Whe the opportunity was offered to come to Oklahoma City and work at the NBA facility and I jumped at that chance. Three years this month I’ll be in the market and we couldn’t be happier.

How is the NBA scheduling looking for 2021-22?

The NBA schedule for the most part will get back to the original cadence that we were used to prior to the industry disruption. That schedule will come out  in August and the NHL schedule just came out as well. It looks like we’ll be back on the October-through-June cycle.

It is anticipated that the NFL, NBA and NHL will all be 100 percent capacity when they resume their schedule this fall.

Do you have additional dates set aside in case of a virus impact?

We are not holding a secondary set of dates in anticipation of the season being pushed back once again. We are targeting the normal schedule approach from the NBA and are hopeful and confident that we will not have to revise that.

Two seasons ago, of course, the home schedule was cut short prior to the bubble and last year we had to push the season back. However, we believe this year we will be back to a normal approach for scheduling.

What is traffic looking like for next year?

It is significant in 2022. I think many tours have pushed back to play in 2022 and others are looking to resume in that time period. So, next year will be a very significant year for tours. Hopefully ’22 and ’23 will be a renaissance for live shows.

Do you have multiple holds for many dates?

It is not uncommon to have dates with several holds deep, which is great but also causes some logistical challenges as well. I think we’re somewhat in a holding pattern for a little longer before those holds convert over to confirmations or dates are released.

As the professional sports schedules continue to come out, that will help in clearing up some of the date availability and you will see tours starting to make their final decisions very soon.

Are you currently in the position of needing to turn away artists or is the question premature?

We’re not turning down artists. Rather, we’re trying to be creative to supply decisionmakers with options to play the market. If the target date or window does not make sense or isn’t available, we’re trying to work with them on what else could be beneficial for their tour.

I think it is key to offer additional information so that the decisionmakers know which days are more likely to clear and which ones will have more challenges associated with them. It’s important to be as helpful and transparent with the agents and promoters as possible so they understand you’re looking out for their investment in your market.

When do you think the schedule for next year emerge, for the most part?

I think the NBA schedule will   be released in August and, post Labor Day weekend, you will see an onslaught of shows beginning to go on sale. That will also be the time period where much of what is on hold for 2022 will be cleaned up and determined.

Have you heard any significant discussion regarding another lockdown?

I haven’t heard of any relevant discussion about lockdowns or closing the industry once again. I believe events are going to take place. The question is what parameters would be associated with producing and attending those events, i.e., vaccinations or negative tests within 72 hours, which may be likely for the foreseeable future.

I think much of that is yet to be determined in the coming weeks.

As we have been building this interview, there has been a significant uptick in Proof of Vaccines and/or proof of negative COVID testing. Where do things stand with your building, where are they heading, and what is the reaction with patrons?

Obviously the landscapes continues to evolve and we engage in daily communicate with industry and local leaders. Proof of vaccination or a negative test have become a common approach over recent weeks. We currently do not have any policies in place at our venue as prerequisites for attending events, but understand this may change with influence from the NBA, tours, or local officials.

Are you working with the new convention center?

ASM Global has just opened up a state-of-the-art convention center in downtown Oklahoma City. It’s very unique to build a brand-new structure from the ground up in the middle of a downtown major market. It is adjacent to a brand-new OMNI Hotel and a park, which makes it a tremendous destination in the middle of America.

It has 200,000 square feet of flat-floor space in their main trade hall, which is significant along with multiple levels.

ASM Global manages that convention center as well as the Paycom Center. I do not day-to-day manage the convention center. It’s a separate division but it’s still part of ASM Global.

Anything else?

The sports and entertainment world came to a grinding halt on March 11 when we had a player from the Utah Jazz test positive for Covid 19 and we had to stop the game just before tipoff and usher the players back to their locker rooms and egress the building. That was the tipping point of closing down the industry. So we were Ground Zero for the start of the pandemic in our sector and therefore it’s going to be so much more gratifying when we fully return to hosting events and guests in our facility remembering how it all started.

It’s been a beyond-challenging year and a half but now it’s as much about communication as it is about implementation to elevate the guest experience while keeping the safety and security at the forefront of what we’re doing. Everybody is implementing technology and new policies and hopefully providing new experiences for guests.

I think the public will prioritize entertainment high on their list once again once we ‘return to live.’

Dick Alen: Chuck Berry In Paris

The following is the second installment from an unfinished autobiography for legendary William Morris agent Dick Alen:

Back in the relative quiet of Los Angeles, I had work to do for my new client.  It was nothing unique.  Artists like Jerry Lee have common expectations.  They assume that if you sign them on March 1, they’re going to be playing in front of an audience by March 3.  Truth is, the first gig they get is in September. The agent needs lead time. We need to put a tour together; we need avails.

         And I needed to see what Jerry’s last agency already had on the books.  I asked for all existing contracts and the agency, as an order of business, gave them to me.

         There was one existing contract that stood out.  It was good news for Jerry: a traditional rock ‘n’ roll show.  It was a big one, too. It was a festival. One that drew 100,000 people.

         And that festival was in France.

         This was a good thing.  Maybe the U.S. wasn’t into the roots of rock and roll music, but Europe has always embraced it.  It’s no secret how much artists like Keith Richards has adored and was influenced by the pillars of rock like Jerry Lee, Chuck Berry and Little Richard.  And it just so happened I was representing all of them. This was also a good time too for Berry, who was still celebrating his first and only No. 1 single, “My Ding-a-Ling,” which topped the pop charts in 1972 and was recorded live in England.

         I had already booked Berry to close the same festival.

         I took a close look at Jerry Lee’s contract. Jerry Lee was also contracted to close the festival.

         It was already enough to know that Chuck Berry was going to be headlining to 100,000 drunk and sweaty French in August. Add to that I was now going to need to play liaison between two of rock and roll’s most famous intransigent artists wasn’t making things any better.

         And, according to rock legend, Jerry Lee and Chuck famously didn’t get along and the movie “Great Balls of Fire” didn’t help any.  But it’s not exactly true.  The two have always had a respect toward each other professionally and personally. In fact, back in the early days, they toured more than 50 dates together without incident.

         The festival, the Fête de l’Humanité, was tied to L’Humanite, the country’s Communist newspaper.  The paper had been a French institution since the turn of the century. It had seen its rises and falls but, in the early ’70s, it was still an influential voice for the country.

         Fête de l’Humanité began in 1930 and originally drew about a thousand people sympathetic to the communist cause.  But by the early ’60s, the festival became a tradition and the audience didn’t need to be Communists to enjoy it.  It kept a permanent residence at Parc Departemenatal de La Courneuve, a massive public park about 15 kilometers north of Paris.

         Jerry Lee’s contract had been drawn up by the office of Albert Koski, France’s main promoter for rock acts, bringing in everyone from Neil Young to Stevie Wonder. He was the festival’s promoter at the time. As late as 1981, he worked with the government to bring the Rolling Stones for its first-ever stadium-sized show in France.

         But there is no way to sugarcoat it: Koski – or at least his company – made a big mistake. Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee had identical contracts. The saving grace was they were already paid their guarantees.

         Berry and Lewis were set to close a festival one year after The Who. Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, Keith Moon and John Entwistle were on the eve of Quadrophenia when they headlined the event, starting off their echoing set with “Summertime Blues.”  About 100,000 French rocked out while, in the background, the disinterested rode the park’s Ferris wheel and were plied by vendors along the midway. Political speakers lectured them inside tents. Johnny Hallyday was a repeat performer, and Joan Baez and Pink Floyd were also headliners.

         I made an international call to Koski’s company, KCP.  Koski answered the phone and I told him I had in my hands two contracts promising two difficult people the same thing.

         Not to worry about it, Koski said. He would take care of it.

         In those days, was complicated to take acts overseas except, obviously, Chuck Berry. It was Jerry Lee I was concerned about. Because I handled Chuck Berry all those years, I knew the different talent buyers who liked the original rock and roll so I was able to sell Chuck to Europe often. Chuck, of course, has always traveled cheaply, going everywhere with just a suitcase and maybe an ES-355, recruiting whatever local artists were willing to be in his pickup bands. He’s played with 16-year-old nobodies to an undiscovered Bruce Springsteen. It’s just a matter of calling them into the dressing room, asking them if they know “Maybelline” and if they say yes, it’s a go. He’s always said that if you don’t know how to play Chuck Berry music you shouldn’t be playing rock and roll. And he’s right.

         He’s made a lot of money that way – to this day he still drives the lawnmower at Berry Park. 

         So Chuck flew alone. That wasn’t going to be the case for Jerry Lee.

         Jerry Lee was accustomed to traveling with 20 people. There were three or four first-class seats, 16 in coach and a whole bunch of equipment. That’s relatively easy to do in Tennessee when Jerry Lee, his band and his entourage is just taking a bus from Memphis to Nashville.

         There were also hotel accommodations. Jerry Lee needed a three-bedroom suite at one of Paris’ more famous hotels, the George V.

         I, too, had a room at George V. We arrive the same day as the festival, which began at noon with some local acts. Chuck and Jerry Lee were to go on around 8 p.m., after Alan Stivell, a Celtic harp player, and French folk singer Catherine Ribeiro.

         Chuck had landed that morning.

         About this time, Koski came to George V.  I opened the door to a tall, darkly tanned man with a mop of long blond hair. He had something to ask me, Judd and Jerry Lee. We met in Jerry Lee’s dining room and pulled pull up some of the hotel’s provincial chairs.

         Koski calmly explained the situation to Jerry Lee, that he and Chuck have identical contracts. Would Jerry Lee be so helpful, he asked, as to be the second-to-last act that evening.

         Jerry Lee took a sip of his brandy and cocked his head.


        There was nothing to do but look at each other and listen to the ice rattle around in the glasses of Jerry Lee and Judd.

         The phone rang. I walked across the room and answered it.  It was Chuck Berry.

         I held the phone and turned to Koski.

         “What are you going to do about this?”

         “Please,” Koski said. “Ask him if he’ll go on first.”

         I talked to Chuck and turned back to Koski.

         “He’ll do it,” I tell him. Koski exhaled.

         “He’ll do it for more money.”

         Koski shook his head no.

         There was a heavy price to pay for Koski’s decision. Berry hung up and we spent hours in the hotel room, waiting for calls from Berry each half-hour as he drove around the city. He would call from different phones, not telling any of us where he was at.  If he did, we’d be able to track him down and negotiate. 

         Judd and Jerry kept drinking, and Koski kept saying no.  By the time I took Chuck’s fourth call, I had to step over a passed-out Judd to get to the phone. 

         Noon had turned into the afternoon. And the afternoon turned to early evening. We still needed to travel congested boulevards to the dusty field.

         During one Berry phone call, Koski relented. He’d find a way to pay Chuck, stood up and headed back to the fairgrounds.

         Chuck Berry was still on the line. “Be in front of the hotel in five minutes,” he told me.

        I walked out in front and he pulled up in a rented Chevrolet. I get in; there was no seat belt. He had a map of France, inked with a route to the park. I get into the passenger seat and Chuck floors it.

         We were barely out of the city before traffic slowed.  Apparently not all of the 100,000 concertgoers were at the fairgrounds. The line of cars stretched 10 kilometers.

         When it comes to contracts, Chuck Berry is the most literal client I’ve ever known.  He may have delayed all day but now that the contract is in place, and he knew what conditions needed to be met, nothing was going to stop him.  He was late getting to the stage. He yanked the steering wheel to the left, turning the car into oncoming traffic. We crossed the lane and hit the shoulder. Chuck took the shoulder the rest of the way, rumbling past hundreds of cars. It was one half-hour after starting time.

         We reached the fairgrounds and were met by police.  One leaned in our window.

         We talked in English but there was one problem: they didn’t know who Chuck Berry was, and didn’t know that they were talking to him. More arrived. There was more argument. It was now an hour past starting time.

         The hot August sun was still shining; the sun would not set for several hours.  In the background I heard a crowd of young, drunk, mad working-class people.

         Chuck Berry turned the car toward the main stage. We could see thousands pressing toward the front of the stage. And the math was easy: in a crowd of this size there were a good dozen assholes already causing serious problems.

         We reached backstage, parked and went to Koski’s on site office. He greeted us and, along with the newspaper’s publisher, we sat down at a table. I probably should have expected it: Koski pulled out a check.

         He pushed it over to Chuck.  There was one redeeming factor: it was for the full amount of Chuck’s request. Two bad things: it was a check, and this was Chuck Berry.

         To Chuck’s credit, he said thank you very much. Then he pushed the paper back and said what I knew he would say: “I only take cash.”

         Koski tried to persuade him. The box office was back in Paris. There were no tickets sold on the fairgrounds. There was no cash here.

         It’s the 1970s; Chuck Berry does not take checks. The IRS would eventually make sure he’d pay for that but, for now, Chuck Berry just went to his dressing room. The crowd waited.

         Koski needed cash fast and the nearest source was right in front of him. But  L’Humanite’s publisher would have none of it. So Koski started yelling at me.  I just yelled back it this is his fault; he should never have signed identical contracts. This was his problem, not mine. I was trying to appease everybody, but I represented Chuck Berry.

         Finally, the publisher looked around, grabbed a wastepaper basket and took off. There was nothing for me to do except to wait. I spent my time trying to keep Chuck happy.

         We were now well two hours past starting time. Jerry Lee and the band he brought with him probably pulled in around then, and probably found their way to whatever dressing room was assigned to them.

         The publisher, panting and sweaty, returned with the basket filled with cash. He somehow strong-armed the vendors into contributing into some kind of an impromptu benefit. The three of us go to the dressing room where Chuck Berry is waiting patiently. He took a look inside the container. He didn’t bother counting it. Instead he said, “I can see that you’re trying. I appreciate that.”

         And with that, he headed toward the stage in his silky red shirt and yellow pants, between three and four hours past starting time. The stage is filled with bottles and trash. The front row is police, keeping the crowd away.

         Berry tossed an ES-355 around his shoulder, walked onstage, flicked on his amp and turned to the musicians. 

         “Watch my feet for the pace,” he said, “And watch my guitar for the stops.”

         He began the riff for “Johnny B. Goode.” For his contractually obligated hour and not one minute more he ran through his usual set. I want to say Berry turned the crowd into a dancing mass of happy French. That’s never the case for people who’ve waited almost four hours. But at least they stopped throwing stuff.

         Minute 59 came to end. Chuck Berry turned off his amp, leaned a guitar against it, and then walked off the stage and toward me.

         “OK,” he said. “Let’s go.”

         And that was it. We got back in the car, just us and a wastepaper basket of money, leaving behind an exhausted promoter, and traveled down the dirt road, looking for an exit. 

         Behind us was the familiar sound of a bass drum as Jerry Lee’s band tested the stage sound. Soon I heard the tinkle of piano keys. Koski’s voice came over the P.A, introducing Jerry Lee.

         “Mmmmmmm,” Jerry Lee said. “You better open up my honey, it’s me who’s a knockin’.”

         Like it once was, Jerry Lee was no longer country. I imagined him kicking away his piano stool as we reached the gate.

I was exhausted. Alone in my room in the George V.  Chuck was long gone, catching a flight to another country, another show. It was 11 p.m., still August, still hot.

         But it was Paris. The city is was still alive, and I was hungry, and I had friends here. There was no way I wasn’t going to leave without getting a good dinner.  I called a few friends I knew here and we met nearby, at a packed bistro.

         It was one of hundreds of the best restaurants in the city, which meant it was one of the best in the world. We found a table near the bar and waited for our server.  I lifted my head and looked around. Through the crowd I noticed a shock of blond hair.

         Koski. A very tired Koski. 

         He left the same time I did. The headliner was on, the security was in place. To Koski, the show was over.

         I reluctantly put my napkin on the table, stood up and took a long slow walk around the tables. Koski was with his wife, film screenwriter and director Danièle Thompson, who may have been better known than her rock and roll husband.

         “Albert,” I said, holding out my hand. Koski couldn’t have been more concerned about his dinner.

         “It’s been a long day, hasn’t it?” I asked.

         Koski snuck a look at his wife, equally blonde and quiet.

         I dropped my hand, turned and went to my friends.

         It was his fault.

A Touring Hospital: Interview with Entour Med’s Jeremy Pinyard

As founder of Nashville-based EnTour Med, Dr. Jeremy Pinyard has developed a concept that one would assume would be more common: getting touring artists a home base for medical treatment.

Yes, A-list musicians may have their “Rock Docs,” and movie and television stars their equivalents, but not every artist can afford to have a doctor with them 24/7. EnTour Med works to fill the gap.

Pinyard began the company, currently staffed with four doctors plus nurse practitioners and support staff. Traveling musicians don’t have the luxury of keeping their medical records in the van.

I’ve said if I could write a book about this, I’d call it, ‘Artists in Their Pajamas’ or ‘Rock Stars in Their Underwear,’” Pinyard said. “When I see them, they’re not the people you see onstage. They’re just human beings, in front of us, in trouble.

“And I’ve been in rooms with my idols. People I’ve listened to my whole life. And I’ve thought, OK, you’re just as sick as everybody else so maybe I can get you feeling good again and that will be my little bump to contributing to your life and moving forward.”

EnTour Med could be defined as a worldwide PPO composed of doctors with whom EnTour has developed relations.

What’s your background?

I come from New Jersey. I went to the University of Tennessee where I studied biochemistry then got a graduate degree in neuroscience. After that, I went to Northeastern University to study music business. I thought I wanted to make a radical departure because I was unhappy with neurobiology research. Well, I get up there, liked the music industry but always felt like medicine is more my calling. I thought, how could I swing it and get back into the entertainment industry?

Five years ago, I fortuitously landed this collaboration when I moved to Nashville.

I didn’t know a soul. I moved here from my ex-wife’s job. What I found out is that it is such an approachable city and I just started calling people I read about, people in the music/entertainment business, medical field, biotech, the head of Nanotech Institute. I would introduce myself: “I’m a medical doctor, I’m new to town, I’m not trying to sell you anything or buy anything. I just like what you do and wondered if you’d like to have a cup of coffee.”

Pretty much everyone said yes. I started building this network of great people.

I was working as a critical care doctor. My background was in intensive care. Ultimately, as I moved my way into the entertainment space, I got a phone call on a Wednesday evening in November from somebody I just met.

“’Hey, we have a Grammy-winning artist that’s in town that’s sick. They’re supposed to be in the studio tomorrow. Would you mind coming and seeing this person?’”

I said sure. Management – from a London-based firm – called and gave me a cloak & dagger thing: “Go to the hotel and give them this fake name and they’ll take you up this elevator and you’ll go see this person.”

I thought, what am I getting into?

I get there. The concierge is waiting. They knew who I was so I got upstairs, met the artist, got them all sorted out and they were back in the studio the next day.

About three days later I get another phone call. They heard I saw that other artist and wondered if I would mind seeing this one.

This just kept happening, every couple of days! “Go in the studio!” “Go into this house!”

I kept thinking, where are the doctors here? Where are the people taking care of these artists? Surely, they have their own heath care team. But they didn’t!

That’s where the idea began. I realized touring artists, especially country artists, spend 70-80 percent of their time on the road. If they’re living in a regional healthcare system, they are isolated by that system when they’re not home.

How so?

For example, if someone is attached to Vanderbilt University Health Care System, which is a big one here in our area, and they get sick in Iowa, they’re shit out of luck. There’s nothing that can be done as far as communicating medical records. If they land in ER and something goes wrong, it’s up to them, their staff or management to convey the medical background or what’s going on.

You probably know as well as I do that when you’re in an emergency situation and your memory is not good, you don’t know what medications you’ve been prescribed. You don’t know where you’ve been. You just know you’re not feeling well.

Starting about five years ago, we lost several artists to overdoses as the opioid epidemic was coming into play. They were traveling around and getting prescribed high amounts of opioids for different issues. Some of them would use their celebrity status to manipulate these prescriptions.

As I began to realize this, management was getting me involved to see how we could stop it.

I said, “Well, this is easy: You have a phone, I have a phone, let’s just make it a thing.”

The company began to take shape as a tele-health company. Someone might get sick somewhere, and I or my staff would get on the phone with those doctors. We’d find medical help. We began to be the liaison, the coordinator for what’s going on.

The idea was to keep the artists from having to go to those walk-ins, having to go to those hospitals, having to go seek help because, instead, they could pick up the phone and call.

We really started to manage and solve this increase where people started booking more shows. We had an artist here two years ago – big celebrity – who booked a show at Bridgestone Arena. He got sick the night of his big show and we not only got him to perform, he added two more shows because he was feeling so great – all sold-out.

We began seeing this response that we called the EnTour Effect. The EnTour Effect is the artists are getting healthier, they’re feeling stronger, more empowered, performances are going up, they’re recording better – all this stuff that started to bloom.

Why hasn’t this been done before?

The answer was, it was really difficult. And getting into the entertainment industry is very laborious. We had to come at it from a place where we would never take anything from these artists; we’re not here to be your friends or fanboys. We’re here to take care of problems for you.

And the Nashville scene is especially insulated. It’s tough to break in.

Los Angeles is a little different; people there were really receptive to us. But here, one of the first artists I picked up was through referral and I started working with him and ended up getting an email from someone in management wondering who I was.

I remember going to a conference room and there are, like, five people looking at me at the other end of the table. They’ve got my resumé, they pulled up my LinkedIn. It was like an interview process! It was really awkward; I felt like I was in the principal’s office!

Also, there was this looming Imposter Syndrome going on. Who am I to be here? I’m just a guy who showed up and started asking questions. I didn’t feel I had anything special to offer; I’m just here.

It took me a while to accept that this was really valuable, I’m valuable, the service is valuable and it’s worth talking to people about. As I became more confident, these conversations got a lot easier and I didn’t mind being interrogated.

Any interesting stories?

I met an artist early on that had been working on losing some weight. The CMAs were coming up. He went through this long history. He had probably been to 17 different physicians around the country – people giving him hormones and all kinds of stuff. Diagnoses left and right, up and down. All sorts of treatments, all sorts of side effects.

He had a basketful of prescription medications that I could barely wrap my arms around, finger to finger.

We started breaking it down; I started digging into his medical records. It turns out that the gentleman was just diabetic! He had never been diagnosed because no one had ever taken the time to really do the basic medical-school work to go through it. You know, when you go see a hormone doctor, they’re going to put you on hormones!

I told him, man, let’s get rid of all of this shit. He came off of it and lost all of the weight.

That is the value of having a good primary doctor: to say this is getting crazy. Let’s get rid of all of this. And that’s a scenario that plays out over and over.

How does this confusion happen?

It’s not a failure of the doctor. It’s not that they have bad doctors here. When artists are busy and touring that much, they just don’t have time to see a doctor. That’s the main thing.

If you’ve been in a doctor’s office lately, it’s a half-a-day affair just to check in, for someone to take a look at you and to come back when the lab work is ready. You just don’t have the ability to waste six hours out of a day and to come back later.

So, they just avoid that and the avoidance is what has caused all these issues. Then they’re feeling bad and someone just recommends a visit to a friend in Colorado who does whatever. Or they’re coming out of drug rehab and get sent somewhere. They just get shuffled around and nobody is the quarterback. Nobody is saying, “I don’t think this is a good use of your time” or “We’ve got someone closer to us that can handle this sort of thing.”

One of Nashville’s main features other than entertainment is healthcare. You can’t swing a dead cat in this town without hitting a doctor’s office. It’s very easy to get to a doctor; it’s just the time it takes.

I feel like that’s a big issue in our country right now. We avoid doctors because it’s not a good experience. It takes too long.

In that last example, though – how many wrong turns had to happen to have 17 misdiagnoses?

In this artist’s case, he had been in drug rehab in Colorado, was having some issues with his health, he saw the psychiatrist that was there and basically was diagnosed with a psychiatric issue. He was put on more medications to help.

When he was released, he got a referral to another psychiatrist here in town when he came back home who continued that diagnosis but then he was complaining about fatigue, which he thought was a side effect. They sent him to Florida to see a specialist. Then he was up in New York, then someone in Seattle. He was just getting pushed around. Bless his heart, super nice guy but the status of his celebrity also kept him from taking a hard look and saying, hey, this is ridiculous.

I see that a lot, especially when artists are hospitalized. When someone is in the hospital, they get put in with VIP status and basic steps get skipped. Little stuff gets missed and they turn into big issues. It’s just doing the sequence of work, doing the pattern, doing what you’re supposed to do to make the right diagnosis.

When I looked back at the original psychiatrist’s notes, it was there. The diabetes was diagnosed: the hemoglobin numbers showed it. She just didn’t look at it.

So now you’re getting doctors treating the side effects of other doctors. Suddenly it’s out of control.

Everything seems so specialized when it could be simple.

The term we use is holistic medicine and that doesn’t mean herbs and Eastern stuff. It’s looking at the patient as a whole person. The UK is very good at this in their system, which is socialized. I had the privilege of training in the UK when I was at Cambridge.

You go to a primary care doctor first that’s in your town and because they’re government employees, the government is able to control how many doctors per capita. The area is never really full. You see your PC doctor and if they can’t figure it out, they’ll refer you to a specialist. It’s a proper channel where you can’t just show up at a specialist, say you have a headache, and they fix your testosterone level. You miss the forest for the trees.

Here, we have such high specialization, everyone is isolated, working in different groups and nobody is communicating. It makes it really difficult to practice if you’re someone that’s moving. And for patients who are constantly moving, it’s very difficult to have access to your healthcare. Here and in other countries too.

It’s a mess!

So, what’s your recommendation for artists and touring managers? How do you correct something like this?

Well, hire us! You probably have a PPO. You may see your doctor; you may see someone else but the notes should be standardized and you get homogenized care. But that’s not always the case.

What happens after hours? Your practice should have someone on call. But you call, they’re closed, and you go to the emergency room. Those doctors have no idea what’s going on. They just do their best to get you back on your feet. It’s called, “Treat ‘Em and Street ‘Em.” They get people back out there and tell them to go see their doctor tomorrow. That’s not good enough if you’re on the road.

You need a tele-health system. Tele-health docs can get on the phone with you, manage the issue, make calls on your behalf where you are. If you have to get a specialist, we’ll call the cardiologist office in the middle of the night, wake the doctor up, bring them out there. We’ll talk to the ER doctor if you have to so you’re facilitating care that’s moving through so you’re giving the right information so the doctors on site can make the best choices and not just guessing.

Everybody wins: the doctors taking care of the patients like it, the patients like it, we like it because everyone is working together.

So, for traveling artists, they need to be attached ideally to a practice that has the facility and the ability to have someone on call 24/7 when they can pick up the phone, get on Facetime with somebody, show them what’s happening, get the right care that they need and have access to those medical records.

How many people in the entertainment know about you? What’s the percentage?

Ah, not many. I work mostly with artists here in Nashville. I’ve got a couple in Austin and a couple in LA who happen to be moving through. I don’t do any press or outreach. It’s just word of mouth.

That’s largely by design so we can maintain our focus. I’m not ready to scale to a capacity where we can land all this stuff.

But this is my fifth year doing this and it takes a while to get this running. We’re getting faster now. With Covid, we had to pivot, step back and see what was going on. Ideally, I would like to offer services to anyone in the entertainment space. I would like to develop a film aspect, have medical care for someone on set.

We had an actor who got hurt two years ago while they were filming in Namibia.

Being able to interact with staff and people when they’re in foreign countries, to me, is the favorite thing to do. Using Google Translate, figuring this out, getting drugs, working in different languages.

Again, it’s just about being able to take your doctor with you. If you have a phone, it’s all set.

Does this mean you travel as well as have a network?

Both of those things happen. I’m traveling to go to see an artist – to set things up for the first time or they’ve been hospitalized. If they’ve been hospitalized, we’ve been on the phone the whole time working that and I’m on a flight to get them in and out of a hospital quickly. All those boxes get checked.

You would be surprised at how many misses happen in a hospital. It’s crazy.

With the goal of getting that artist back on the road (because that has insurance issues) it becomes a snowballing effect. The artist must stay on that schedule.

Now, when I’ve got someone who’s been injured in a foreign country I’m definitely not flying there. That’s not a good use of my time. I’m finding staff that’s on the ground there, working with local doctors. If they have EMS on site, we’re coordinating with them. All the information is coming back to me or my staff in real time so we can coordinate the care. We want to get out of the way of what people on site are doing. We’re just making sure no mistakes are made.

But I assume you have a staff and a network – people in certain cities who do certain things. They’re not on your payroll but it’s like your own version of a PPO.

Correct! I have a full-time staff here, four docs who work with me. We rotate calls. We’re basically a Big Tech company. We have our technology staff that manages our EMR and financials.

Here’s an example about being out of state: We had an artist who was coming back from vacation in Mexico. They had to land the plane because he was having chest pain. Turns out the artist was doing a lot of cocaine while on vacation and was having a heart attack.

They landed in Iowa. Now we’re working with the airline support team to make sure EMS is on the way and I’m speaking to the on-call cardiologist at the hospital. We are giving the background.

So, now, we have a doctor that’s in this town that is familiar with our work. In situations like this, we’ve naturally grown our network.

I tell you, everyone I talk to – docs on call in the middle of the night – are always happy to help. The number one question I get, always, is how did I get this job?

It is a very natural, organic process where we have a lot of docs that I’m now familiar with in New York City – we can refer people out, they can come to the hotel, come to their house. It’s building this national, globalized network that we can put people in place.

And, if they want to get paid, I’m happy to pay them.

Then, doggone it, how wide is this network?

We had to work with a doctor in Singapore two years ago.

Would you say the 48 contiguous?

For sure. We have someone in Anchorage that’s seen patients for us.

OK, well, what about here in Fresno?

In a case like that, I would hope somebody in the group would have my number and dial it immediately, first call. While we’re talking, my staff is calling 911. We’ve got the GPS location from the phone so we can direct EMS. We’re on the line with EMS while they’re approaching. We’re manipulating the situation from afar. If somebody partied too hard, EMS can administer something for chest pains, something like a beta blocker, a first-line treatment. Unless there’s cocaine on board. You never want to give a beta blocker where there’s cocaine so this is very important information of what the artist is actually doing to precipitate the event.

After EMS, it’s on the phone with the hospital with the ER doctor who’s going to be receiving. They have all the information. We’re faxing things that they need. When the plane lands, we should be prepared to get them, stabilized and out of the hospital as quick as possible.

Then we’re dealing with the management. Coordinating all the moving parts.

But you say “we” and you recently said four doctors who work with you. This sounds like support staff.

We have managing support staff also. There are nurses, a couple PAs and nurse practitioners who work with us. They’re typically handling that work. The physicians are always interacting with the patient. Nothing bothers me more than wanting to go see a doctor and you’re stuck with a nurse practitioner or a PA, someone you don’t want to talk to and can’t make decisions on your behalf.

You should be super popular by now.

Well, one of the reasons I’m not is because doing this is really expensive. They ask why they can’t see their regular doctor. Well, where was your regular doctor the last time you were partying in Fresno?

We try to find the price point that makes sense.

When we first conceptualized this, I really had limited insight toward the entertainment space. I assumed all artists were rich and famous. That’s not the case. These are all hardworking people, grinding it out, barely making a living most of the time. The ones that rise to the top are a small minority. We deal with people who are just like us: blue collar.

I work with a couple of nonprofit organizations here. We do free medical services for people, especially during Covid when they’ve all lost their jobs.

How big do you want to get?

That digs into my own pathology. One of the things I really love about this job is helping an artist do their job. It’s an amplification of my own work. When I work in ITUs I see one patient at a time so it’s this outcome-driven situation where I began to feel that I had so much more to offer that I can help way more people but had to figure out how to do that. I get a multiplier effect if I can get this artist back onstage and he or she can broadcast out to their fanbase.

My pathology is I want to help as many people as I can. How big do I want to grow? I don’t know! There’s a tipping point where it gets too heavy and the quality of work starts to diminish. We’re not there yet. With Covid we were able to restructure, clean up some of the bullshit in the company and focus down. Now that we’re seeing this 2021-2022 rise, we’re now looking at how many more artists, what quality we’re looking at, how we make ourselves available.

There are plenty of doctors that would love to come work with us. The work is nice, it’s easy, good clients, it’s interesting. It’s a good quality of life. I’m doing gardening in the afternoon; that doesn’t happen when you’re on call at a hospital.

I would love to see this entity spread but I’m not the person to grow it.

Confidentiality must be especially difficult at times.

I can’t say who my patients are and that can be difficult in the entertainment industry, where you’re driven by, “Oh, I’m working with this artist” and you build your reputation with who you’re working with. We don’t have the luxury of doing that. We have so many high-end and low-end artists but we don’t get to tell anyone who they are. Confidentiality is incredibly important.

It is frustrating because there are a lot of great stories.

How many people total?

Before Covid, close to 700 patients. With Covid, we moved everybody to a free service. I’ve probably kept track of maybe 100 to 120. Now, we’re looking to scale up fast because everyone is looking to get back on the road.

NIVA: Now What?

The National Independent Venue Association was one of the few positive byproducts of the Covid-19 pandemic. As businesses shuttered, NIVA, under the auspices of First Avenue Productions’ Dayna Frank among others, was formed to lobby Congress for emergency relief for independent venues. The association eventually built coalition of more than 3,000 members from all 50 states, Washington DC and Guam.

With the efforts of NIVA, the Shuttered Venues Operators Grant Program was signed into law in December, allocating $15 billion in federal emergency relief via the Small Business Administration. NIVA also raised more than $3 million in relief independently.

This was the motivation behind NIVA’s formation. What does one do now with a trade organization? We asked that question to NIVA spokeswoman Audrey Fix Schaefer

One could say that the National Independent Venue Association has achieved its stated goal, having received government funding of $15 billion. So now what?

Right. NIVA is a 501(c)6. It’s a trade association but the trade org has a 501(c)3, the National Independent Venue Association Foundation, or NIVA Foundation. Underneath that umbrella we have been raising money for, and distributing money through, the Emergency Relief Fund.

It was taking Congress a long time to pass the bill and venues were going under as we waited. We created a fundraiser with YouTube, the Save Our Stages Festival. That was a major contributor to the money we were able to raise. There were others: Jägermeister and other individuals who have donated. We’ve gotten more than $3 million distributed to about 160 venues across the country, giving them a lifeline as they wait federal funding.

Thank goodness we now know that April 8 is when the Small Business Administration is going to open up application processes for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant. We cannot wait for that day when venue operators and promoters can get the emergency relief they’ve so desperately needing since last March.

In the meantime, we’ve been readying ourselves as a full-fledged trade association for independent venues, promoters and festivals.

Before, we weren’t together on anything. But it was clear we had to fight for our own, individual business survival and each other’s to be successful. We’ve established loyalty and comradery.

First, we survive, then we thrive.

So what does the future hold?

We’re working on reopening assistance. Venues and promoters can find the most up-to-date literature at our website.

We are also focusing on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for members. While we have been shuttered, a lot has gone on in our country to put a spotlight on our ability to do even better in that regard on DEI. We have a committee that is providing guidance for members on that.

Where exactly can one find the literature?

Members have access to a member portal that includes reopening guidebooks. We get information from all sorts of resources across the country on best practices.

It’s a fast-moving environment right now. Thankfully, the vaccines are coming more quickly and they can’t come soon enough. This is now a post-vaccine industry.

NIVA can be contacted at