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.
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.
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.
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 MercuryNews? 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 WatsonvillePajaronian. 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 AngelesTimes. 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 VenuesToday 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 VenuesToday, 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 TheReal, 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 fornext 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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are several significant names in the fabric of American life that have a background in music promotion. We can start with film entrepreneur Jerry Weintraub. There are others like Roger Ailes, who produced Broadway shows. There are yet others that nobody wants to talk about anymore.
Then there is one of the most significant names in criminal defense, Mark Geragos. He has spent 40 years building a formidable reputation as a defense attorney, representing everyone from Gary Condit to Wynonna Ryder to Scott Peterson. Those in the music industry recognize his name for his defense of clients Michael Jackson, Chris Brown, and Nate Dogg.
However, what few probably know is that he began his career as a concert promoter, turning a restaurant called Perkins Place in Los Angeles into one of the hippest joints in the market. The building began in 1924 hosting opera and vaudeville and was, at times, a movie theatre including for porno.
One person who never forgot is “Poorman,” the online persona of Jim Trenton, a DJ at KROQ who wrote the following:
“Perkins, originally The Raymond Theatre, became the destination for live shows by all the new bands KROQ played, including Oingo Boingo, X, the Go-Go’s, Romeo Void, Adam and the Ants and plenty of punk shows.
“The promoter of Perkins, to this day, was the best I’ve ever seen,” Trenton wrote. “He was a swashbuckling, skinny, loud-spoken, quick-talking guy about to attend law school … . You might recognize his name: Mark Geragos.
“He could have gone in a different direction and become the greatest concert promoter of all time. He promoted these shows in cooperation with the station. The way listeners won tickets was to bring in a bag of 100 soda and beer cans to the station for recycling and they’d receive a pair of tickets in exchange. You can probably imagine the mess! Trash bags filled with cans were everywhere in the KROQ building.”
This was 40 years ago. Mr. Geragos can be forgiven for not recalling the details but he can be applauded for remembering so many. And, yes, it is entertaining to hear him list off punk bands.
There’s plenty of information out there when it comes to your history as an attorney but not much at all when it comes to your history as a concert promoter. What got you involved?
I was going to law school and I had done some concert bookings while I was in college. It was interesting. The guy who I had worked for when I was in high school as a waiter had purchased a theater and I thought it would just be a perfect venue to do concerts. We did a couple, starting off with Smokey Robinson, I think. Then we did one other.
I had buddies over at KROQ and all of a sudden it occurred to me we could be doing festival-style shows downstairs and spotlight bands starting to make it in the New Wave scene. We took bands like Oingo Boingo which, at the time, was playing high schools. I like to take credit as the first person to put them onstage on Halloween. I think we did that two years in a row until the Universal Amphitheatre stole them from me and sold it out at its 6,000-capacity.
Then we did bands like The Ramones, Gang of Four, 999. We used to break bands that were being played on KROQ. I had the DJs there as my announcers.
We would also throw comedians up. That was a scary thing for a comedian with these kinds of crowds back then. I used to laugh, saying it was feeding the Christians to the lions, to put a comedian up in front of people waiting for Siouxsie And The Banshees.
For that show – Siouxsie And The Banshees – we had a moshpit in the front and that place got crazy! At one point people were spitting on her and she didn’t take lightly to that and I think concked somebody over their head with her guitar. The Pasadena police arrested her right after the show.
I thought it was the guitarist.
It might have been. I thought it was Siouxsie. I don’t remember! It’s been 40 years. Until I talked to you, I didn’t realize it’s been more than 40 years.
(Editor’s note: Siouxsie once said, “John McGeoch got arrested in Pasadena. Some girl was getting beaten up in the audience. And John, being a fiery Scotsman, just went and whacked the man on the head with his guitar. The man had the nerve to file a complaint against him for assaulting him with the guitar! It was an acoustic guitar as well, it wasn’t a *heavy* one.”)
I remember, whoever it was who got arrested, my father, who had just left the DA’s office, represented them and got it dismissed.
This is taking me down memory lane too. Gang of Four would have been my band in junior high.
Yup! And The Waitresses we did there. Romeo Void. The Go-Go’s. Oh geez, the English Beat!
The highlight had to be when we did a surprise show with The Pretenders. They had already sold out four nights, I believe, at Santa Monica Civic and this was a surprise show on the fifth night. And who walks in but Bruce Springsteen! He gets on stage with Chrissie Hynde and they do Jackie Wilson’s “Higher & Higher.”
I said to somebody, “I think this is about as good as a way to go out on promoting rock concerts as I’ll ever have.”
So this was 1979-1982. If I know my history, that ended because you, well, just wanted to go into law.
Right. I always wanted to be a lawyer but I loved music and I had a bunch of friends at KROQ. There were great synergies. It was a magical time in rock ‘n’ roll.
That seemed to be a lot of hipness for 1980, to be honest.
… That was the hair band era. You’d be more excited to have people excited about Night Ranger than the Violent Femmes, at least where I came from. But clearly you had enough successful shows to keep going; you had a crowd for it. But of course, we’re talking Los Angeles.
It really was an incubator at that point. KROQ was coming into its own. We just caught a wave, if you will. It was a magical period of time.
Online you can still see Perkins Place itineraries and they lean more toward old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll like Paul Stanley’s solo project.
Those sort of came after my time. But I do remember a few shows that stick out. George Thorogood & The Destroyers was not one of our typical acts but I loved the music and he did 50 States in 50 Days and we were the 50th show.
Then, also, we did The Plasmatics for three or four nights, then I took them down to the Olympic Auditorium and we tried to blow up a bus onstage. I was not selling my third show with the Plasmatics so what we had to do is I announced on KROQ that I was going to have Wendy O. Williams blow up my partner Jim Perkins’ Lincoln Continental if we sold out. Well, that sold the show out and she did. She blew up Jim’s Continental onstage.
It’s ironic because I had a rather fractious relationship with the fire department back then. Now my law office is in a rehabbed fire building.
Do you recall working with agents at the time?
I do. I recall Ian Copeland, who was the brother of Stewart Copeland of The Police, who ran the FBI (Frontier Booking International). Then we had a contact at William Morris and another person, Rick Olson, that I bought acts from. For a while there, Copeland and FBI was very, very tight with us.
I know this person who worked at a record company at the time as an intern and loved making deliveries at FBI because it had the cutest receptionist.
… who one day became famous as Courtney Cox.
There were two other guys I worked with. One was about my age, who worked for Bill Graham and we coordinated because they were up in San Francisco. Talk about a Concert Promoters Association! [editor’s note: we called around and the person was likely longtime BGP exec Danny Scher].
There were certain synergies. Elmer Valentine was still alive at the Whisky. He was legendary.
Do you think this part of your life, and the interactions you had, helped inform your relationships with future music/entertainment clients?
I don’t think there is any doubt that having dealt with talent in a high-charged situation builds a skill set.
Perkins Place shuttered temporarily in 1984 after Geragos joined his father’s law firm and Avalon Attractions, which picked up where Geragos left off, grew weary of neighbor’s complaints. It wrapped with a show by The Cult in 1984 and reopened in 1987 with the help of Pacificoncerts, run by former Avalon exec Roger Shepherd.
As executive director of the North American Concert Promoters Association, I would like to briefly introduce myself and associate director Linda Moody.
I have been involved in the concert business since the mid-90s when I began a career at Pollstar Magazine, which started in my hometown of Fresno, Calif. My original career path involved education. My father was the superintendent of the Herndon School District and I was expected to become a high-school English teacher.
However, one thing they tell you in the state teacher’s credentialing program: There’s a big need for teachers. One thing they don’t tell you: Nobody’s hiring.
At Pollstar, I initially had a data-entry position that helped pay off my school debt.
From there I learned not only the basics of the concert industry (what an agent, promoter, and manager do) but also important names of businesses and individuals involved in the industry.
My introduction to NACPA came through the Concert Industry Consortium of 1998 when it sponsored the keynote address by Tom Ross, the head of the CAA music department.
Over time, I was promoted to national news editor of Pollstar and noted how NACPA continued to play its vital role in the concert industry. My knowledge grew as did my contacts. I rode elevators with Sharon Osbourne, was told by Frank Barsalona why he never smiles (he fell out of a tree as a kid and paralyzed his face), got chewed out by the important people by rites of passage, and met some of the coolest people in the world. I watched my life get immersed by The Station fire in West Warwick, R.I., reported on the the merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster and saw the head-scratching emergence of e-sports. Along the way there were numerous interviews with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Dan Aykroyd, Taylor Swift, Michael Bublé and many others.
As time presented, again, a change, I left my position to take care of my aging mother up to the time of her passing. In 2019, my career path went full circle when offered to take up where Cynthia and Ben Liss left off – to continue the legacy of NACPA. It’s understood that’s a big assignment.
Alongside with me at NACPA is Linda Moody. Linda is a longtime associate who has an extensive background in banking and office management. We look forward to working with all of you as the concert business begins to reopen later this year and the years ahead.