Tag Archives: Bookings

Michael Jackson Arena Show Details Emerge

6 Nov

The storyboard for Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour centers around “The Giving Tree.”

The Michael Jackson arena show, a collaboration between the Estate of Michael Jackson and Cirque du Soleil, now has a name, a director and an on-sale date. To be called “Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour,” it opens, as do all Cirque shows, at the Bell Centre, Montreal, a year from now (Oct. 2-3, 2011). To date, 28 shows in 2 markets have been announced.

Finn Taylor, GM Arena Shows for Cirque, said the North American tour is 95 percent booked and will involve at least 30 or 40 more shows. In the second year, it will play Europe. The routing plan is similar to all Cirque productions. “We’re looking at a three-year world tour,” Taylor said.  And like all Cirque shows, it can stay on the road like a family show production, without concern for the late celebrity’s stamina.

Unlike other arena shows he books, however, this one does not involve scaled down venues, usually in the 4,500-5,000 seat range for a traditional Cirque arena show. In fact, he is looking at 15,000 or more seats for most dates. “This is a full arena show.”

“From a production point of view, it’s like a Michael Jackson concert with an end stage,” Taylor said. “You will walk in the arena and feel like you’re at a concert.” The choreography and music, therefore, will be relevant to Jackson, with Cirque creativity to enhance it.

The writer and director is Jamie King, who has spent the past 12 years as Madonna’s creative director. He also directed Rihanna’s Last Girl On Earth world tour, Celine Dion’s Taking Chances world tour, The Return of the Spice Girls reunion tour, Britney Spears’ Circus tour and Avril Lavigne’s Best Damn tour. This is his first collaboration with Cirque, but not with Michael Jackson. King worked with Jackson in his early years.

The Immortal World Tour will benefit from access to Jackson’s entire catalog of music, videos and costumes, King said. The late Michael Jackson will be the “narrator” through recordings and lyrics he left behind. Sixty dancers and singers will tell a fairytale story set in Jackson’s Neverland, using his “iconic industrial looks” for costumes and his own voice singing lead. “Michael was a huge fan of Cirque,” King added, but no one can sing Michael Jackson like Michael Jackson. The “Giving Tree,” positioned as the wellspring of Michael Jackson’s creativity, is the centerpiece of the story.

The goal is to “contaminate” the audience, King’s phrase for engage. Pyrotechnics and flying people are a matter of course.

There will be no impersonators, King guaranteed. The show is theatrical, with the spectacular effects that make the live concert experience and Cirque shows so popular with patrons. King compared it, in size, to Madonna’s last tour, the heaviest and biggest he’s ever produced before. “Imagine people overhead doing the moonwalk,” he said, adding that’s not necessarily in the show.

Taylor said the show will probably move in 25 trucks. In addition to the 60 artists, there will be 60 in the crew. The smallest arena on the tour is the 12,000-seat Mandalay Bay Events Center, Las Vegas, where it will play a few dates during the holidays, Taylor said. It does not have anything to do with Cirque’s Michael Jackson show planned for Mandalay Bay’s theater, to open in 2013. “The Vegas shows are much different shows; the theater is custom-built,” he noted.

Ticket prices for Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour range from a VIP price of $250 to a general public option of $50. First shot at purchase goes to Cirque Club members or MichaelJackson.com subscribers, both free to join. The presale runs from Nov. 3-6 and tickets go on sale to the general public Nov. 6.

A coordinated, global public relations campaign Nov. 3 had King and other principles doing media interviews while the arenas on the tour sent press releases to their lists and the two online clubs launched the pre-sale offer.

Merchandise will be handled by Bravado, the Jackson estate merchandiser. Creative support for King comes from Cirque’s Guy Laliberte, creative guide; Chantal Tremblay, director of creation; Mark Fisher, set designer; Saldy Goco, costume designer; Kevin Antunes, musical designer; Martin Labrecque, lighting designer; Olivier Goulet, projection and video content designer; Francois Desjardines, sound designer; Scott Osgood, rigging and acrobatic equipment designer; Germain Guillemot, acrobatic performance designer; and Michael Curry, props designer.

Tour dates so far include: Scotiabank Place, Ottawa, Ont., Oct. 7; Copps Coliseum, Hamilton, Ont., 12; Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, 15; John Labatt Centre, London, Ont., 18; Air Canada Centre, Toronto, 21; MTS Centre, Winnipeg, Manitoba, 26; Credit Union Centre, Saskatoon, Sask., 29; Rexall Place, Edmonton, Alta., Nov. 1; Rogers Arena, Vancouver, B.C., 4; KeyArena, Seattle, 9; Rose Garden, Portland, Ore., 18; EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City, 29; and Mandalay Bay Events Center, Las Vegas, Dec. 3-11.

The 2012 dates announced include: Pepsi Center, Denver, Jan. 6; Arena, Sacramento, Calif., 10; HP Pavilion at San Jose, Calif., 13; Oracle Arena, Oakland, Calif., 18; Valley View Casino Center, San Diego, 21; Honda Center, Anaheim, Calif., 24; Staples Center, Los Angeles, 27; Toyota Center, Houston, Feb. 10; AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami, March 2; Colisée Pepsi, Quebec City, 24; Madison Square Garden, New York, April 3; Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, 10; and Philips Arena, Atlanta, June 29.

The two producing entities will each own 50 percent of each Michael Jackson project, sharing equally in the cost of creating, developing, building and producing the projects and in the profits from each project. A typical Cirque production costs in the range of $15 million. This will be more.

The Estate of Michael Jackson will also receive royalty payments on various aspects of its intellectual property used in the Michael Jackson projects. Cirque du Soleil is the tour promoter. The show will rehearse at Cirque headquarters in Montreal. Dress rehearsal will be at the Bell Centre. —   Linda Deckard

Interviewed for this story: Finn Taylor and Jamie King, (514) 723-7646


New Smokeout Show Includes Medical Pot Hub

15 Oct

B-Real of Cypress Hill is promoting and performing at this year's Smokeout Festival in San Bernardino, Calif.

Long before the push in California to legalize marijuana, rap group Cypress Hill had encouraged their fans to light up at shows, but now they’re about to do so legally for the first time.

At the upcoming Cypress Hill Smokeout Festival on Oct. 16 at the National Orange Show Events Center in San Bernardino, Calif., Cypress and longtime partners and independent promoter Guerilla Union have teamed with Safe Access to offer medical marijuana patients a “consumption area” on the grounds. The move was undertaken after consulting with local authorities and ensuring that no laws would be broken in establishing the first-ever legal marijuana consumption zone at a major concert event in Southern California.

“After bringing Smokeout back last year after a four-year hiatus, in addition to the show we had a full-on medical marijuana trade show,” said promoter Chang Weisberg of Guerilla Union.

Soon after last year’s Smokeout ended, Weisberg began talks with the NOS Events Center staff and board of directors, the local San Bernardino Police Department and City Attorney about his plans. Though the city has a moratorium on such consumption zones, because the NOS is a state facility and state law allows medical marijuana patients to consume pot in a designated public location, Weisberg was able to get clearance.

Most importantly for him and the band, the compassionate use area will allow medical marijuana users to light up at the Smokeout without fear of police or security looking over their shoulders. “We have a lot of fans who are in favor of medical marijuana and, of those, maybe 10-percent in the crowd are legitimate patients.”

California’s 1996 Compassionate Use Act allows the state’s patients to possess and cultivate cannabis for personal medical use with a valid doctor’s recommendation.

Anyone wishing to enter must have their compassionate use card and bring in their own pot (one-eighth of an ounce max) to a special patient-only entrance on the grounds, where professionals will verify their status before they are allowed entry. Once in the segregated area, they will be allowed to consume their marijuana and attend the expo (which will be in the general population area) and will be given a special wristband that will give them access to the rest of the grounds. “It will be kind of like a beer garden,” said Weisberg, who has hooked up with the largest medical marijuana advocacy organization, Americans for Safe Access, on the project. Not only will volunteers be checking IDs, but the area will also have security from both Contemporary Services Corporation (CSC) and Apex.

Weisberg said there will be no sale of marijuana allowed on site, but he would like to facilitate sales for future concerts. At the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Northern California, the smaller-scale Harmony Festival has allowed consumption on site for several years and Weisberg noted that the Cow Palace in San Francisco has hosted the International Hemp and Cannabis Expo twice in 2010, where consumption was also approved.

The NOS venue — which hosts everything from a fair to private parties to a weekly outdoor flea market, gospel brunches and stock car races — was not involved in the negotiations to allow the legal consumption area.

Guerilla Union Senior Director Carla Garcia, who will be overseeing the compassionate use area, said it will be split into two sections, one on the north end of the venue and another on the south which, between them, will take up an acre or so. She described the vibe as “Zen-garden like” with bubbling water fountains and plenty of shade, but because of state regulations that say you cannot smoke within 20 feet of a tented area, there will be generous corridors around the limited vending in the two zones.

“One of our challenges is gauging how many of our attendants will be in that area,” she said. The best guess is that about 10 percent of the crowd – which last year numbered more than 30,000 over two days – will be eligible for entry. “We have to be extra cautious and we’re telling patients that they also have a responsibility to make sure they’re complying with the rules so that we can gain the trust of the venue and the public.”

Her estimate is that 3,000-3,500 patients will be in attendance and around 2,500 will qualify, which should make the two areas very comfortable and not overcrowded. Asked if there was an extra cost to setting the areas up, Garcia said between the chain link fencing, the extra security, signage and the party tables with umbrellas and other accents, the costs are under $10,000, with no upcharge to patients for entry.

In addition to Cypress Hill, the line-up for this year’s show includes Incubus, Manu Chao, Slightly Stoopid, Deadmau5, MGMT, Nas & Damian Marley, Atmosphere, Erykah Badu, Paul Oakenfold, Living Colour and Basement Jaxx.

Weisberg said that GU’s insurance company, Statewide, has underwritten the event 100 percent and he feels “comfortably protected” against any liability. “Food and beverage and parking have a big impact [on concert revenue], but medical marijuana could have an even larger impact on the live music business.” — Gil Kaufman

Interviewed for this article: Chang Weisberg, 626-290-5052; Lucy Gallegos, (909) 888-6788; Carla Garcia, 909 706 3672

Amateur Night at the Apollo Sees Attendance Spike

28 Sep

A contestant performs during Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater in New York.

The country’s longest-running talent competition has recently undergone a format change, which has boosted attendance 20 percent at the Apollo Theater in New York City.

Amateur Night at the legendary Harlem venue, which has been credited for launching the careers of Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Prince and Mariah Carey, has consistently been filling 1,526 seats, with 30 more standing-room-only attendees, on Wednesday nights.

This year, 42,919 tickets were sold for the theater, which utilizes an $8.7 million operating budget. Ticket prices range from $10 for students and seniors up to $27.

Marion J. Caffey, a former Broadway actor, writer, producer and choreographer who joined the Apollo as Amateur Night producer two years ago, has revamped the format by decreasing the number of contestants to 12 from between 20 to 25. A pre-show DJ party also was added an hour before show time, which has resulted in audience members dancing in the aisles.

“The goal was to tighten up the show so it moves along [at a better pace]. We wanted to offer better talent in a shorter time span,” Caffey said. “The show used to run two to three hours, but we’ve kept it at two hours, with a 15-minute intermission.”

The relaunch of Amateur Night coincided with the theater’s 75th anniversary last year.

“By holding a press conference and birthday celebration that focused on both our anniversary and Amateur Night, we brought more recognition and importance to the show,” said Nina Flowers, associate director of marketing and communications at the theater.

With the help of Amateur Night’s sponsor, Coca-Cola, the Apollo ramped up marketing and instituted theme nights.

In June, the theater collaborated with the New York Department of Education to create Teachers Night.

“New York teachers performed in a sold-out show,” Flowers said.

A Brooklyn theme night, geared for its residents, is scheduled for Oct. 2.

“It was important to be very careful and respectful when implementing new ideas into something that already works,” Caffey said. “But it was necessary to reinvent and infuse new energy into the show’s tried and true concept.”

Greater attention to marketing the show also has been credited for the attendance boost.

For the first time, the Apollo ran television ads on local station New York 1 and instituted a subway ad campaign.

“We also expanded our e-mail list to 60,000,” Flowers said.

In addition, it was announced this week that the theater will start holding online Amateur Night auditions to expand the show’s reach.

“We have a wonderful marketing department that has played a huge part in growing our audiences, plus word-of-mouth has been very good for the show,” Caffey said.

The new format has also helped expand the theater’s reach beyond the city. Between 40 to 60 percent of Amateur Night’s audiences are tourists, while another 20 to 30 percent are New Yorkers.

The show is divided into two parts. Child Stars of Tomorrow includes kids ages five to 15. The adult portion of the show follows. Audience members vote on the winners by applauding and cheering. Adult acts that don’t make the cut are booed off the stage.

Amateur Night winners compete in four Show Off competitions, which are held on separate nights. Winners move on to the Top Dog and then, at the end of the season, those winners compete in the final Super Top Dog show. The winner receives a $10,000 prize, while the Child Stars of Tomorrow champion wins $2,000.

“The talent Marion has brought in is exceptional. He has a knack for nurturing the performers,” said Billy “Mr. Apollo” Mitchell, the Apollo’s historian, tour guide and goodwill ambassador, who has been behind the scenes since 1964.

“Before American Idol, America’s Got Talent and Star Search, there was Amateur Night. We’ve launched more careers than any other talent competition,” Caffey said. “My goal is to birth a star.” – Lisa White

Interviewed for this article: Marion J. Caffey, (352) 219-5308; Nina Flowers, (212) 531-5334; Billy Mitchell, (212) 531-5337

Ravinia Wraps Summer with Improvements in Mind

14 Sep

MetraPark officials in Billings, Mont., had their work cut out for them when the 10,000-seat Rimrock Auto Arena was gutted by a tornado less than eight weeks before the start of the annual MontanaFair, which took place Aug. 13-21.

A tornado ripped through Billings on June 20, Father’s Day, and hovered over and swirled inside the Rimrock Auto Arena for at least 12 minutes.

“The grandstand is in perfect order, but it spent 12 minutes scouring the inside of the arena,” said Sandra Hawke, marketing director for MetraPark. “It just broke through the roof and sat there for 12 minutes.”

The bones of the building remain intact and most of the soft seats are salvageable, but the roof was ripped out and other damage was done to the interior.

“Not a soul” was on the grounds June 20 and no one was hurt, although people nearby had video cameras and images of the tornado ripping off the arena’s roof can be viewed on YouTube.

The community rallied to help pick up the debris and 1,500 volunteers showed up instead of the requested 500.

“Once we came out and said, ‘We are not canceling the fair, we’re going to move ahead,’ the community gave us kudos for that quick and definite response,” Hawke said.

The community also showed support by attending the fair at almost the same rate as the year before, with the final number ending up at 232,657 compared to last year’s 233,015.

The loss of the use of the arena for the fair meant finding a place to hold the event’s three large opening weekend concerts, so Hawke contacted Tim Kohlmeyer of Theatrical Media Services in Omaha, Neb., who set MetraPark up with an outdoor stage on the track of the grandstand. Insurance covered most of the cost of the outdoor staging.

Jason Aldean opened the fair Aug. 13 with tickets costing $45, $35 and $25; the Scorpions played Aug. 14, $45, $35 and $25; followed up by Hinder with Finger Eleven on Aug. 15, $35 and $25. The budget for the entertainment buys was $350,000 plus production, Hawke said.

The grandstand has a capacity of about 6,200 and the concerts all averaged about 5,600, so the loss of the arena’s extra seats was not a problem, Hawke said.

Those were the only concerts planned for the fair; however, Hawke had booked Celtic Woman for the day after the fair closed. That show could not be converted to an outdoor production.

Hawke called the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse in Bozeman, Mont., which picked up the Celtic Woman concert. Hawke also had to cancel concerts by Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, who already were routed to Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. Ticket sales were under way for those appearances; a concert by Rodney Carrington was about to go on sale and did not. Carrington now is playing the Adams Event Center in Missoula, Mont., on Nov. 18.

As to what it will cost to repair the Rimrock Auto Arena, “Let me first preface that by saying we are insured up to $121 million, and we’re probably in the vicinity of half of that, plus a little money for lost business.”

Since 1904, the Ravinia Festival has provided a forest sanctuary for music lovers in Highland Park, Ill. Despite climbing artist fees and a dismal economic forecast, Ravinia has managed to book superstar acts, add new improvements to its facilities, continue its community outreach, and keep people coming back for more.

“We have been very fortunate. We think we’re going to hit our goals from a ticket sales point of view and a fundraising point of view, which in this economy is cause for maybe not jubilation, but at least relief,” said Welz Kauffman, president and CEO of Ravinia Park. Although official numbers will not be available until later in the fall, Kauffman explained that current ticket sales are hovering around the venue’s annual average, which is between 550,000 and 600,000 tickets sold.

Ravinia has seen artist fees climb for the past 10 years as recording revenues drop and the competition from other entertainment venues in the Chicago area increases. The casino market has burgeoned in the past couple years, particularly in nearby Indiana. “It’s just one more place where artists can play, and the more places they have possible to play, the higher their fees,” said Kauffman.

This summer, Ravinia Festival presented 92 acts. Popular performances included Yo-Yo Ma, Renee Fleming, Earth Wind & Fire, Sheryl Crow, Rodrigo y Gabriela, and Sting, whom Kauffman dubbed the biggest artist Ravinia has had in its 106-year history. Sting performed to a sold out crowd in Ravinia’s 3,200-seat theater, the Pavilion, as well as attendees on the lawn, which fits approximately 14,000 people.

At four Chicago Symphony concerts this summer, Ravinia offered seats on the Pavilion for $25. Normal symphony seat prices can range from $50 to $90. Other popular promotions that Ravinia has been offering are special dining packages that range from $35 to $60 and include a meal, parking and performance ticket, and $10 seats in its 450-seat theater, Bennett-Gordon Hall.

After summer is wrapped, the Ravinia staff will get started on restoring the grounds and preparing them for the cold winter months. The staff drops from 500 to 50 from summer to off-season months, but Kauffman explained that the Ravinia staff continues to work hard after the music stops.

“We do a lot of prep work so [the grounds] can kind of hibernate,” said Kauffman. However, the large project expected to be completed by spring of 2011 is a new, handicapped-accessible, 42-foot pedestrian underpass that will connect the main parking lot to the Tyler Gate entrance on the festival grounds.

Because a train company constructed Ravinia as an amusement park in 1904, the train still stops at the front door of the park. This new pathway will pass under the train tracks, which have proved problematic for festival goers that park in the main lot, and have to wait as long as 30 minutes for trains to pass before being able to cross. “There have been some waiting issues, and it’s a real customer service problem. So we’re investing quite a lot of resources in building this underpass. It will be the major off-season project,” said Kauffman. The project, which has been in the works for the past eight years, will cost $5 million and will be privately funded by Ravinia.  — Linda Domingo

Lollapalooza Gets Green with Gaga

13 Aug

The entrance to Lollapalooza at Grant Park in Chicago

REPORTING FROM CHICAGO — With one of the most musically diverse festival lineups of the summer, Lollapalooza took over Grant Park in Chicago for the sixth year in a row on Aug. 6, 7, and 8. With 115 acres, 35 more than last year, Lollapalooza attracted 80,000 attendees per day. By adding acreage, the festival was said to have increased its selling capacity by 10 to 15 percent.

The 152-artist weekend included the likes of soul singer Raphael Saadiq, Eighties throwback DEVO, Austin indie darlings Spoon along with The xx, Metric, Kaskade, MGMT, Nneka, Erykah Badu and Cypress Hill. Headliners played simultaneously on the Budweiser and Parkways Foundation stages, which were at opposite ends of the park. Over a mile separated the two stages, so attendees were faced with tough decisions each night. Friday headliners were rockers The Strokes and dance-pop queen Lady Gaga; Saturday’s were the upbeat French group Phoenix and veteran punk band Green Day, and Sunday’s were the orchestral indie Canadians Arcade Fire versus 90s grunge band Soundgarden.

Festival sponsor F.Y.E. hosted an autograph tent on the northern end of the park, and organized autograph signings for fans with 49 of the weekend’s artists. F.Y.E. was brought on as a sponsor in 2007 when the local Virgin Megastore closed and now handles all CD and DVD sales for all bands in addition to doing the autograph sessions.

“Our lineup for signings has been incredible this year. Sales-wise, this is our best year so far,” said Shaun Smith, events supervisor at Trans World Entertainment, which operates F.Y.E. stores. Smith noted that the most popular meet and greet session was MGMT. Other favorites included The National, Phoenix and Spoon, who each attracted over 300 people.

Other festival sponsors included Sony, which set up the Bloggie Borrow Bar, where attendees could rent an HD camera for free and upload their videos online. H2O was Lollapalooza’s official water sponsor, chosen because of their product’s sustainable packaging. Rather than petroleum-based plastic bottles, h2O uses paper from managed forests and water-based ink in its packaging.

Chicago Chef Graham Elliot Bowles, owner of the local restaurant Graham Elliot, was culinary director for Chow Town, Lollapalooza’s two-street food court. Food vendors included local restaurants such as Big Star, The Southern, and Kuma’s Corner. Big Star offered elote (corn-on-the-cob) for $5, tostada de panza ($7), and coctel de frutas ($5). The Southern offered hush puppies with buttermilk ranch ($6), sweet potato fries with spicy ketchup ($6), and shrimp cocktail with peach sauce ($8); and Kuma’s Corner offered the Kuma Burger (bacon, cheddar, and a fried egg), Judas Priest burger (bacon, bleu cheese dressing with apples, walnuts and dried cranberries), and Iron Maiden burger (avocado, cherry peppers, pepper jack, and chipotle mayo), for $10 each. The most popular of the food booths at Lollapalooza, Kuma’s, cooked over 2,000 pounds of bacon within the three-day period. While many vendors had to undergo an application process, Kuma’s was personally invited by Graham Elliot and selected from an online reader’s poll of favorite Chicago restaurants.

“I think there was a benefit in terms of being exposed to a wide variety of people that haven’t heard of us or haven’t been able to make it out to the restaurant,” said Executive Chef Luke Tobias. “We were busy from noon to close, all three days. We sold a lot of burgers.”

Festival organizer C3 Presents implemented a number of environmental initiatives throughout the park. In addition to having h2O as a sponsor, there were eight water refill stations at Lollapalooza where attendees could refill any container with cold, fresh water. The stations were provided by Event Water Solutions, and cost $2,000 per unit, per day.

Emily Stengel, the Green Street production manager working for C3 Presents, explained that the refill stations were a last-minute addition to the festival, but were ultimately very effective.

“It was a huge step for greening Lollapalooza, even though it was added late in the game,” said Stengel. The refill stations filled enough water bottles to save 204,200 bottles. Near the main entrance of the festival, C3 Presents set up Green Street, a strip of vendors and booths dedicated to the themes of sustainability and fair trade. C3 also favored Chicago-based vendors in their selection process. Chicago-based clothing company Demographic and jewelry vendor Beads of Hope Africa were two companies at the event, whose owners both agreed that the large scale of the event and amount of exposure benefited them. “Nothing can touch this,” said John Ritter, co-owner of Demographic. “A normal street fair in Chicago will probably be between 2,000 and 5,000 people, so the sheer number of people [at Lollapalooza] is incredible.”

Since 2005, Lollapalooza has teamed with Parkways Foundation, the philanthropic partner of the Chicago Park District to raise over $5 million. This year, 10.25 percent of the event’s gross revenue will go to the foundation, and in 2009, C3 Presents and Parkways Foundation signed an agreement that will continue this alliance at least through 2018.

“It’s not just coming in as a large-scale music festival and then pulling out and leaving everything to be repaired. Rather, the idea is that Lollapalooza comes to town and it leaves Chicago a better place,” said Brenda Palms, executive director of Parkways Foundation.

To get attendees more involved with the “greening” of Lollapalooza, C3 Presents set up Rock and Recycle centers where patrons could get bags to fill with recyclables such as aluminum cans and plastic bottles. One full bag could be redeemed for a Lollapalooza T-shirt and a chance to win an Origin 8 bicycle. In order to operate the program, C3 designated 85 of its 300 Lollapalooza volunteers to run the booths and give out about 3,000 T-shirts.

“I think this year we took some major strides, and they proved to be successful so I’m really excited to see what the future brings and how we can become more environmentally friendly,” said Stengel. — Linda Domingo

Interviewed for this article: Shaun Smith (518) 452-1242; Luke Tobias (773) 604-8769; Emily Stengel (512) 294-1752; Brenda Palms (312) 742-4804

Smaller Markets Stay Proactive in the Quest to Book Events

3 Aug

REPORTING FROM HOUSTON —  Smaller venues in non-major markets can have a difficult time attracting high-grossing shows and events, but with some creativity, hard work and a little promoter hand-holding, venues of any size can develop events that serve their communities.

During the International Association of Venue Managers conference, a July 24th panel titled “Finding Affordable Events and Artists in Small Markets” brought together five facility professionals to discuss programming in tertiary cities.

“There’s a new person every day who wants to bring a show to market, but they don’t know the business. They don’t know how to make an offer, or what media to buy, or where to purchase sound and lights,” said Yaijara Flores from the McAllen (Texas) Convention Center, which has found filling dates with concerts and MMA matches.

Working with new promoters can mean negotiating offers directly with an agency, or bidding out sound and light contracts; even pushing them towards sponsors, said Leah Beck from the Ryan Center, a Global Spectrum-managed arena in Kingston, R.I.

“If I think a show isn’t going to break even, I’ll help them generate revenue through local marketing,” said Beck. “Our goal is to have them come back again and again.”

Of course, not all promoters are created equal. Todd Hunt from the BancorpSouth Arena in Tulepo, Miss., said capitalization is critical when working with any promoter — after he determines that they have enough money in the bank, Hunt looks at market appropriateness and future potential.

“We have to go out and develop these folks as best as we can. If you have the ability to take risks, then I suggest you do that when it makes sense,” he said.

For those who can’t buy shows, the five panelists had plenty of advice for developing content that met community needs. Hunt said BancorpSouth hosts an annual event for Honda motorcycle riders, a kinder band of bikers that “ride to eat and eat to ride,” which is a perfect match considering the facility is partially funded by a restaurant tax. Flores said her facility works with the Mexican consulate for a Mexican Independence Day event, and has attracted several theatrical productions that stopped touring Northern Mexico because of security concerns.

Tom Richter from the VenuWorks-managed Swiftel Center in Brookings, S.D., said his facility has found success with a wings and beer tasting event sponsored by area restaurants and beer distributors, while Beck said her Rhode Island arena loves cheerleading competitions.

“They’re high maintenance and sometimes I get yelled at by local hospitals for all the EMT calls, but they make a lot of money and generate a lot of food sales,” she said.

The BancorpSouth Arena generated $40,000 its third year of operating an ice skating rink with skates it bought from an out-of-business ice rink, while MetraPark, Billings, Mont., hosted a successful two-day cowboy roping contest that attracted over 6,000 teams and a sponsorship with Wrangler Jeans, said Bill Dutcher, the building’s GM.

As for attracting national shows, “you have to be realistic about what will sell in your market,” said Hunt. “Will Jimmy Buffet sell in your market? Probably, but if you only have 8,000 seats, the math won’t work.”

When talking to promoters and agents, Hunt said it’s important to be realistic about what the market is able to support.

“Don’t waste their time chasing things that won’t work,” he said.

“And be honest. If they call about a show and you don’t think it’s going to work, tell them that. It can be painful at times because these events might look glowing to the community, but if it loses a promoter $100,000 to $200,000, that promoter is never coming back.”

Flores said her team focuses on selling the market to promoters and agents rather than selling the facility. Afterall, as a city employee, her job is to get visitors to spend money in McAllen.

“Sell the buying power of your community and make lasting relationships with the agencies, and always call back,” she said. “Ultimately we want to sell the market and even if an event doesn’t make sense in our facility, it might make sense in a smaller facility. Don’t be afraid to spread the love.” — Dave Brooks

Interviewed for this article: Yajaira Flores, (956) 681-3814; Leah Beck, (401) 788-3220; Todd Hunt, (662) 841-6573; Tom Richter, (605) 692-7539; Bill Dutcher, (406) 256-2400


1 Jun

Rock The Bells Returns To The 36 Chambers With 2010 Run

Rapper RZA fields a question while promoter Chang Weisberg (right) of Guerilla Union listens in during a press conference at the Key Club in West Hollywood (Photo by Jesse Solorio).

REPORTING FROM WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIF. —  It really doesn’t make sense to use a Power Point presentation when the world’s greatest freestyle rapper is in the building. MC Supernatural broke down the upcoming 2010 Rock the Bells tour lineup with an impressive three-minute freestyle rap highlighting the tours headlining acts. The tour announcement was Monday night at the Key Club.

“It’s so hip, it’s so real, and here comes the danger  — and then we go straight to the 36 Chambers.”

For rap fans, that can only mean one thing — Wu-Tang Clan is back. The eight remaining members of the super group will hit the road this summer to perform their ground-breaking album “Enter the Wu-Tang Clan — 36 Chambers” in its entirety as part of promoter Chang Weisberg and Guerilla Union’s four-date event.

“We’re not just doing this with Guerilla Union because Chang is an independent promoter. We’re doing it because he’s a very good promoter,” said RZA, often cited as the mastermind behind the Wu-Tang Clan. “Chang comes to my house; we’ll have lunch and we’ll talk about this tour. That what’s makes a good promoter, someone who can come and communicate with the artist.”

RZA said he and the other members have wanted to do something to celebrate the success of “36 Chambers,” but have hit roadblocks following the death of famed Wu-Tang rapper Ole’ Dirty Bastard.

“I didn’t have to go talk to the rest of the Clan about doing this tour. Chang did,” RZA said.

This year’s run includes a number of rappers focusing on a single album as part of their performance. Rakim has signed on to play his entire “Paid in Full” record, circa 1987, while hip hop professor KRS-One will perform his “Criminal Minded” album from the same year.

And if that wasn’t enough, Weisberg confirmed that UK rap legend Slick Rick will be joining the tour to perform the 1989 classic “The Great Adventures of Slick Rick.”

“I’ve never as a promoter dictated what songs an artist will play. I don’t want to contrive anything, but we told Rick that if Pink Floyd was going to do “The Wall,” then Rock The Bells thinks we should do the “…Adventures of Slick Rick” and he said yes right away,” said Weisberg.

This year, the tour will only hit four stops: the NOS Event Center outside of Los Angeles in San Bernardino, Calif., on Aug. 21, the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, Calif., Aug. 22; Governor’s Island in New York, Aug. 28; and Washington, D.C.’s Merriweather Post Pavilion on Aug. 29.

Chang said he hoped to lengthen the stands to two days by 2011 and maybe include a camping component. As for future talent, Weisberg revealed that his agency missed out on securing one hip-hop group that he might go after again in 2011.

“I really wanted to book Run DMC, but it just didn’t work out,” said Weisberg. “I don’t push for bands to reunite. Most of the time, I tell people that we interact with that their fans contact us on a daily basis and it’s clear that they would support a reunion.” — Dave Brooks

Interviewed for this article:  RZA, (909) 802-2020; Chang Weisberg, (909) 706-3688