The Art Of
Behind The Theatrics And Music At Large And Small Venues Throughout The Valley Are Promoters: The Matchmakers of Artists And Audience
Danny Zelisko of Danny Zelisko Presents introduces Paul Thorn at The Crescent Ballroom.
By Jeff Moses
Modern Times Magazine
It takes a lot more to put on a show than just having a venue and booking some bands — there are demands of the artists, finding the right venues and much, much more.
And, Phoenix has some of the best promotion companies in the game — Stateside Presents, Lucky Man and Danny Zelisko Presents, among others — know the ins and outs of the industry better than most.
Zelisko has worked for his fair share of promotion companies over the years including Live Nation and Evening Star the latter of which Zelisko had both the owner of Stateside Presents Charlie Levy and the owner of Lucky Man Tom LaPenna in his employ.
“For me I started booking shows in the 70s and I was big on music, Charlie and Tom were both music guys who didn’t book just anything, those guys are really good,” said Zelisko an AZ Music Hall of Fame member.
Though every promoter has the same goal, to put on the best show for the best price, they all have their own style.
“We specialize in indie rock, and we know indie rock,” said Jeremiah Gratza Director of Operations at Stateside Presents.
According to Zelisko, “Tom (Lapenna) is good at finding ‘baby bands’,” as well as ”one of the most aggressive talent buyers I have ever met.”
Zelisko prides himself on finding the best new groups around and bringing them into the valley
Founded in 1995, Stateside has been responsible for bringing some of the best indie rock to the valley including Iron and Wine, Fun, Steel Train and Modest Mouse. Getting their start in 2004, Lucky Man brings the annual Flogging Molly show to Tempe Beach Park every St. Patrick’s Day.
“A lot of the head liners from the 70s up until now, I had something to do with their first play in this area,” said Zelisko.
But promoters have to have more than just good ear for music.
“Promoters have a hand in everything when it comes to putting on a show, especially Jeremiah and Charlie,” said Megan Darling a former promoter at stateside.
“At first I was made responsible for making sure every show was on the appropriate calendars,” said Darling. “It was tedious and boring so I just kept asking for more responsibility.”
Darling ended up doing jobs like counting tickets, doing paperwork and even found herself managing shows.
“We may have to take care of our artists food, booze, make sure they’re in the right venue, the right lights, appropriate set times,” said Gratza.
Darling recalled “going back and fourth three times,” to get In-N-Out burgers for the band and crew with Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley.
“I ran into Jenny (Lewis) backstage and she put her arm around my shoulder and thanked me for making their night,” said Darling.
As promoters, Darling and Gratza both ran into far more interesting requests than some burgers and shakes.
“One band asked for ‘a porno of your choice,’ it was on their rider,” said Darling.
“I remember we had MGMT here and they wanted puppies to play with,” said Gratza “and a friend of mine’s dog had just had a litter of puppies, so they brought them down for the band to play with.”
“Most of the bands requests are silly,” he said, while conveying that another band wanted a boom box with a cassette tape of the Jurassic park soundtrack.
“We have a lot of artist integrity, and the artists love it,” Gratza said.
It’s this attitude that has allowed Stateside to become a premier promotion company in the valley upping their number of shows from 300 in 2011 to over 400 already booked in 2012. As well as making Levy’s less than one-year-old venue The Crescent Ballroom “one of my favorite venues in the valley,” according to Zelisko.
As in any business the bottom line is all important, “promoting is about the deal you make ” as Zelisko put it.
“Sometimes you end up competing with another promotions company and you pay too much, Tom Lapenna does it all the time,” said Zelisko, tongue-in-cheek. “But you can’t buy every band, only about 1 in 50 come back around.”
Promoters also need to know which acts are good for which venues. Stateside is bringing The Black Keys and Tegan and Sara to US Airways center Oct. 9 knowing it takes an arena to house those acts. Lapenna and Lucky Man are helping put Rise Against into Tempe Beach Park for their official breaking of the Sound Strike Sept. 28, and Zelisko just had Paul Thorn play the Crescent Ballroom Aug. 12 — even though Crescent is Stateside’s flagship venue.
“It’s nice to have a plethora of venue options,” said Gratza. “The Sail Inn is better for hippie jam bands and reggae stuff, and Martini [Ranch] is good for singer/songwriters and more radio friendly stufff. Rhythm Room and Crescent are good for indie rock, and Bar Smith is better for electronica and DJ’s. Yucca is good for punk rock shows.”
As promoters they’ve all seen a lot of the acts grow and mature.
“Any band you develop a relationship with that goes from club level to theatre level is great,” said Levy. “But it’s not because of me or what Stateside does, we are just lucky to be a part of that, I get the same feeling as the people at the show.”
Though all of the companies promote at venues of all sizes from the tiny Yucca Tap Room to the 20,000-person US Airways center, “there’s something cool about promoting club shows,” said Levy. “You get to see something great. You get that ‘I was there when’ feeling."
Zelisko agrees having seen the likes of The Police, Cheap Trick, Jane’s Addiction and No Doubt play in clubs across the country.
All three companies are also heavy into the local music scene doing their best to promote local talent like Small Leaks Sink Ships, coming to the Crescent on Aug. 30. Or Inept Hero opening for The Dead Kennedy’s Sept 22 at the Marquee.
“You always want to expose local bands to as many people as possible,” said Levy. “We just brought Dry River Yacht Club to Tucson. It’s important to promote local talent. It’s where you live, it’s where you are.”
Jeff Moses is a freelance writer and photographer from Teaneck, N.J. and is currently living in Mesa, Ariz. He has been published in The Mesa Legend, OccupyUprising.org and The Highway Herald. Contact him by calling 727-385-0624.
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