AEG which entered the New York City club market in 2016, has a portfolio that includes the 2,800-capacity Terminal 5. (Getty Images)

Major promoters entered the club market in 2018 in a much bigger way than in previous years.

This could be seen in strategic moves such as AEG partnering with Slim’s and Great American Music Hall in San Francisco and Live Nation acquiring Midwest-based Frank Productions, which includes the Majestic Theatre in Madison, Wis., and the Blue Note in Columbia, Mo. 

In Live Nation’s most recent conference call with investors, CEO Michael Rapino spoke about “underdeveloped” cities where the company could increase its footprint. President Joe Berchtold laid out the specifics, putting Miami, Los Angeles, Denver and Seattle at the top of the list.

The more Live Nation expands its presence, their logic dictates, the better it is for all promoters.
“Every time we go into a market, we really do think that a rising tide raises all boats,” said Ron Bension, president of Live Nation’s clubs and theaters division. “We recently built a very successful club in Grand Rapids [Mich.], 20 Monroe Live. The Intersection is right down the street and doing well.  We got into Silver Spring [Md.] with one of the best clubs in the region with the Fillmore. Seth Hurwitz  (chairman of Washington-area promoter and venue owner I.M.P.) is doing just fine.”

“We bring more volume into those markets, and we allow for more guests to see more live music. The reality is we’ve seen it.”

Most significantly, the last year has seen Live Nation and AEG go head-to-head in the New York City club marketplace. Could that be the model for future development and acquisitions?

Live Nation entered a deal last year that puts the Bowery Ballroom on its roster of clubs. (Getty Images)

In December 2017, Live Nation created Mercury East Presents with Bowery Ballroom and Mercury Lounge founder Michael Swier, giving the team a club portfolio that included the Bowery Ballroom and Gramercy Theater, Mercury Lounge, Irving Plaza and, in Brooklyn, Warsaw. Among the five venues, they staged more than 660 shows in the first 11 months of 2018.

AEG, which entered the New York City club market in 2016 with the purchase of The Bowery Presents, has a Gotham portfolio that  includes 2,800-capacity Terminal 5 and the Brooklyn venues Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn Steel and Rough Trade NYC. They staged 620 shows between Jan. 1 and Nov. 16. They are also partnering with Barclays Center parent company BSE Global’s newly renovated Webster Hall.

Both promoters have carved out club-to-arena feeder systems previously unseen in the city. Mercury Lounge and Rough Trade NYC vie for acts looking for 300-capacity rooms; Bowery Ballroom, Gramercy Theater and Music Hall of Williamsburg pack in 600 or so; and Irving Plaza and Warsaw are Brooklyn Steel’s competitors in the 1,000-plus realm.

Take Shannon and the Clams, who went the AEG route this year after playing the independent 200-capacity Brooklyn club Baby’s All Right four times in 2017. They played the Panorama festival and Rough Trade in July and Music Hall of Williamsburg in October.

It’s not necessarily one side or the other: Anne-Marie played Live Nation’s Bowery Ballroom and AEG’s Rough Trade between opening stadium shows for Ed Sheeran this fall; The Record Company played Irving Plaza on its 2017 tour and Terminal 5 in October.

So where does this leave the independents?

Eyes are on City Winery, the 300-capacity SoHo club that will be moving next year to make way for Disney’s new headquarters. The club is packing its mainspace, a smaller space and the waterfront space, City Vineyard, nightly, often by providing a consistent home for heritage acts such as Steve Earle, Dave Alvin and Joan Osborne.

LPR Presents is a series backed by the 10-year-old Greenwich Village club Le Poisson Rouge, which books at independent venues throughout New York City. Among their more than a dozen venues are Town Hall and Nublu in Manhattan and Baby’s All Right, Union Pool, Warsaw and Murmrr Theatre in Brooklyn.

LPR curatorial adviser Brice Rosenbloom says the expansion beyond the club has come through sticking to the eclecticism of their home base and showing that they, like the big guys, can offer a ladder to success.

“Largely because we’ve been able to stay consistent, that has allowed us to expand our programming reach,” he said during LPR’s 10th anniversary celebration earlier this year.  “That success at home has allowed us that growth.

“From early on, when we were presenting shows at Brooklyn Masonic Temple and Town Hall, we realized we had the opportunity to nurture artists that may have been not quite ready to play the room and to maintain relationships with artists who our four walls can’t accommodate.

“We expand our audience by going into all areas of Brooklyn and different areas of Manhattan. It puts the LPR brand out there.”

 

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