Part of Nick Checota’s strategy is doing everything in-house at Logjam Presents’ venues; he’s pictured in The Wilma. (Courtesy Logjam Presents)

Club under construction in Bozeman is next step for independent Montana promoter

Q&A: NICK CHECOTA
OWNER, LOGJAM PRESENTS

Promoter Logjam Presents has been quietly adding venues to its Missoula-area portfolio at the rate of one every two years since it bought its first Montana venue in 2013.

Logjam’s roster includes the 600-capacity Top Hat Lounge, which opened in 2013; the 1,500-capacity Wilma, 2015; the 4,500-capacity KettleHouse Amphitheater, 2017; and the 10,000-capacity Ogren Park Amphitheater, which the company will run for 20 years after reaching a deal with the city of Missoula in 2018.

The latest addition to the roster will be the ELM, a $5 million, 1,500-capacity facility 3.5 hours away from Missoula in Bozeman. Construction on the ELM started in early March; it is scheduled to open in winter 2020.

Logjam presents owner Nick Checota spoke with VenuesNow about what it takes to thrive in the David vs. Goliath era of independents competing with mega-promoters.

Tell us about the Montana market.
It’s an interesting market that has been underserved for so long. The major players would dabble in this market but not commit to them or invest capital into them.

What’s it like competing with the majors?
Being an independent promoter in a world of conglomerates like Live Nation and AEG isn’t easy. We decided early on that we were going to own our own rooms and not use other people’s rooms. When you compete with a Live Nation you have to have control of the rooms. Our rooms are closed. We do not allow third-party promoters in any of our venues. It’s the driving principal of our strategy.

Are you closed out of the big tours?
Not at all. We’re taking the same shows Live Nation is; we’re just peeling them off the tour. We have Norah Jones coming and every other date is a Live Nation. If you look up and down our roster, we get all the same tours AEG is buying in Seattle and Live Nation is buying in Denver.

Has having your own venues always been part of the plan?

The Devil Makes Three performs at Missoula’s The Wilma, just one of Logjam Presents’ Montana venues. (Courtesy Logjam Presents)

Yes. We take great pride in them. Third-party promoters don’t care about our brand as much as we do or care about the quality of service we provide as venue owners. If you look at the quality of the Wilma or the Kettle House or the ELM you will see a different type of venue than you see in other markets. We put a lot of money into the venues.

What’s your operating style?
We do everything in-house. We run the bar and concession services. We have an event staff on our payroll. We have stagehands and bar staff on the payroll. We are a fully integrated service, and we think that’s important. Nothing is outsourced.

You are a zero-waste venue. Was that important to you?
Absolutely. We either recycle or compost everything. The last piece was getting rid of plastic water bottles, which we replaced with aluminum cans. It was a huge investment; the cans cost one dollar vs. 15 cents for the plastic containers.

Why did you pick Bozeman for your first expansion out of the Missoula area?

Logjam’s the ELM in Bozeman, Mont., will open in 2020.

There’s no 1,500-capacity in Bozeman and we feel like Bozeman is the next Missoula. There is a huge demand and very little offerings.

Do you plan more?
We might look at other opportunities in the Bozeman market; we plan to continue to grow for sure.

Are you looking beyond the Montana borders?
Right now, we are focused on Montana. We may expand into other parts of the Pacific Midwest.

What would you tell another promoter who wanted to own and operate their own venues?
The big message in us is that in this world of mass consolidation and mega-promoters taking over every market, we’re an independent promoter that’s having a lot of success and growing at a rapid rate and able to compete.

There’s only a handful of places in the country where you are seeing success in light of Live Nation. Live Nation is gobbling up everybody and the days of independent promoters are coming to an end.

But there’s places like Milwaukee with the Pabst Group and First Avenue in Minneapolis, and what we’re doing. In these markets you can be successful and hold your own; there are still pockets in the country where independent promoters are having success.