Alex Montoya, formerly with the San Diego Padres, keynotes the IAVM Chapter 7 meeting. (VT Photo)

REPORTING FROM COSTA MESA, CALIF. —  Photo ops backstage are a growing trend in this world of social media marketing. In fact, some acts bring their own props. But venues like Staples Center and Microsoft Theater, Los Angeles, have made sure an appealing, location-specific backdrop is available and visible to anyone backstage who might tweet it out and further brand the venue.

The Backstage and VIP Experience was among topics at the May 23 IAVM Region VII Chapter meeting held at the OC Fairgrounds here. Russell Gordon, senior director of Events and Venue Operations at the Microsoft Theater, moderated the panel, which consisted of Samantha Dickens, AEG VIP sales representative, Jasmine McAtee, Dressing Room coordinator for the American Music Awards and Adam Shoeibi, executive director, Black Tie.

The main takeaway from the VIP Experience discussion was that creating the perfect space for artists and VIP’s isn’t easy. Some artists want things one way while another wants it another, right down to the color scheme, but they all have these things in common:  Getting the amenities right is essential, parking is paramount, and the closer access to the stage can be for the artists, the better.  Women, especially, do not like hiking a long hallway from their dressing room to the stage in high heels.

The loudest buzz came from the discussion on photo sharing.  It’s all about social media these days, and selfies and pictures make the biggest splash across most of the social media platforms.  Panelists discussed the innovative ways they are using and placing their brand names on the photo-op boards, and the use of #hashtags to get the word out about the event and get the venue’s name and logo front and center.

Artists who demanded eco-friendly conditions was another hot topic.

A panel on safety was led by Danny Spitzer, director at Bren Events Center UC Irvine (Calif.) Athletics. Speakers included Nick Buffa, Safety and Security supervisor at the OC Fair & Events Center, Matt Gutshall, Director of Operations at the Dolby Theater, Hollywood, Calif. and Officer Bob Le Sage, police sergeant, Events & Administration at UC Irvine.

Security does not just live in the security team they warned. Solid communication is the most vital aspect of all prepared security measures.  Communication within departments is top of the list for successfully controlling large venues with massive attendance. Counter-surveillance is not just the job of the security team, it’s also the job of the janitors, housekeeping, ticket-takers, ushers, food vendors – everyone has eyes and ears and can sense when something or someone is out of place.  Social media monitoring was also discussed as a useful tool to prevent an incident from happening.

Human error always will happen, whether it’s a lazy wand worker, or a bag that didn’t get checked properly. It’s what you have planned in that circumstance that will prevent something less serious from turning into a catastrophe.

In a grim reminder of the world we currently live in, the panel ended with a serious discussion of lock-down procedures in the event of a live-gun/active shooter situation. Targeted was the need for everyone on the venue team to know his role in such an event and, most importantl, who has the card key that locks it all down.  Panelists insisted that training and practice were instrumental to having a system that everyone understands and can follow.

Jerry Eldridge, fair facilities director, and Linda Keasberry, event coordinator, conducted a tour of fair facilities, including the refurbished ‘Hangar’ indoor live-music space. It was resurrected from an old Air Force building that had been on the OC Fairground property since it was an active airbase during World War II.  It’s 24,000 sq. ft., has room for 1,600 seats and has a 20X40-foot projection screen. Tribute bands will occupy the space for most of this year’s July 15-Aug. 14 fair.

The newly-renovated Centennial Farm is this year’s major new addition to the OC Fairgrounds. It’s bigger, better, has more animals, and they’ve also installed Specialty Gardens.  It will be open all year long. Renovations helped connect it to the rest of the grounds and the flow of fair crowds.

Evy Young, farm manager, noted that all the water used for the gardens are reclaimed and then reused.  All the produce grown is donated to local food banks.

The Farm is a teaching spot for over 100,000 Southern California school kids in grades K-3rd and that the it’s the kids main go-to spot to learn about California agriculture, farm animals and sustainable gardening.

Next to the Farm is another reclaimed building from the old Air Force structures called The Barracks. The two-story building is being turned into a Veteran’s Hall of Fame with revolving exhibits on the ground floor. The second floor will be primarily used for teaching high school students about the history of the Air Force Base that used to occupy the fairgrounds and about how veterans have shaped our country.

Pacific Amphitheater has gotten a makeover as well.  A brand new entrance debuted at last year’s fair.  “The old plan didn’t allow access from the amphitheater straight back into the fairgrounds and people had to walk all the way around to get back,” said Eldridge. “This simplifies things and makes it a lot easier to go back into the fairgrounds.”

Keynote speaker was Alex Montoya, former manager of Latino Affairs for the San Diego Padres of Major League Baseball and founder of AMOCommunications.  He spoke about his journey from Bogotá, Columbia to Southern California as a triple amputee.  It was moving, motivating, and often comical. He came to America as a child and he was inspired by two simple words from his sister — ‘Be Ready’.  It’s become his motto and he’s relied on that simple phrase to climb from being a part-time usher to full time Padres venue officer.

He stressed collaboration, communication, and the understanding that “no one is ever alone” as the philosophy that got him to the top. “Challenges should never dictate and don’t let your mood take over,” said Montoya. “And most important: Listen.”

Contacted for this story: Danny Spitzer (949) 824-5050, Russell Gordon (213) 763-6000