Friday, February 27, 2009

A Hard Day's Night

I just got back from the Beatles tribute show, where I attended as an Actual Audience Member, sitting in the fourth row with some family members.

Some observations from "the other side":

  • At least one playbill in circulation has two of some pages, and none of others. I know this because it was my playbill tonight. My hunch is that it's not the only one, unfortunately.
  • Whatever we did in concessions tonight, we probably could have doubled it by letting people bring beer & wine to their seats.
  • The Beatles did a cool thing where they had everyone get out their cell phones and call someone who wasn't there, so they could hear the music. This probably didn't happen with the real Beatles.
  • I wonder if the teen girls who rushed down front to dance during the last few songs were disappointed to find that the guys on stage are actually old enough to be their fathers.
  • Sarah called during the show to ask a question about tickets for The Vagina Monologues (which starts in about an hour as I write this). It is impossible to carry on a phone conversation about tickets in the fourth row in the middle of a concert. Nearly as impossible as carrying on a phone conversation about tickets at kickoff at Kinnick Stadium, which I have also done.
  • I find it odd that the Beatles tribute band was selling actual Beatles T-shirts, but CDs of the tribute band.
Out of the hundreds of events I've been to, I've gone as an Actual Audience Member only a handful of times. I have to say, not only was it fun to fly "under the radar" and sit in a seat with everyone else - it made me look at the same theater and even the same show in a different way.

The Beatles were a great band, and these four guys -- who have been doing this for an astounding 25 years -- truly do pay tribute to them. This is their fifth trip to the Englert, and I imagine they will be back next year. Just like the real Beatles, people can't seem to get enough of them.

Friday, February 20, 2009


I was on KRUI last night, during their weekly "arts hour." Nathan was a good interviewer - conversational, asked good questions.

One question was "If you could have anybody in the Englert, regardless of how 'big' they are or how much they cost, who would it be?"

Dead air space. Mumble, mumble... uh...

Total mental blank. Of course, I actually think about this all the time. I listen to a lot of music. I have a lot of answers for this. But live, on the air, I have nothing.

I buy time. I talk about how Iron & Wine was at the top of that list (which is true), and talk about the disappointment I felt when they played here last year but I had to miss them (on the way to Bonnaroo, where I would see them a couple days later).

Still nothing.

"Ya know, like, well, really, anybody who's big and you might think is too big to play the Englert. They would be cool. Like U2. Or Ben Kweller."

Huh? Now, I do think it would be cool to see U2 or Ben Kweller at the Englert. No doubt. U2 and Ben Kweller, however, are not even in the same galaxy in terms of "bigness and stardom." And that's the best I could come up with?

I manage to add Dave Matthews Band, Kings of Leon, then The National (which would be a dream come true). By this time, as ideas actually come to me, Nathan is ready to move on. Because really, it's time. He has a job to do. That job is keeping it interesting, keeping it flowing.

So, almost 24 hours later, I'd like to finish my thought:

How 'bout some Radiohead? TV on the Radio? Morrissey would be awesome. Elvis Costello. The Shins. Rogue Wave. Decemberists. Bon Iver. Ryan Adams. Silversun Pickups. The Hold Steady. Band of Horses. Or let's go back to high school (for me) and get The Cure, R.E.M. or Depeche Mode. Or turn the place into a club and get Girl Talk.

There. I feel better now.

Cool thing is, I don't think some of these bands/artists are out of reach. We certainly do our best to try.

As I write this, there are just a handful of tickets left to Mason Jennings, which is awesome. I really dig on "In The Ever" his new(est) release. If you can't make the show, tune into KRUI 89.7 or stream it at 3:00 today for his in-studio performance.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A business tougher than ours.

I just got back from The Gazette, where I was asked to do a usability test on one of their new products, iGuide. It was flattering to be asked to be part of the test, and I tried to do my "job" by not holding back and being as blatantly honest as I could be.

I had a great conversation with Rob, the guy running the test. He's been at the Gazette for 10 years, and we talked a lot about how the old business model for media businesses like theirs is dying, and replacing it with a new business model is difficult because it requires a culture shift.

Now, it is tough to succeed in the theater business. Anyone who thinks we're walking away from each event with sacks of cash would be horrified at how razor-thin the margins are, and how contributions from individuals and businesses will always be a part of our business model. But as tough as this is, it can't be nearly as tough as being in the newspaper business.

I feel for Rob and for the Gazette, who are scrambling to be relevant in this new age of media and still be able to pay the bills - and to even turn a profit. Gazette probably has it better than most, with the paper, KCRG,, Hoopla and the new iGuide. Slightly more diversified than some others.

But still - circulation heading south*, paid advertising heading south*, trying to develop new products to replace that revenue... many of these products are online, in an environment that is notoriously hard to monetize (Rob hates this word, most likely because it runs rampant around the office). Money going out, paying the web developers, but not enough money coming in*. May be months/years before the sites catch on, become part of the community, and start bringing in a little money. Of course, that's if they're lucky.

It must be very difficult.

No point to this post, other than to say that I enjoyed doing the testing (it's fun to be on the OTHER side of that scenario, as I start redesigning our own website), Rob was a cool guy, and I wish them the best with their new venture. I think we all benefit -- as businesses, consumers and citizens -- from smart and innovative local media coverage. The challenge -- after making it relevant -- is making a living from it.


  • Check out Todd Adamson's blog for some great pics he took of Dr. John and The Neville Brothers last Friday night!
  • I gave Dr. John a ride to and from his hotel. He was very gracious, had an almost unintelligible drawl, and told me a story involving Eddie Bo, Little Richard, adultery, murder, death row and lawsuits -- and even threw in some singing -- in the 5 minutes he was in my car.
  • A pretty small number of tickets for the Alley Cabaret's performance of The Vagina Monologues go on sale Monday, which is unusual (the rest of the Cabarets have tix at the door only). It's directed by our newest board member, Ryan West.

* UPDATE: I should note that these comments are about the newspaper industry in general, and not the Gazette specifically. I have no idea what the Gazette's numbers are. But it's been
widely reported that the industry as a whole is experiencing challenges.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Nothing to worry about.

In staff meeting today, we went 'round the table and each shared one thing we were excited about and one thing we were worried about with respect to this Friday's sold out Super Duper Groovefunkathonic Concert Extravaganza: Dr. John and The Neville Brothers.

This is a huge show for us on many levels:

  • It's expensive. I'm not gonna lie - it's tied for the most expensive show we've done here. Legendary artists demand - and get - large sacks o' cash to play.
  • Despite that, it's a fundraiser, with a silent auction and a raffle (the prizes are cool: two winners, and each winner gets backstage passes to all of the Summer of the Arts events AND two "Golden Tickets" to the Englert that will get you in the door for anything all year).
  • It's our first collaboration with Summer of the Arts.
  • It's essentially two whole shows, back to back, each with all of their own gear (which is coming in from Chicago that day), their own management and their own quirks.
  • Each act has an incredibly long and comprehensive rider (do you know how long we spent trying to find someone who had a specific rare kind of fish who could also cook it a particular way? No, you don't.).
  • We have more coffee makers and tea pots (thank you, Board!) than what would reasonably seem to be necessary.
  • It's sold out.
  • People are literally begging for seats.
  • There will most likely be a lot of people in line that night for standing-room-only tickets, so crowd control will be key.
  • There are a lot of sponsors, which means a lot of work to make sure everyone gets their benefits and is thanked in the right way.
  • It might snow.
  • ...and so on.
it is safe to say that this show has dominated our collective attention over here for quite some time. There are certainly a great many details that have to go exactly right to pull off the event without a hitch, and a great many of those details are outside of our control.

Despite that, around the table today, the worries people expressed were all minor enough that I think I can say that we're not really that worried at all. We're anxious, sure. But more than anything I think we're excited.

Excited to see this place bursting at the seams with people. Excited to experience two musical legends on our stage. Excited to do what we do.

In other news:
  • I'll be at the Twestival tomorrow night, at least for a little bit. We donated a couple pair of Mason Jennings tix to be given away. If you're into Twitter, stop out. If you don't know what I'm talking about, start here.
  • We just booked Lez Zeppelin for April 8th! Tix on sale... soon.
  • We're getting some people together tonight for a first meeting about a reeeeeeally cool thing happening this October.
  • I have 8, um, tubes? things? of lip balm on my desk, courtesy of one of our board members who works at Raining Rose in CR.
  • One of our window microphones in the box office is broken - again. C'mon, Telex people. Get it right this time. Please. Thank you.

Friday, February 6, 2009


This was from last weekend, which is ancient history in "web time," I know, but I still thought it was worth mentioning.

First round of auditions for Wizard of Oz went great. I know David Kilpatrick (Producing Artistic Director at Old Creamery Theatre) was very excited by the enthusiastic turnout, and the many talented people who auditioned.

I personally was very impressed by Paul Dieke, the music director. He had a wonderful and kind way of both complimenting and coaching the kids. Someone would come up, sing their song. Paul would stop them, compliment them. Coach them. They'd do it again, he'd stop them. Compliment. Coach. Again. Stop. Compliment. Coach. By the end, each kid's performance was substantially better than when they walked in the door.

This bodes well for the quality of the show.

Katherine, our student designer (and part of the brilliant Donate Design program at the University of Iowa) has been busy whipping up logo and poster ideas for the show, and I'm really excited about the direction things are heading. When we settle in on final versions, I'll throw them up here.