This could have been the end of my job…
Maybe you have heard about Fyre Festival: The Party That Never Happened documentary on Netflix. It’s about concert promoters that scammed thousands selling tickets on-line to a massive concert festival on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma. It was billed as a “luxury concert event” with lavish food, performers and accommodations. When patrons arrived after paying thousands, they found pre-packaged sandwiches and FEMA tents as their accommodations, among other disappointments. As a result the organizers are the subject of a $100,000,000 dollar lawsuit.
Anyone who is in the business of promoting massive events watching this documentary will have a knot in their stomach. I have promoted many large concert events during my days of radio management. It is by far the hardest part of that job, to me. To pull these events off successfully, there are a THOUSAND details that must be checked off. Some of the details you can’t control, like weather, or artist travel or ARTISTS. What if it snows and your headliner’s plane is delayed? It happens!
Even when you are doing concerts the right way, things can still go wrong.
It was the mid 1990’s. I was the program director of a contemporary music station in Hartford. My manager gave me the approval and budget to hold our first major station concert at the Hartford Civic Center. We booked Duran Duran, with Taylor Dayne as the opening act. Seven weeks ahead, we hit the air selling tickets, pounding the air waves twice an hour pushing the show. I was no longer a program director. I was now a concert promoter. It was a daily grind checking the ticket sales, with the morning call from my boss: “How are the sales? Are the DJ’s talking about it enough? I’m not hearing it…..” JB: “OK…..we’ll push it to three times an hour…..” (ugh)
Six weeks and three bottles of Tylenol later-
The afternoon of the show 3 pm: The excitement is building with the hustle and bustle backstage. Duran Duran’s production crew is preparing the stage. The roadies are unloading the final stages of two 18 wheeler’s filled with equipment on to the stage. Local Connecticut NBC affiliate WVIT-30 is LIVE doing the weather from outside the civic center promoting the show. Taylor Dayne arrives and waits in her dressing room. I call into the station to do an exciting LIVE report. The DJ on the air asked me: “Jaybeau, has Duran Duran arrived?” Then it hit me…….where’s Duran Duran?
This was also a very big night for my station manager/owner. That afternoon, he was in the middle of a negotiations meeting to buy a four-station group and was not to be disturbed.
5 pm: Doors were to open at 6 pm. While I’m very excited, I am now beginning to wonder why I have not seen Duran Duran. Then……my walkie talkie buzzes: “Jaybeau to the production office.” That’s where the band’s tour manager sets up with his laptop and manages the show. I walk in the office waiting for his arrival. Then, a tall thin man with a British accent walks in and says: “Sit down……….
THE SHOW IS CANCELLED.”
Of course, I chuckled…..”what..?”
Tour manager: “The show is cancelled. Simon Le Bon TORE A VOCAL CORD. He’s still in New York…and every minute you waste talking to me, it is costing your station money in production. Get on the air now, and tell your audience not to come.” It was not a warm, ease-into-this discussion. It was cold, abrupt and to the point.
It was literally thirty minutes before doors open. The oxygen left my lungs, and my heart began beating almost out of my chest. It was almost impossible to think because of my physical reaction to the horrible news. What move is next? Call my boss? Go on the air? Stop the production? Somehow…..my brain kicked back in.
We were thirty minutes from a PR nightmare that could haunt us for the rest of our lives. The most damage that could happen was our loyal audience showing up to a CANCELLED SHOW. So the first thing I did was hit our radio station air with the bad news. It was stunning to hear ME say out of MY mouth, that the show we have been promoting for two months is canceled. I then followed up with “STAY TUNED for our rescheduled date and an update on Simon Le Bon’s condition.” The DJ repeated that information all night long. THEN, I ran to the Channel 30 TV crew and broke in LIVE during the 5:30 and 6 pm news with the same story. Thank God we had a TV station there! Finally, I called my boss and interrupted his business meeting: His partner (we’ll call him Mike) picked up my bosses cell phone: “Jaybeau, this is a bad time to interrupt….what’s up?”
Jaybeau: “The show is cancelled, Simon LeBon tore a vocal cord. He is in New York.”
Mike: “Holy sh$#@%t ……..hang on”
Tim: (my boss)…”Jay……..how…what…who…why…?”
I told Tim everything. Needless to say he was not happy. He was happy that I had hit the ground running to minimize the damage. He had the brilliant idea of making sure we got a Duran Duran band member on the air the next morning to apologize. The next morning on the air, band member Nick Rhodes in his beautiful British accent gave a brilliant, heartfelt apology to all of Hartford and the station audience LIVE, explaining Simon’s condition and promised to reschedule with us. It sounded very real and was very effective. The band took the blame. The apology ran on the air every hour for two days.
The night before, I’m happy to say, only a very small handful of people showed up. We got the word out quick enough avoiding a public relations nightmare.
A few months later, we held the concert with Duran Duran as the headliner, The Cranberries as the opening act with special guest host Weird Al.
It was a decent night, other than……….THE SNOW.