After a stint working with composer and television writer, Mason Williams in Oregon, I packed my Toyota truck with clothes, a filing cabinet, an electric typewriter and moved to Seattle to work for the largest concert promoter in the Pacific Northwest. Finding this job was a fluke. By chance, one of the key administrative assistants was leaving her job after 10 years but I had to wait a few months until she actually left. So I couch surfed with friends and took a crappy job at an insurance company until I could interview for the position.
This company, now long defunct, promoted rock and roll mostly in Seattle, but all over the western states in 63 venues to be exact. Large rock shows, even small ones, were a far cry from what I’d done in my previous job, and it didn’t take long until I hated it.
Everyone in that company tiptoed. There were 12 employees and three partners. Formerly arch enemies, the partners somehow decided instead of fighting each other for Seattle’s share of dollars, they were better off working together. There was enough tension in that place every day to explode the three story building at any given moment.
Why? It was all about money. These guys weren’t educated bean counters. They were back street fighters with money. They weren’t there for the art of music. No, no. They were there for every thin dime they could extract from arena shows well before 360 Deals came into existence. These were the days when TicketMaster was making back room deals with promoters before they had a legal monopoly.
Long, long hours were put in for a small paycheck. Everyone was expected at their desk by 9:30 each morning no matter how late they’d worked the night before. Often I was downtown Seattle by myself at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning after bands had cleared enormous amounts of gear onto tour buses heading out of town.
Part of my job was negotiating deals with vendors for happy hour situations for about 100 ticket buyers. I’d be given a blank check under a different company name to pay vendors who provided food and beverages to folks who’d pay quite a bit extra to slide in for drinks and a bite to eat and get front row seats for A List artists. A Listers’ management were not aware my boss was skimming money from the Golden Circle.
One day the company accountant was handing me a blank check and said, “You’d think they’d just give you the checkbook and let you handle all of this since you’ve made this company over $15,000 in just a few months.” I just looked at her and said is that gross or net profit? Without blinking an eye, she said, “it’s all profit, and you haven’t been offered a raise.”
But I digress.
Robert Palmer, Cheap Trick, Boston, The Bangles, Bruce Hornsby and The Range, Ozzy Osbourne, and the list goes on. These are the artists I promoted when I wasn’t hustling dollars to line the owners’ pockets. Make that unwittingly hustling to line the owner’s pockets.
People all over the country are familiar with The Gorge, lauded as the most popular outdoor venue in North America, a venue my boss was responsible for creating along the Columbia River Gorge. When I worked these shows, the adjoining winery was allowed to sell concert goers full bottles of wine — two per person if I remember right — to take along with their “yuppie style” picnic baskets attending concerts in the middle of nowhere near the small town of George, Washington.
Trust me. Nothing so civilized as a yuppie with a picnic basket appeared at these events. This was a perception created to appease the county sheriff’s department who was vigilant about concert goers drinking and driving along rural roads.
It was so remote, my boss flew a skeleton crew of us from Seattle down to Oregon, then back up to The Gorge so we could oversee back-to-back arena shows a couple times a month throughout the summer. Carrying large amounts of cash from ticket sales, this was all risky business.
Among the shows we promoted in the third season at The Gorge were Amy Grant, Rod Stewart, Reba McEntire, John Hiatt, Robert Cray, and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s last Northwest appearance. The media was all over these shows. I rarely had to call anyone except the artist’s “people.”
One time a friend saw my address book with Rod Stewart’s publicist’s name and number. With disbelief, she said, “Is that like Rod Stewart Rod Stewart?” I just laughed, shaking my head.
The most afraid I’ve ever been happened at The Gorge during the John Hiatt, Robert Cray, Stevie Ray Vaughan show.
We’d flown in from Oregon with little sleep, and set up the ticket office in a flimsy booth on a knoll at the amphitheater’s rim. It was hot. People were shirtless, barefoot, and plastered. Scalpers stood in front of the ticket office making deals while we sat on somewhere between ten and fifteen thousand dollars cash.
At one point two guys started fighting with broken wine bottles ready to stab each other. Several fights broke out sans the bottles during the day, then while on my way to the little girl’s honeybucket a couple was openly having sex in front of God and everyone. And at any moment someone could easily have pushed that ticket booth right over the edge of the knoll to get a great deal of money.
But this was tame compared to what happened next.
John Hiatt opened the show before thousands of people — something like 15,000. Robert Cray cranked up the heat with tunes like “Right Next Door” and “Smoking Gun.”
I was standing backstage next to Robert Cray after his set, when the crowd rushed the stage trampling dozens of people just as Stevie Ray took the stage. The whole place exploded.
Mostly what I remember is mass chaos and all I wanted to do was leave. A friend had come to meet me, so we just got in the car and left to avoid massive congestion, but it still took 5 hours to get home.
Not long after that, my boss called me into his office one day and casually explained one of his buddies got into some trouble with a girlfriend. Apparently some drinking was involved and the girlfriend drove her car right through their living room. The police were called, and there was this report, which he handed to me.
“I want you to cut and paste this report. Just take out this sentence, make a copy and bring it back to me so [his millionaire friend] can give it to his insurance company.” Looking at the report, then back at my boss, all I remember saying is, “You want me to fix a police report. This guy doesn’t even work for you. Why do I need to do this?”
“Because I’m telling you to.”
I took the police report and sat in my office for about 5 minutes.
Ten minutes later I’d cleared out my desk, and told the receptionist I had an appointment and I never went back.
Yep. It’s only rock and roll. But it’s dirty business, and I don’t like it.