Industry Profile: Barbara Strauss
By Bob Grossweiner and Jane Cohen
Born in Pennsylvania and raised in Sarasota, Fla., Barbara Strauss left Florida the day she graduated from high school and ended up attending the University of Colorado, but returned in 1992 to start her own production company, Sovereign Ventures Inc, which has produced the annual Sarasota Blues Festival since 1993.
Barbara is very hands-on when producing, from booking talent to publicity to on-site coordination. She took the bankrupt annual Sarasota Bluesfest and made it the largest music event annually in her region, has promoted shows in clubs, performing arts halls, tents and outdoor venues, and coordinates parades and celebrations for the community that she grew up in.
Barbara started her career in the music business baby sitting for the daughter of a Warner Bros. recording artist, Schascle "Twinkle" Yochim, but in a very short time became her manager and publicist; Twinkle is now is a singer with Dickey Betts Great Southern. "I never intended on being a promoter," she says. "I raised some money for another promoter's show and realized that I needed to become proactive as my people's money was on the line."
Barbara promotes primarily in Sarasota, Fla., but has done shows in Clearwater, Orlando, Mississippi and Georgia. She also does co-promotes with Fantasma Productions.
In addition to promoting the Annual Sarasota Bluesfest at the Sarasota Fairgrounds, other Sarasota shows Barbara has promoted or co-promoted include The Black Crowes (2002), B.B. King (2000-01) and Kenny Wayne Sheppard (1999) at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall; The Fixx/Brian Johnson at the Khrome in Sarasota (2005); George Thorogood & the Destroyers/Ted Nugent (2002), Matchbox 20/Tonic/Firehouse (1997-98) at Robarts Arena; Alllman Brothers Band at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Fla. (2002); and Foreigner at the PAL Sailor Circus Arena in Sarasota (2006).
She also produces charity events including 38 Special for United Way, Leon Russell (2005) and Edgar Winter (2006) for The Florida Center for Child and Family Development at Robarts Arena, Aerosmith (2002) at The Sarasota Hyatt House, The B 52's (2004) at Circus Sarasota Tent and Levon Helm, Tom Scott, Gary Busey (2005) at Khrome, Sarasota, Florida for The Sarasota Film Fest: Gregg Allman and Friends (2001) Fountain Fundraiser in Meridian, Mississippi: Gregg Allman and Friends (2002) at Richmond Hills Fundraiser, Savannah, Georgia: Eddie Money (2000) for Juvenile Diabetes at The Chelsea Center, Sarasota, Florida.
How were you able to rescue the Sarasota Bluesfest?
It was started by the Sarasota Blues Society in 1991 and went bankrupt after their second year. I got involved not having any idea what I was doing and got through the first year feeling it was one of the worst experiences of my life. The talent budget that year was $8,000. I lost $1, 000 and as far as I was concerned, promoting the Bluesfest or anything for that matter, was something I never wanted to think about again. Gregg Allman and some people in the media encouraged me to try it again and reluctantly, I did. Because of Gregg's name recognition, 10,000 showed up for my second gig, and the Bluesfest has been alive and well ever since, hosting everyone from Buddy Guy, Delbert McClinton, Solomon Burke, The Thunderbirds, John Mayall, Booker T and The MG's, Little Milton, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Dr. John and many more. I went on to have a successful show in 1994 but still had a lot to learn.
How has the Sarasota Bluesfest progressed over the years?
2006 will be the 16th Annual Carl Black GMC Sarasota Bluesfest and Gregg Allman & Friends with Robben Ford will be headlining. I have 17 sponsors signed on already, and it's still five months away so the Bluesfest has come a long way.
How have you been able to keep ticket prices under $20?
Entertainment has become inaccessible to many people in today's day of high priced tickets. My goal has been to keep the Bluesfest under $20. People say I'm a hippie chick and that I'm still pricing my tickets from another era, but it can be done. I spend a good part of the year begging sponsors and media people to chip in so that there's still a festival in the area that is high quality talent but affordable.
What prompts you to promote outside your market?
I'm basically a hometown promoter, but occasionally someone wants me to co-promote or has a charity event that I want to be involved with that is not in this market.
Have you managed anyone else since Twinkle?
No. I was with her for three years when she was signed to Warner Brothers/Reprise. It's very hard for me to manage another person. The way that I've managed to have any success is to be very focused, detail and budget oriented. I've found that artists tend not to have those assets, and the direction they want to take usually doesn't coincide with mine. That's why a great manager and artist do well together if they find their groove: they both bring different things to the table.
What do you do for the Allman Brothers Band?
I have co-promoted Allman Brothers Shows with Fantasma and Bobby Rossi at Ruth Eckard Hall in Clearwater and have promoted many Gregg Allman and Friends Shows over the years. I've also worked on charity events with Gregg.
First concert attended
The Turtles at Willow Grove Park, Pa. I was very disappointed as they played canned music.
First industry job
As a "babysitter" for an artist, Twinkle, who was signed to Warner Brothers in 1989. I then became her personal assistant and then her manager for a while before I decided to start my own business.
The first show I did with Gregg Allman and Friends in 1994. Everyone in the band were people I used to ride my bike to watch when I was a kid and, now they were playing on my stage.
The first show I promoted was in 1993. It was the only time I lost money, and I learned how ruthless people were.
Being a girl who had no idea what a promoter was and followed through with it against all odds.
Best business decision
Not to listen to the people who said I couldn't make it. I was told I was too young, dumb and didn't have enough money to promote. They were right about everything they told me, but I decided to go for it anyway and am still hanging in there.
Best advice to offer
Be passionate, have big balls, be prepared to work your butt off and don't expect to be very popular when you are running the show.
Most memorable industry experiences
Being told to set up sound, lights and stage in a Hyatt House Ballroom for Aerosmith (2002) to come and play for 500 people, knowing very well that they would never play, but they did. I have also had the great fortune of spending time over the last 15 years in Sarasota listening to Jerry Wexler, who produced Ray Charles to Aretha Franklin to starting Capricorn with Phil Waldon, and Rick Hall of Fame Recording Studio in Muscle Shoals tell stories of how it really was. These two men have had such an influence on the music that I love and hearing them tell first hand stories has been very special to me.
This should be a shock: The Yankees because of Derek Jeter's nice ass.
Pikayo, Puerto Rico.
Amangani, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
What friends would be surprised to learn about you
Industry pet peeve:
That your friends will stab you in the back to better their career.
Floating pen collection.
If I wasn't doing this, I'd be...
Bert Holman (Allman Brothers Band ) and John Valentino (Fantasma).
Barbara can be reached at: (941) 377-3279; e-mail: email@example.com