|David and Joan Baez
Industry Profile: David Allgood
By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess MediaWire)
This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: David Allgood, manager, Bama Theatre, Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
David Allgood lauds the 1,094-seat proscenium Bama Theatre—which he has managed since 2003—as having “a beautiful atmospheric auditorium, perfect sight lines, and great acoustics.”
One of the premier performing arts venues in the American South, The Bama has over 300 nights of concerts, movies, dance, poetry competitions, and live theatre events annually.
Located in downtown Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and operated by the Arts and Humanities Council of Tuscaloosa County, The Bama was built between 1937 and 1938 under the New Deal era Public Works Administration. It was designed by Birmingham architect D.O. Whilldin who designed other historic buildings in Tuscaloosa’s downtown.
The building is a mixture of Art Moderne, and the atmospheric style of theatre architecture popular in America throughout the 1920s and 1930s. The interior is a reproduction of the courtyard of the Davanzati Palace in Florence, Italy.
The Bama opened on Apr. 12, 1938, and was the only air-conditioned building in the city. The theatre was renovated as a performing arts center in 1976.
Since 2009, The Bama has hosted the Bama Art House movie series, which screens foreign and independent films. It also hosts several film festivals throughout the year.
The Bama is also the residence of the Tuscaloosa Children's Theatre Company and the Tuscaloosa Community Dancers.
Among the leading musical acts which have played The Bama since Allgood arrived have been: Joan Baez, Chris Hillman & Herb Pedersen, Bela Fleck and the Africa Project, Ryan Adams and The Cardinals, the Avett Brothers, Aimee Mann, Drive-By Truckers, Richie Havens, Claire Lynch, Needtobreathe, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Ruthie Foster, Chuck Leavell, Tony Rice, and Peter Rowan.
Music bookings for The Bama in 2011 so far include: Old Crow Medicine Show, the Fab Four, Tinsley Ellis, and Yonder Mountain String Band.
Alabama is such a great music state.
Hank Williams Sr. was from Alabama. Emmylou Harris is from Birmingham. (Sun Record founder) Sam Phillips is a native of Florence. Faith Hill and Drive-By Truckers are from Alabama. There’s a ton of other (musical figures) from here.
I was just reading Keith Richards’ biography (“Life,” published by Little, Brown & Company.) Its 547 pages. It’s like reading a giant People magazine, but he devotes a section on the Rolling Stones’ experiences recording at the Muscles Shoals Sound Studios, and how much they enjoyed it. They could just walk around (Sheffield) because it’s not like being in New York, where they would be recognized on the street.
[In early December 1969, the Rolling Stones recorded three songs at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Sheffield, Alabama: "Brown Sugar," "Wild Horses," and "You Gotta Move," before performing at their infamous concert at Altamont, California.]
Chuck Leavell, who has played keyboards with the Rolling Stones for years, is a T-Town native.
A friend of mine brought Chuck back here at the Bama last year. It was almost like a reunion show. Everybody who went to Tuscaloosa High School was here to see Chuck. Actually, his name when he was here was pronounced “Level” but he’s been Chuck Leavell for years. Somebody joked that he got fancy when he left town.
[Chuck Leavell joined the Allman Brothers in 1972 following the death of guitarist Duane Allman. After the Allman Brothers Band disbanded in 1976, Leavell, formed Sea Level. After Sea Level disbanded, Leavell worked as a studio musician before joining the Rolling Stones for their 1982 European Tour. Leavell has also worked with George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Gov't Mule, Train, The Black Crowes, and Montgomery Gentry.
In 2008, Leavell was awarded a BAMA Award (Birmingham Area Music Award) for his contributions to the Birmingham, Alabama musical heritage.]
At 59, you have remained a big music fan.
Oh yeah. That’s why I am here. I know that it sounds corny, but I just get a thrill when we have a show. Like two years ago (2008), we had our 70th Anniversary show. We brought in Joan Baez; it was a sell-out. She hadn’t been in Tuscaloosa in 40 years; she was here during the Civil Rights days. She played the first integrated show in Alabama at Stillman College, which is the traditional Afro-American college on the other side of town. She had never played the Bama Theater; and she had not been in Tuscaloosa in four decades. So, having her here was an emotional time for everybody.
[Tuscaloosa was a different place when Joan Baez last performed there in 1964 at the age of 23. Performing in the racially divided Deep South during the early 1960s was unquestionably bold, if not dangerous.
Tuscaloosa was then a city where Afro-Americans and whites did not share churches, restaurants or restrooms.
Tuscaloosa was also then the national headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan. It was where Alabama Gov. George Wallace stood at the door of Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963 in a symbolic attempt to block two black students, Vivian Malone Jones and James Hood, from enrolling at the school.
Ultimately, Wallace stepped aside, and the two students were allowed to register for classes. Two years later, Jones became the first African American to graduate from the University of Alabama.
A year later, a sold-out crowd of Afro-Americans and whites crowded into an auditorium at Stillman College, a private, historically black liberal arts college, founded in 1876 in the West Tuscaloosa area, to watch Baez perform.]
What had The Bama been doing for music programming before you arrived in 2003?
Well, they had just started what they called a “Bluegrass, Big Bands and More” series. This is a pretty big bluegrass area. They were booking people like Doyle Lawson and big name bands like the Glenn Miller Band, and the Count Basie Band. Some of those bands are quite good. The Glenn Miller Band is quite good; we’ve had them here a number of times.
The Police played The Bama in 1979.
I think that there were 80 people here. I wasn’t here, but one of the local music writers, who was going to high school then, told me about it. He said he was here with about 80 other people (on Oct. 14, 1979). But now, if everybody who says they were here for that show were here, there would have been 20,000 people.
The Bama is quite a theatre.
It’s wonderful, it’s beautiful. The FDR era Public Works Administration built it. It was paid off in a couple of years. It was originally built as a movie palace. It is one of the few theatres (from then) left in Alabama.
Television killed off many of the old movie theatres.
Television did and later the multiplexes built in the suburbs kind of killed them too, but this one has been a viable theatre operating continuously since 1938. I think there might have been in the ‘70s one or two years it was closed, but it never fell into disrepair. The Arts Council took it over in the ‘70s and has maintained it ever since. People in Tuscaloosa really treasure it. It is like the living room of Tuscaloosa.
How much preservation work is needed on the theatre annually?
The lucky thing is that because it has never been left empty for a long time or turned into something else (preservation work) it's mainly just general maintenance. We could use a zillion dollar restoration to brighten things up but, surprisingly, the theatre is in pretty good condition.
The Bama Theatre is a live venue, and regularly presents movies as well.
Exactly. We have a really interesting movie series (the Bama Art House) that started in 2009. We do one night only screenings of newly-released art films and independent foreign documentaries. We also do the German Film Festival, a Jewish Film Festival, and we have the Manhattan Film Festival.
The Bama is, in fact, then a multi-purpose theatre with on-going commitments to resident dance and theatre companies, film festivals and beauty pageants that have annual recurring bookings. How do music bookings fit in?
It takes a perfect alignment of availability, routing, demographics, pricing, and other things to slot in a concert. But we have been able to increase outside promoter bookings in the past few years due to their (promoters) persistence and my ability to sometimes move dates around. Our rental rate for the theatre is about half to one-quarter the national average. We do make it as amenable as possible for promoters to come in.
Which outside promoters do shows at The Bama?
Red Mountain Entertainment from Birmingham, and Outback Concerts in Nashville are the main two. Outback Concerts is bringing Old Crow Medicine Show this month (Jan.19, 2011). Sherpa Concerts from Nashville is bringing in the Yonder Mountain String Band (on Jan. 27, 2011).
Seating capacity is 1,064.
It’s a nice size, but it’s a little tricky (for shows). Sometimes it’s too big, and sometimes it’s too small. We had a date for Jackson Browne’s solo show in May. I was going to promote it with Red Mountain. We were crunching the numbers on it, and it just wouldn’t work. We were just too small for a ticket price. I even had some sponsors, but even with that money, it just wasn’t going to happen. I was disappointed as you can imagine.
How many music shows annually do you promote directly?
Not counting (a monthly) Acoustic Night, we only do 4 to 6 in-house shows a year. The rest is going to be from outside promoters. There’s still not that many shows. They’ll do maybe a dozen. One of the blessings and curses of being (in Tuscaloosa) is Alabama football; it dominates the town. People will come to Tuscaloosa and pay a scalper $500 to watch a UA (University of Alabama's Crimson Tide) football game, but they would be very hesitant to pay $75 to see Jackson Browne. I don’t think that we could have sold that ticket.
Bigger artists might play The Bama as a pickup date or they will instead go to Birmingham, which is 59 miles away.
Exactly. We have run into that quite a few times. We had a hold for Lucinda Williams for a long time (last year) and a few weeks before we were going to finalize it, she decided to go to Birmingham (to perform at the Alabama Theatre.)
What is the geographic range of your audience?
We’re near Birmingham, so we do draw some (people) from there but they draw more from us, I think, but we have to be careful in bookings. Any time I book (an act), we always put in our perimeter protection so they can’t play Birmingham 90 days before, and 90 days after.
Eliminating Birmingham and Montgomery (133 miles away), we draw from a 100 mile radius, mostly west Alabama. We even get people in from Mississippi. If people are fanatic for whoever is coming, they will come. When Aimee Mann was here we had people come from Atlanta even though she was playing there because we had seats. When she plays Atlanta, it is standing up (ticketing). Probably a reflection of my age (59) of people who don’t like standing up.
Do you attract an older audience?
Well, we do in some ways, but it depends (on the show). We’ll get some younger singer/songwriter in for Acoustic Night and college age kids will come. We get a lot of college kids for a movie series. We had the Avett Brothers last year and that was really a young crowd. NeedToBreathe sold out in September; that was mainly high school age.
The 7,470 capacity Tuscaloosa Amphitheater is scheduled to open March 31, 2011 with Kenny Chesney. Are you concerned about it?
Absolutely not. They will seat around 7,400, and we're just over 1,000, so you're talking apples and oranges. Also, the booker for the amphitheater, Red Mountain Entertainment, is one of the top promoters we work with at The Bama, so we are certain to continue our relationship with them, if not increase bookings.
As an amphitheater, they will be limited to a warm weather season and at the mercy of the elements; whereas we have year-round accessibility, a roof, and a great HVAC (heating and air conditioning) system. Not to mention a beautiful atmospheric auditorium, perfect sight lines, and great acoustics.
When you started booking at The Bama were you taken seriously by booking agents?
The first year I got here, the answer was no; there was no history. (Shows) were sporadic over the years. Somebody would rent the theatre and have a show and that would be the end of it. I started slowly and, while we are not booking weekly or anything, I have a relationship with High Road Touring and Frank Riley, and with Mario Tirado at CAA. They will at least answer the phone when I call. We have always tried to follow through and be professional. We haven’t had any disastrous shows. Knock on wood.
The Bama doesn’t ask for a percentage of merch from artists playing there.
We are probably the last theatre on the planet to do so. We strive to be as artist and promoter-friendly as possible. We do so few shows compared to a lot of venues, but when we look at the hospitality rider, we follow it to a “T.” If an artist wants bagels from H&H Bagels, we will try and get them instead of trying to get out of doing it. Artists seem to appreciate the fact that a little theatre like us is going to the effort.
Has the recession had an impact on The Bama?
I don’t think that it has been as bad here as other parts of the country, or even other parts of the state. UA (The University of Alabama) is a big employer, and they haven’t laid people off. We have a Mercedes-Benz factory that is still viable. I think that they cut a shift, and laid some people off, but they’ve brought them back. But I do think that people are more careful spending their money nowadays.
[Tuscaloosa boasts a diversified economy based on all sectors of manufacturing and service. The city's industrial and manufacturing base includes: BFGoodrich Tire Manufacturing, GAF Materials Corporation, Hunt Refining Company, JVC America, Nucor Steel; Phifer Wire and the Mercedes-Benz U.S. International assembly plant which began assembling the Mercedes-Benz M-Class in 1997; the R-Class Grand Sport Tourer in 2005; and recently began production with the GL-Class.]
Does The University of Alabama have many of their own shows?
Surprisingly, not many. When I was in college, it seemed like there was a show every week in the ’70s. In one spring semester I saw Poco, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Ritchie Havens, James Taylor, and Steven Still’s Manassas. The University of Alabama does, maybe, two shows a year. Some of that is cost, I guess. I don’t know why, other than that. That’s what keeps us limited.
You now have monthly all-ages Acoustic Nights in the Greensboro Room, a smaller room in The Bama.
The Acoustic Night has really been a lot of fun. We are trying to target people who love original music, but are not too fond of bars. We still have smoking in our bars here. There was nowhere in Tuscaloosa to hear (live) music unless you went to a bar. Then you are faced with smoking and late night starts. We also start early; we have never started later than 8 o’clock. It’s over by 10 PM. People get home in time to see the news.
Do you have a showbiz background in your family?
Not at all. If anything, they were anti-showbiz. They didn’t like the music thing. I grew up in Decatur (Georgia) and was raised Southern Baptist, so there’s a lot of repression. The long hair and the guitar—not too fond of that. My father would scratch his head (when I was a musician) and say, “I don’t understand. You have a college degree. Why are you wasting your time with this?”
What did your dad do?
He was a printer—a typesetter—back when that was a skill, and a craft. He learned it in the Navy. He did cold type and linotype for the Atlanta newspapers, the Constitution, and the Journal. He’d take me in there (to the shop). It was pretty exciting, very noisy; it was all handset.
[The Atlanta Constitution first published on June 16, 1868. The Atlanta Journal was established in 1883. The two papers consolidated in 1982 as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Novelist Margaret Mitchell worked for the Journal from 1922-1926. Scholars believe that her 1936 novel “Gone With the Wind” came about from a series of profiles of prominent Georgia Civil War generals she did for The Atlanta Journal's Sunday Magazine.]
The Beach Boys was the first concert you attended?
Yeah, the Beach Boys in 1964. I saw them at the Atlanta City Auditorium which is no longer there. It was one of those shows with 5 or 6 opening acts. I remember that Travis Wammack came out, and started with “Scratchy.” I just got chills when I heard that. It was like, “Wow.” I had never heard a live rock and roll band before, not someone professional. That was pretty exciting. The Beach Boys were great. It was the original Beach Boys, with Brian Wilson still there; it was that early. I still have my ticket stub; I think it was $1.50 to get in. I have my Beatles’ ticket stub from 1965, when they played the Atlanta Stadium (on August 18, 1965); it was $5.50.
[Mississippi guitarist Travis Wammack was only 17 in 1964, when he scored a national hit with "Scratchy” (a guitar instrumental version of Mel Torme’s 1962 hit “Comin’ Home Baby”). Wammack subsequently went on to become a key session player at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. In 1973, he released a solo self-named album on Fame Records, followed by the album “Not For Sale” on Capricorn Records in 1975. Wammack was Little Richard’s band leader 1984-1995.]
What do you recall about the Beatles’ concert?
Couldn’t hear a thing. It could have been four guys in suits I was so far away. I do remember that they had the Vox amps. It was exciting just to be there.
As a teenager, you played in several rock bands.
Like most kids, I saw the Beatles on the “Ed Sullivan Show” that first night, and that was it. In high school, I was in cover bands playing the Beatles, the Stones, Creedence, the Byrds and all that. I played rhythm guitar, and wrote sensitive songs. Once I got semi-serious (about music) my role model was Jackson Browne. He’s who I wanted to be after college.
[On Feb. 9, 1964, the Beatles stepped onto Ed Sullivan’s stage to make their American TV debut. 73 million Americans tuned in.]
Was music a big part of your life as a teenager?
Oh yeah. As often as I could, I would save up a $1.50 to go hear somebody. One of the most interesting shows that I saw was the Who opening for Herman’s Hermits (on Aug. 29, 1967 at the Atlanta Municipal Auditorium with the Blues Magoos). The Who played, and there might have been 100 people who knew who they were. All of the teenybopper girls were there to see Herman.
I had heard the Who when our family took a camping trip in Key West for a Christmas vacation. When we drove through Miami, a radio station was playing “My Generation.” I hadn’t heard it before; it didn’t get any airplay in Atlanta. I ordered the single when I got home, and played it for all my friends, “You’ve got to hear this. It’s unreal.” I found their first album and special ordered it. I prided myself on being the hippest 13 or 14-year-old in Decatur, Georgia. It wasn’t hard to do.
Were you also impressed when you first heard Jimi Hendrix?
I had never heard a human being play guitar like that. It was like hearing Travis Wammack live except that it was on a record. I was getting chills, going, “God, how is he doing that?” I had never heard anything like that. I saw the Experience in ’67 or ’68 (at the Atlanta Municipal Auditorium on Aug. 17, 1968). Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes was one of the opening acts along with Vanilla Fudge and Soft Machine.
The early ‘70s was a great time for music in the South.
Everybody in Georgia wanted to be (guitarist) Duane Allman. Skydog was an incredible guitar player. I saw him play with the Allman Brothers five or six times. They would play at Piedmont Park (in Atlanta). We had a hippie area in Atlanta. Everybody would go to Piedmont Park. High school kids could be weekend hippies, and go down to Piedmont Park on Sunday and see bands. The summer I graduated from high school, the Allman Brothers played in the park for free.
Where did you go to college?
I went to the University of Georgia (in Athens, Georgia). I didn’t play in frat bands or anything like that. I was doing my Jackson Brown imitation. So I didn’t work a lot. A sensitive guy pouring his heart out. I was playing around (coffee houses) in Atlanta. There was the Harvest Moon Saloon, and the Moon Shadow (Tavern). I opened for a lot of people there. I liked (guitarists) Clarence White, David Lindley and, of course, Ry Cooder.
Meanwhile the Allman Brothers, Charlie Daniels & others were out there proclaiming, “Be Proud you’re a rebel because the South is going to do it again.”
You are exactly right. I was the square peg in the round hole because I wasn’t playing Southern boogie or anything that had to do with the Allman Brothers or Macon, George or anything like that. I did get to open for John Prine and Joe Ely at the Agora Ballroom Atlanta.
After college you played in a duo.
All Good & Bennett. That was with Gary Bennett. Gary was a really great singer and keyboard player. We played about four years together, from 1980 to ‘84 or '85. We opened for Roseanne Cash on her first tour as well as for the Dirt Band, and John Hartford. We opened for John Hartford twice; he was great. I loved it when I was standing with the tech guy, and he was looking at the list of requirements, and there was the four by eight sheet of maple plywood that John Hartford always asked for. The tech guy asked, “What is he going to do with a sheet of plywood?” I said, “You’ll see.” And, of course, John tap-danced on it.
Gary went to L.A. for about a year. Do you remember the first sitcom Tom Hanks was in, “Bosom Buddies?” Gary sang the theme song, the Billy Joel song (“My Life”). He was the sound-alike on that. That was his claim to fame.
[The “Bosom Buddies” sitcom starred Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari. It ran from 1980 to 1982 on ABC and in reruns in the summer of 1984 on NBC. The series was conceived as both a takeoff on the movie “Some Like It Hot” and a male counterpart to the sitcom “Laverne & Shirley.”]
What did you study at the University of Georgia?
Did you think you were going to be the next Leonard Cohen?
No. I was going to be the next Jackson Browne. Later on, I went back to graduate school at Georgia State to take a Master’s degree, which I never finished.
You got out of the music business.
I had had enough. It was, “We have two kids. I need to get a job.” I had also started working as an I.A. stagehand in Atlanta, at The Fox Theatre and the Atlanta Civic Centre where I got some of the knowledge that I have today. I learned a lot of the technical aspects of the theatre—lighting, and sound.
If you pay attention as a stage hand, you can figure out how the front of house people do things, and how the management of a theatre is done; watching how they manage the labor. If you get to know some of them, you could kind of get into their head about how they booked events, and how they negotiated contracts with artists.
Any shows you remember from that period?
One of the things I really enjoyed doing is that each year the Metropolitan Opera (of New York) would come to Atlanta and do a repertory series in the spring. There would be a different opera every night. It could be “La Boheme” one night, and the next night “Carmina Burana.” It could be anything. I learned a lot from the Local 1 stagehands from New York who came down.
As a stage hand, you get to see everything.
And you watch it sideways from the wings. There were a lot of great shows that I saw. Prince played The Fox and he was just phenomenal. And I’m not even a fan, but that guy is really just something else. There were some great touring companies of Broadway shows that came through, like “Evita” and “The King and I” with Yul Brynner in the late ‘70s.
After working in theatres in Atlanta, what did you do?
My wife and I with the kids moved to Denver in 1993. Neither one of us had jobs. We loaded up the wagon Jed Clampett style. My wife’s sister lived there, and we had visited many times and really liked it there. We thought that we would give out West a shot and we stayed for 10 years. I was with a vending company; I just stumbled onto this job, and we were able to pay the rent, and save up for the kids’ college.
What brought you back to the South?
This opportunity to manage the Bama Theatre came up. My wife’s other sister lives in Tuscaloosa, and she knew about (the job being available). I sent them my resume, and they hired me.
Why seek this position?
Ever since my stagehand days, I had loved old theaters, I always wanted to own one. Of course, unless you are connected with capital, that’s pretty impossible. To manage one is the next best thing.
Even a theatre where late at night you can hear doors being slammed shut, people talking on the balcony, and the elevator going up and down with no one in it?
Oh boy, I’m sure every theatre has those stories. We did have a couple of paranormal (investigators) come in (the West Alabama Paranormal Research and Investigation Group, and the Tuscaloosa Paranormal Research Group).
One of them spent an entire night here. They put people in the basement and some in the projection booth. They had their little ghost meters (electromagnetic field detectors and digital recorders). They recorded some things, and had me listen to them. I went, “I don’t know what that is.” I would say that it was all inconclusive, but they seemed to like what they found.
But I have had some experiences being on the stage at 2 A.M. and I’ve heard the elevators start up, and I know there’s nobody in the building. It has happened a number of times.
Old buildings do tend to have noises.
That doesn’t seem to happen during the day time though. Only when I’m here by myself at night.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide: Celebrating 40 Years Of The Juno Awards.”