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  Industry Profile

Industry Profile: Keith Wortman

— By Larry LeBlanc (CelebrityAccess)

This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Keith Wortman, CEO, Blackbird Presents.

This interview with Keith Wortman was challenging as he reshaped the traditional profile form into a rat-a-tat monologue.

And, it’s fully understandable.

Wortman heads New York-based Blackbird Presents that creates and produces multi-artist concert celebrations, broadcast specials, and music releases, highlighting the catalogs of America’s greatest music treasures.

Not only is he a serious music fan who is jammed working on countless projects at the same time but, in caring and in having a passionate approach to the shows being created and produced, he’s intent that these shows touch and inspire fans and musicians the world over.

So his dance card is crammed tying up details, and in deal-making.

Since partnering with the Johnny Cash estate for its first project “We Walk the Line” in 2012, Blackbird Presents has honored John Lennon, Jerry Garcia, Mavis Staples, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Dr. John, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Band, and the Neville Brothers, drawing from a musical network of 200 to 300 musicians.

Currently, Blackbird Presents is overseeing the second leg of the of “The Last Waltz 40 Tour” which celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Band’s farewell performance.

Next to be honored will be Merle Haggard. “Sing Me Back Home: The Music of Merle Haggard” is slated to take place April 6th at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville with planned performances by Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Kenny Chesney, Loretta Lynn, and Kacey Musgraves.

Blackbird Presents has recently partnered with Universal Caroline for its own imprint with its first release being “I’ll Take You There: Celebrating 75 Years of Mavis Staples.” The recording is from a concert on Nov. 19, 2014, at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, and includes performances by Aaron Neville, Michael McDonald, Arcade Fire’s Win Butler, and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy.

The second leg of “The Last Waltz 40 Tour,” which celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Band’s farewell performance, kicks off March 30th in Dallas, Texas.

The first leg turned out to be such a positive experience that all the musicians said, let’s see if we can find a time to go out again. That was a challenge because most of these musicians are working musicians in their own right, so schedule wise a lot of folks had prior commitments. But it was because the music was so great, and the fan reaction was so gratifying that we were motivated to find a window and make the announcement.

The tour originated with a two-night, sold-out concert event at the Saenger Theater entitled. “Last Waltz New Orleans: A Celebration of the 40th Anniversary of The Last Waltz” during last year’s Jazz Fest in New Orleans. It was not envisioned as a national tour?

No, it wasn’t. I create and produce shows on the second weekend in the evening during Jazz Fest at the Saenger Theater. Last year, we were struggling with the loss of our friend (influential New Orleans music figure) Allen Toussaint who we loved and had worked with. We thought, “It probably makes sense to do a show for Allen during Jazz Fest that honors him, and his vast catalog of music.” But what we soon realized was that there were so many Allen Toussaint tributes going around that it didn’t seem like we had that much to add or anything different to add.

Allen Toussaint, what an imposing figure for decades as a musician, songwriter, arranger, and record producer.

He was a special guy and a true gentleman and a professional. I miss him dearly.

It’d be hard figuring out what period of Allen’s half century plus career to highlight or even what aspect of his career to showcase.

Exactly. Then we also realized that it was the 40th anniversary of The Last Waltz (held at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on American Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 25, 1976), and given Allen’s connection to the Band we thought, “Okay, here’s a great way to combine our love for both things: Music of the Band, and our love for Allen. I set about putting together a band very much like the Band. A super band with multiple keyboard players, and with three vocalists. It sort of fell into place perfectly with Warren Haynes (of Gov’t Mule), Jamey Johnson, Michael McDonald, John Medeski, Don Was and some of the local New Orleans players including Terrence Higgins on drums, and Mark Mullins and Levee Horns as the horn section. That’s where it started. Those were the first two shows the second weekend of Jazz Fest at the Saenger Theatre.

The shows had an immediate emotional impact with audiences.

We knew that something special was happening in the room with the fans from the first note (of the first night). They didn’t sit the entire night. As soon as we announced the show, it sold out, and we had to announce the second one. Then, as I came out of New Orleans the next day, I was getting calls from promoters all over the country saying, “You’ve got to take this thing on the road. We need to hear this in New York, Boston, Chicago, and L.A.”

The Band’s guitarist Robbie Robertson could be dismissive of an attempt to reshape their music. What’s been his reaction to the show?

I don’t think Robbie has seen any of our shows. There’s a chance he will come to the West Coast shows. But we were fortunate enough to have (the Band’s keyboardist) Garth (Hudson) not only attend a couple of shows, but he actually played on a couple of shows. He couldn’t have been more generous, thrilled and supportive. His performances blew people away as only Garth can do. So, as you can imagine Larry, that was very gratifying for all of us to experience.

Today, I’m drawn to tears in watching footage of (the Band drummer) Levon Helm.

I am as well. He meant so much to me.

What is the first show you worked on with this format, and that you and Don Was collaborated on?

The first show of the company, and in this format, honored the music of Johnny Cash and was called “We Walk The Line” in early 2012 on what would have been Johnny Cash’s 80th birthday. We did it in Austin. We felt moved to honor the music in a way that it hadn’t been done before. It was a terrific show that became a very highly-rated PBS Pledge special, and a very successful music release that we put out through Sony Music.

Don Was has been a pivotal component of all of the Blackbird Presents shows.

Don has been my creative partner from day one at Blackbird. We have established a unique partnership in that we will kick around ideas for projects and unless the two of us together agree on something, we don’t move forward with it. It is just based on what is in our hearts, and are we passionate about the artist? Are we passionate about the songs? Once Don and I agree on it (a show), once it has passed the litmus test--Do we love it? Number one. Number two, is there some vast body of work some 20 or 25 songs that we can build a show around? And number three, has this particular artist, and their songs been so influential that they have inspired generations of musicians so that we can call people, and they’d want to come out?

It could be hard for others to do these types of shows without succumbing to schlock or caricature. With “The Last Waltz 40 Tour,” for example, you aren’t attempting to replicate the original show.

First off, I want to be clear with you Larry. That part of our business, the all-star concert celebrations, is just that. It’s a part of a very diverse set of things we do. So in that particular part of our business, the onus is on us to be highly selective with these specials shows that we create. We say “no” just about every day. We say “no” more often than not.

We really have to stay true to our vision.

Once we pass these three hurdles, then it’s about how do we present this in a way that is fresh, unique and exciting? Our job is to breathe new life into these songs. It’s not to replicate them. It’s not to knock them off. Don says, “Well you can’t out Levon Levon Helm. You can’t out Lennon John Lennon.” So we come to it with new arrangements in mind. We work with the artists to make these songs their own. As long as we continue to do that we think the shows will continue to be once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

The artists that you have honored--other than John Lennon and, perhaps, Johnny Cash—including the Band, the Neville Brothers, Dr. John, Mavis Staples, Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson are part of the fabric of American music, and while not mega record sellers, their music pulls at generational heartstrings. Has that been a conscious choice?

To be totally honestly with you, I also get emotional at our shows. I also get emotional when I watch the Band’s music being performed. I understand your emotional attachment to that particular artist. But these shows they are not tributes, they are all-star concerts...

I understand that. Many of these artists are no longer with us or as active in their careers. You are extending their music and an aspect of their character lives on. I get that. At the same time, the music of an act like the Band can bring you to tears.

Yeah, so in finishing the thought. It (the show) is driven by a one and only thing which is what am I passionate about? What is my favorite music? To me, music has had such a significant impact. It has helped shape the way that I think. The way that I feel. The way I communicate. And, so these musicians and their songs have moved me in such a special way; have motivated me to want to expose these artists and their songs to as large of an audience as possible. It is simply nothing more than the music that I care about. That I am passionate about and, to use your analogy, it is the stuff that has moved me to tears.

The Neville siblings Cyril and Charles participated in the Dr. John tribute "The Musical Mojo of Dr. John” in 2014. Then the following year came "Nevilles Forever: A Celebration of the Neville Brothers and Their Music," honoring the Neville Brothers that also featured Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Trombone Shorty, Terence Blanchard, Galactic, Anders Osborne, John Boutte, and Widespread Panic. Working with New Orleans’ finest on their own turf for both events must have been challenging for a Detroiter like Don Was.

It was an education for him. Once it (a show) passes Don immerses himself in the music in only the way that he can do. When I brought him to New Orleans for the first time (for the Dr. John event) he got such a thrill in meeting all of the local players, all of the legendary New Orleans’s artists. We were careful that the all-star band that we put together was made up mostly of New Orleans-based musicians. We have a very open philosophy about things so we collaborate with the local players. We consult with a range of local folks because we want to make sure that we go it right.

Any celebration of local artists in New Orleans is going to be heavily scrutinized for sure.

Exactly, especially during Jazz Fest. But what that has led to is us having this deep love affair for New Orleans’ music, and culture, and the city. So we will be back there every year, the second week in the Jazz Fest, putting on a special show that we think moves the fans and we are passionate about.

Who will you be honoring this year?

It will be a show honoring a band that has a funny New Orleans tilt to it, and that’s Little Feat. Their live album we are honoring is “Waiting For Columbus” (from 1977). So the show will be called “New Orleans is Waiting For Columbus.” We will perform that album in its entirety for the fans down in New Orleans.

It can be said that the Neville Brothers never got a real send-off in 2012 when siblings Art, Aaron, and Cyril, and Aaron’s son Ivan went their separate ways. Their final gig at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles was somewhat under the radar, a sad conclusion to the 35-year reign of New Orleans' first family of R&B. Was it a hard show to put together given the brothers had moved onto to solo projects?

Every show has its challenges. Every show is an enormous amount of work and moving parts. That particular show, I’d say...hard is a relative word. Once the brothers agreed that it would be nice to take the stage together for the last time, and say goodbye to the New Orleans’ based fans, from there it was somewhat seamless in that I’d call an artist, and I would explain the show, and I would explain why we are doing it, and there was very little hesitation. Everybody sort of agreed. “How have we not properly feted the Neville Brothers one last time in their own hometown of New Orleans?” Once the guys agreed, it became relatively smooth (to put together), just based on peoples’ schedules. If they were around, and available they were going to come out, and pay their respects to the Neville Brothers.

All of them (the shows) are enormously challenging. A lot of moving parts. It is not for the faint of heart what I do. That’s for sure. So that’s (the planning and juggling are) a requisite of every show that we do. The first hurdle is that we only do it (a show)with the support of the particular artist that we want to honor and

The line-ups for these show are balanced between high-profile veterans and celebrated recent newcomers.

Yeah, and what I found with my relationships with the newer artists is that they share a similar passion for the great, honest song making, and artists that came before with us.

As a generation, we grew up in a wonderful era of music.

What we’ve seen over the last few years is a demand from music fans for authenticity. We have seen a demand for a return to honest music making. That, in many ways, has given rise to the Americana scene, and that has given rise and supported people breaking through like Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, and Jason Isbell. Honest musicians. They don’t use special effects. They don’t use Auto-Tune for their voices. I think this demand for realness has allowed these great artists to break through today and, in many ways, these artists are a throwback to the ones that we loved in our formative years, like the Band.

Once you pick someone you want to honor with a show and pick the players to perform, do the performers make requests to cover songs or do you give them a list of songs to choose from?

In the process of deciding whether we are going to do a show or not one of the things that we do is that we create a master list of songs, and then I will marinate on it. I will sleep on it. I will live with it. From that master list, I will start envisioning in my mind which artists I think would do a killer job of doing particular songs.

Being cognizant of what order the songs would be in the framework of a show as well?

Absolutely. I envision the show in its set list form in my head as I stay with it. So when I am phoning artists one of two things will happen. Either the artist will say “Yeah, I love Dr. John” or “I love John Lennon” or “I love Jerry Garcia, and this is the song that I want to do.” In that regard, it makes it relatively easy. Other artists are receptive to request ideas. Every time I pick up the phone to do a show, I have two or three songs ideas already in my mind for that particular artist.

You might suggest several songs, but performers might counter with a more obscure song you aren’t interested in.

We have pushed artists many times to reconsider a song idea. Sometimes we have succeeded in that discussion; sometimes we’ve failed. Inevitably, if an artist has a passion for a particular song, they will put their heart into it, and the execution of it ends up being incredible. The challenge becomes, Larry, if 7 artists all request the same two songs. Then you have to be really diplomatic in sorting through how to handle that and try to make artists open their eyes to other songs that could be great for them.

Bruce Springsteen's participation in the Dr. John event, opening the show with "Right Place, Wrong Time,” was confirmed only a couple days in advance.

Yes. In that case, that song had not yet been picked. We had some ideas around it. We had some plans for it. We were toying around with some things. I don’t know if it was divine intervention that Bruce through his (management) team reached out, saying that this is a song that he wanted to do. That was the last piece of the puzzle that we were placing (for the show).

How do you turn down Bruce Springsteen?

Well, we never would. But, in that particular case, that song was available. When they called and said, “That’s the one that we want to do,” it’s like putting the final piece of a 1,000-piece puzzle to bed, and in place.

How have you been able to build up such an exceptional network of musicians and managers to work with? People likely accept your calls today because you have been successful but in starting out was there skepticism from managers and artists that you approached?

Well, there wasn’t skepticism. People had known that I was involved in the creation of a label (Alphabet Records) They had known me for running MGX (MGX Lab, the full-service digital media, brand strategy, and business development agency). A lot of my clients were musicians and management companies.

Prior to these Blackbird Presents shows, celebrating the life and work of music icons, this was the sector of either cover bands or “Beatlemania” styled musicals or, perhaps, the Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band tours. What Blackbird Presents does hadn’t really been done before.

I suppose you could say that we carved out a very small niché for what we do. We are happy to be a small cog in the wheel of an artist’s life. I’m not sure if it hadn’t been done before. I will take your word for it. On the one hand, I had the credibility in the marketplace of being someone with high integrity, and trust, and taste, and ability to execute successfully.

The shows seem put together with considerable thought. Something for sure that hadn’t been attempted previously.

Yes. So as I was saying, on the one hand, I have the credibility of being a high-integrity executive in the music media and entertainment space. So I had the trust of a lot of managers, and I had the benefit of working with a lot of musicians through the years. So that when I called them to present this concept, to present this idea, it wasn’t particularly a hard sell. That track record of success I had allowed me to call them, to present the idea in a way that meant something to them. They trusted my ability to execute because they had seen it before in other areas.

Sometimes you have to have that trust.

Once that I asked for their trust, and once we executed this portfolio of projects to this high degree of success, this great history of projects, two things have happened, Larry. One, we have become sort of the best friend to managers, labels and publishers. That is our primary role and, frankly, our only role is to work with them to leverage their relationships with talent; to leverage their IP (intellectual property) into building great shows. In the instance of Johnny Cash, it was this idea out of Sony Music. They said, “We have this vast catalog of all these great artists. Can you help us organize an idea that helps us monetize our catalog?”

That request came from Adam Block, the president of Legacy Recordings at Sony Music?

Yes, Legacy, and Adam Block. The same thing has happened with management companies, estates, and (music) publishers. They have this great treasure trove of IP. They began to call me, “Can you take our IP, and create these great projects out of them? Create these great shows out of them?”

Shows like these would be quite an attraction to rights holders as well as to artists and songwriters.

Any show shines a big light on the work of a particular artist, of a catalog that they own or, in the case of a publishing, a writer who is a writer for a publishing company. It allows us to shine this light on that work. It allows us to create a great marketing platform to market the prior work. It allows us to put new products into the marketplace. To be honest with you, my whole business, my whole career, is based on a trust that I have established with labels, publishers, and management companies.

On the management company side, we really rely on our managers We rely on relationships, and our partnerships with managers such that we are their first call from when their artist has a unique or creative idea, So, any pet project, any dream project--whether it’s in live; whether it’s in documentaries; whether it’s in a television series--we become that go-to partner for management companies if their client has a great idea. Lastly, I would say to you is that having done some 20 of these shows over the past few years, we touch I would say about 150 artists a year.

That a significant tool to structure programming.

It’s become a family. It’s become a family with artists and their managers and what that has done for us is that pushed us into other areas. Artists would say to us, “Well, shit, am I going to be invited onto the next Blackbird show? When am I going to see you guys again? How do I know that I will be at the next one?” That pushed us into a whole other area of our business which is creating an annual festival event.

What rights need to be addressed for these shows?

Well, it depends. We organize the entire bucket of rights. So if it’s something to be filmed and recorded, such that it’s going to be a broadcast and a musical release, we sit down from the outset, and we organize the entire suite of rights.

Break it down for me.

If it’s something that we are doing for broadcast and music release, it always starts with the artist that we are honoring. So that is the first deal that we always make. Then, depending on the status of that artist’s master rights, their master recordings, and publishing catalog, we then make arrangements to work in conjunction with either the record label, the publisher or both to execute the project. The beauty of what we do is that everybody wins. The artist we are honoring wins. Their record label wins. And their publishing company wins.

If it’s one of the projects where we are doing it for music release and for broadcast.

Sometimes we will just do a show purely for the live experience of it. In that case, we will investigate copyrights and trademarks and make sure that we have organized those rights in a proper way. But for the stuff that we are doing that is just not broadcasts and music releases, that’s the area that we focus on making sure that were working in conjunction and co-operation with the artist, the estate, their labels, and with the publisher.

In some cases, attaining rights could be complicated if multiple labels or publishers are involved. Was that the case with “Imagine: John Lennon 75th Birthday Concert” that paid homage to John on what would have been his 75th birthday at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City, and that was televised on AMC? There are rights not directly controlled by his widow Yoko Ono. Was that a difficult project?

It was complicated, but we worked closely with Yoko and her representatives on the John specific stuff. He’s a partner, and a member of the Beatles, so they helped facilitate anything that we needed to secure.

For most Beatles songs, a user needs the approval of Sony/ATV Music Publishing, the publisher; and the Beatles, and their estates.

Again, they look at us, and we looked at them, as valued partners and because of that, the rights side of thing went smoothly.

[According to a lawsuit filed on Jan. 2101, Sir Paul McCartney put Sony/ATV Music Publishing on notice as early as October 2008 that he wishes to reclaim rights to the songs he co-wrote with the late fellow ex-Beatle John Lennon from September 1962 to June 1971. Those songs form the bulk of the Beatles catalog.]

In 2016, Blackbird Presents and Concord Bicycle Music joined forces for the multi-format release of three concert recordings featuring the music of Dr. John, Emmylou Harris, and Jerry Garcia. Will there be further releases through Concord?

I would think so. The first project that we did with Concord was the release of our Gregg Allman concert celebration called “All My Friends” in 2014.

That led to 2014 Best American Roots Performance Grammy nomination for Gregg’s and Taj Mahal’s performance of “Statesboro Blues.”

It did and it (the project) was a great success. Through that experience, I got to know (Concord Bicycle Music CEO) Scott Pascucci and the head of Rounder Records, John Virant. We had such a great experience with them that it felt like the natural home, and the best home, for some of our upcoming projects. That’s why we made the three-project deal with them.

John Virant hasn’t yet coaxed you into organizing a Rush concert celebration yet?

(Laughing) We have had conversations about it.

John Virant is one of Rush’s biggest supporters.

I’m pretty big too. There’s a lot of big Rush fans out there. One of my favorite bands of all time. I remember sneaking out of my house as a kid… I grew up 15 minutes from the Nassau Coliseum...and I remember sneaking out of my house to take a bus to go and see Rush at the Nassau Coliseum. They have a special place in my heart. I am a huge Rush fan. So yes, I expect that we will continue to do more releases with the Concord family on the one hand; and that John Virant and I have talked about a Rush show. I said to John that the big question will be around if artists feel like they can do it or not. Whether artists can handle it or not. Whether artists feel intimidated by playing those songs or not. It certainly is not easy.

Did you see the 2010 documentary “Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage” that used extensive archival footage to chronicle the group's roller coaster 40-year history?

There are days that I am thankful for—and you saw that in the film—it was looking pretty bleak for them. That they may not make it through. That they might not make it. Thank goodness they did because it’s been such a special ride being a fan of the band.

Would you consider honoring Warren Zevon?

We are huge fans of Warren Zevon. He’s a guy who has meant a lot to me. As has John Prine. Of course, there’s also Jackson Browne and J.J. Cale. There is no shortage of incredible artists who we would love to present their songs.

Can you remember who was the promoter of the Nassau Coliseum shows that you attended?

They were Ron Delsener shows. It was a very active place (for concerts). I think I had three jobs as a kid. I had a paper route, and I had jobs snow shoveling and leaf raking. All of it went to buying music and to buy concert tickets.

Do you miss record stores?

Oh, I miss them terribly.

Where would you buy records as a teenager?

Mostly Tower Records. It’s not so much that I miss the retail experience. I was a big supporter of Tower Records, and most of my hard earned money went there buying and consuming music. I miss the art of the record. I miss the art of the album. I also miss the art of making a record. I miss an artist wanting to make a statement, telling a story and communicating a vision over 50 minutes. I miss the art of making a great album.

(Laughing) I miss flipping an album over to Side 2.

I want to be very specific about this. It’s not so much the nostalgia of holding a record in my hand or flipping through the liner notes. I love all of that, but I miss the actual artistic statement of making a full album. It just seems that (today) it’s singles that are churned out. It’s just there, and then it’s gone.

How old are you?

I’m 45.

So you missed the ‘50s and ‘60s, the era of 45 RPM hit singles and Top 40 radio. You grew up later with the album experience.

Yes, all that preceded me. I grew up in love with 50 minute masterpieces.

At what stage in your life did you get involved with live music?

The first show that I worked on, and that I sort of got the bug, was while in college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I was a bit of an entrepreneur in college. I was passionate about bringing great music to our campus. I had a love affair with New Orleans’ music as a kid growing up. By the time that I was in college I felt manly enough to call a manager and an agent and book the band. At 18, I started booking bands in Madison, Wisconsin. I brought the Radiators to Madison. It was nothing more than I wanted to have a great night of music for all of my friends. It turned out to be a great success, and that’s when the bug sort of bit me about putting on shows with great music and presenting them to folks.

What were you studying?

I was double major. I started with political science, and history.

Did you graduate?

I did. When I came out of university I worked with some friends in the creation of specialized marketing and music company called Alphabet City Records. That’s where it all started for me professionally.

Later you were at MGX Lab?

Yes, I was at MGX, a digital media strategy and production company. I was the president and we organized, created. and developed digital strategy plans for a range of athletes, musicians, labels and Fortune 500 companies. Inevitably music was part of all those strategies. Live music was a huge part of those strategies. That’s when I found, “I really need to be really focusing on the music side of things.”

You dug further into the digital entertainment space in 2010 with Cambio, which was developed to deliver entertainment news content, video, live events, and social media to consumers with support from AOL which fully acquired Cambio in 2012.

I’m not sure what AOL has done with it. They are fond of changing things pretty often but Cambio was something that we developed at MGX. Amongst our clients was Disney and the Jonas Brothers. It gave us great learning about the teen adult space. What we found was that there really was no general entertainment network for teens and young adults. You either had stuff for kids with all of the Viacom (Viacom Global Entertainment Group) properties like Nickelodeon, or you had MTV for 16, 17 or 18-year-olds. But that was kids puking on the Jersey shore, and pregnant teens, and that kind of stuff. Then you had their (Viacom) VH-1 properties for an ever older audience. What we found was that there was no MTV for teens young adults. There was no E-entertainment for teens young adult. So we designed and built and launched Cambio to be that online digital content platform with daily entertainment content and weekly series and monthly specials. We brought in one of our other clients to be a partner, AOL, and we structured the deal in such a way that if we reached certain thresholds of success AOL would buy the business from us, and we were fortunate enough to do that.

At the time it was a natural alliance for AOL which was seeking content.

At the time they needed it, and it was a great success for them. It ended up being fortunate for me because it allowed me to be able to focus on the music side of my business and my passion and it really led to the development and creation of Blackbird today.

Blackbird Production launched the first American Roots Music & Arts Festival last year (October 17-18). Will there a follow-up American Roots Festival this year?

Yes. We do that with Eric Church, an artist that we love, and have respect for. We created that with him. We program that with him. We are in the process of deciding on the date of this year. It looks like it’s going to be in September or October.

Will it again be at Walnut Creek Amphitheatre in Raleigh, North Carolina?

Still in Raleigh. It is important to Eric that we do it in North Carolina, which is where he’s from. So we will be there again, absolutely.

How successful was the first event?

It was a great success. We did about 20,000 people. It was an intense effort because we put it together pretty quickly over the course of three or four weeks. To be honest with you when we came up for air, and we took a step back, we said to ourselves, “Holy shit.” We hadn’t really appreciated the magnitude of the line-up. But we came up for air and said, “Yeah. Eric Church and Willie Nelson, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and Sheryl Crow. It was extraordinary. We are getting to work on it shortly, and we are excited to be coming back this year.

The financial risk with a festival is far more than the other single events of the company or even a tour that can be stopped due to poor ticket sales.

It’s a greater risk. It’s greater stakes. But if you believe in something, and you have the ability to market properly, the risk is minimized. We felt that partnering with Eric and these artists in the great state of North Carolina, and giving people a great experience, that those ingredients would add up to something special. We are proud that it did.

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.”

Larry is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry. He is a board member of the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ontario.

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