This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Lauren Wayne, GM, State Theatre, Portland, Maine.
Portland, Maine is a remarkable city with a lively music scene.
On any given night, you can stroll down Congress Street in the Arts District, and hear any type of music at any of the many venues on and around Congress.
Locals and numerous touring bands all agree that the State Theatre there is the crown of New Englandís live music scene.
Also, perhaps one of the most knowledgeable talent buyers in North America is the Stateís GM Lauren Wayne who has worked in the city for more than a decade.
In addition to booking performances at the State and other local venues under State Theatre Presents, Wayne oversees all operations of the theatre including production management, box office and ticketing, concessions and other sales.
With her father working for Pillsbury, Wayne grew up around America. She attended the University of Richmond in Richmond, Virginia where she attained a Bachelor of Arts degree with double majors in history and journalism in 1995.
After college, she visited a friend living in New Hampshire. While there, she drove to Portland, fell in love with the city, and immediately moved there. She took various office jobs before landing a job as assistant/marketing coordinator with local promoter Jim Ahearne.
At the time, Ahearne was booking shows for Boston-based promoter Don Law, whoís Blackstone Entertainment had been purchased by SFX Entertainment in 1998, and which later became part of Live Nation.
Wayne later booked shows in Portland for SFX/Live Nation, and did marketing for Live Nation in Boston.
The State Theatre opened its doors for the first time Nov. 8, 1929 for Gloria Swanson's first talkie, ďThe Trespasser.Ē
Designed by Portland architect Herbert W. Rhodes, the theater's original furnishings included wrought iron stairs, bronze doors, intricate moldings, and four Spanish balconies.
The State operated as a first-run movie house until the late 1960s, when it became an X-rated theatre. In 1989, it was closed, and fell into a state of disrepair.
The State reopened as a live music venue in 1993. However, the run was short-lived. During a show a large chunk of ceiling plaster came crashing down, which led to a dispute about who should pay for repairs, the owners or the operators. When it happened again in 1996, the theatre was once more closed.
In 2000, Stone Coast Brewing took over ownership of the building, and reopened the venue. However, doors were closed again in 2006.
When the State closed in 2006, Portland lost its only mid-sized venue capable of hosting nationally popular acts.
The State, however, reopened in 2010 with partners Crothers Entertainment & Productions/ Higher Ground in South Burlington, Vermont; and The Bowery Presents in New York under the name CroBo LLC.
The Stateís current rebirth began when Alex Crothers became enchanted by the theatre in 1994. He had driven there to see a Widespread Panic show while a student at the University of Vermont.
Crothers brought the project to Jim Glancy and John Moore of The Bowery Presents. Though The Bowery Presents had made a sizable impact on New Yorkís music scene, it had yet to operate a theater outside the metropolitan area.
In June, 2010, the co-owners hired Wayne.
Wayne and her team then oversaw four months of extensive renovations that modernized the State with a new sound system, and updating the acoustics and lighting. Additionally, the theatre was reseated; and the stage was raised 18 inches. The theaterís original architectural flourishes, including four faux balconies, giant banks of columns and sculpted scenes on each side of the stage, were repainted and cleaned.
This work was in addition to the previous two years of work by the venueís landlord, Stone Coast Properties that included rewiring the venue, building new fire escapes, and restoring the ceiling.
The State Theatre reopened on Oct. 15, 2010 with a performance by My Morning Jacket.
Over the past two years, the tenacious and musically savvy Wayne has booked such diverse acts as Peter Frampton, Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt, Jeff Tweedy, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Bright Eyes, Iron & Wine, the Avett Brothers, Snoop Dogg, the Pixies, and the Black Keys.
A few months back, she heard that Mumford & Sons were planning to do a handful of U.S. shows this summer, and that they were looking for quintessentially American cities to play.
In pitching the band, Wayne name-checked Portland native son, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, as well as talking up Portland's vibrant arts scene, art galleries, and art school. She also played up Portland's rich history as a seaport.
As a result, Mumford & Sons are set to play Portland's Eastern Promenade on Aug. 4th, 2012.
You wear multiple hats at the StateóGM, talent buyer, and marketing person.
I wear many hats here, but itís a smaller market, and I am used to doing whatever it takes to get things done. Being the general manager of the theater, as well as the buyer and marketer, is really a great experience as well, and just as rewarding as being able to book shows, and bring great music to Portland.
Sometimes I will help to take tickets at the door or help ushers just because itís a great way to get to know my customers and learn who is buying tickets. I love that kind of face-to-face interaction. Itís also pretty great to be able to see my staff work their asses off at shows, but all the while enjoying the music, and enjoying themselves.
I love everything that I do. I feel like I am a good buyer; but I think that I am a better marketer.
What makes a good buyer?
For me, it is trying to negotiate a fair price for the talent that keeps a fair price on the ticket, which I am a huge, huge stickler about. Because it is a smaller market, and people arenít used to paying high ticket prices, thereís that constant dance just keeping it (a show) affordable, and making sure the band gets what they need to have a successful show.
An affordable ticket for live music has become more important than ever; particularly in smaller markets, and also with the current downturn in the economy.
I really do find that our tickets are quite affordable. We will get some push back when our tickets go above $30 or $35. That is really getting less so now that the economy is getting better; and I think that people in Portland realize that in order to get a band hereóand it might be your favorite bandóthat they might have to pay $35 or $40 to see a show. But you canít pick a better venue. Primus or the Pixies at the State Theatre, it is just an intimate, awesome place to see them. Thankfully, people here really understand that.
Do the agents you work with understand your perimeters as well?
They do. Almost every agent that I work with understands this market. Occasionally, we will get a bit of a push back, but usually it is just me being super cautious about the ticket price. It has always worked out. When Iíve gotten push back, and I raised the ticket price, it worked. We got a lot of sold out shows.
Your team oversaw 80 shows last year.
We actually did 90 shows including our off site events. It was about 80 shows at the theatre. Itís a lot of shows for our team, which runs really lean. We only have three full-time people. Itís me and my bar manager Fayth Preyer who is the assistant GM; and Ryan Wallace who is my production manager. So itís a lot for the three of us, but weíve got a lot of support and help. McCrae Hathaway is my part-time administration assistant. (James) Glancy and Alex Crothersóas well as John Moore down at The Bowery Presents and Jesse Mann, their GM down thereóhave been a great support system, and are amazing mentors of mine. I really appreciate them.
What shows do you have coming up?
Weíve got Rufus Wainwright (on July 31). I have never seen him. We have Fiona Apple (on July 1); and Old Crow Medicine Show (Aug. 8). I am personally excited for the M83 show (on Aug. 8). Then thereís some really cool stuff that I am working on in the fall, as well.
Do you have a favorite band?
I have a couple. I have always been a huge fan of Modest Mouse and Calexico; I love DeVotchKa; and Beirut is one of my favorites. When I got to have Beirut here (on July 29, 2011), I was in heaven.
How do you discover new music?
I guess itís firing up Spotify, and listening to some new stuff, and then going on their suggestions. I do the internet a lot. I ask a lot of my staff who are huge music fans. I just kinda keep an ear to the ground. Going out and seeing a lot of local music; listening to other people; and watching the (industry gross) numbers. Obviously, the agents are good at what they do; but I have a few that I really trust. If they tell me that this show is going to blow up, I know that it is going to blow up. So itís a lot of things.
Any agents that have been really helpful?
I work with almost all of the agencies. I work a lot with Bobby Corry, and Brian Manning at CAA (Creative Artists Agency) who have been really helpful; and Seth Seigle at William Morris (William Morris Endeavor) has been great as well.
You got lucky picking up that Mumford & Son show didnít you?
Yeah. Portland, Maine, of course, was on their radar, and itís the perfect, perfect play for this type of tourówhat they are doingóand their concept. Our date is Aug. 4th.
You were also able to nail down the Black Keys date (March 6, 2012) before ďEl CaminoĒ really broke.
I think that ours was the smallest venue on the tour. I would like to say that it was all me. I had been after that band since I took this job. Iíve always loved the Keys. Thankfully, it worked out with the agent, and the band. They wanted to play here and they loved it, and it was a good time.
You must feel blessed to end up in Portland doing what you are doing.
Every day I wake up feeling very, very grateful. Not only doing what I love in a city that I love, but being able to maintain all of my friendships here, and raise a family here. Iím incredibly grateful.
Portland is a wonderful city.
I love it so much. It is hands down my favorite city. Itís a great place to live.
What turned you on about Portland when you first visited in 2002?
Honestly, I visited one night. I was living in Arizona at the time, and we needed a break. We just knew that we wanted to get out of the South West. I had never had lived in New England. I was born in Virginia, and raised in a lot of placesómainly Georgia and Minnesota. We came to New Hampshire to stay at a friendís house. We drove over to Portland one night. We went down to the local oyster bar, Jís Oyster, and we just fell in love. A week later we had a lease signed.
So you have been in Portland for a decade.
It is the longest that I have lived anywhere.
The Arts District is chock full of venues with live music.
In the Arts District, yeah; just on Congress Street alone. You can start at one end with One Longfellow Square, which is the local singer/songwriter listening room and just walk down Congress; and you are exactly right. You will hear every type of music genre. Thereís Blue, which is local blues and jazz club; obviously, thereís the State Theatre, which does all types of music; and thereís Empire Dine and Dance, which does a lot of acoustic (music), and rock and roll. And Port City Music Hall. Space Gallery is our local alternative arts gallery. It does a lot of cool stuff. It is a total music town here.
A great mix of local radio as well.
Great radio. WCYY, which, I guess, they bill themselves as classic alternative now; the pop station WJBQ, which is huge in the market; WBLM, which is the classic rock; and WHOM, which is AC. Then Portland Radio Group whom I work with also has the local triple A, WCLZ. Thereís a couple of powerhouse country stations, WPOR and WTHT.
There is the University of Southern Maine, which is a commuter school here in Portland and thereís the Maine College of Arts. So WMPG is our local community station.
[Portlandís local non-commercial radio station WMPG is operated by community members, and the University of Southern Maine.]
Portland isnít known as a big college town.
How do you account for the eclecticism of your bookings?
In order for us to survive, we have to program as diverse as we can because it is a smallóI often call it a tertiary marketómaybe, itís a secondary market I donít really know; but you have to be diverse to stay alive.
Because I am lucky enough to be doing this in a town that loves music, I find that a lot of people are open-minded. They want to go to as many shows as they can even though they might not necessarily know who it is (playing). They sure know at the end of a show. Radio definitely helps. I will touch base with ĎCYY, and ĎCLZ and the people I work with the most; just to see if the band is on the playlist. Would they support them? They give me a lot of input. But, basically, it (the eclecticism) really is because it is a music town and we need to do it to be sustainable.
Weather must be a factor. In the winter, people there just want to get out and about. In the summer, they want to hang out, have dinner and, maybe, catch a show.
Yeah, exactly. Itís funny that in the winter, a lot of artists donít like to tour. A lot of bands wonít tour in the winter because of the risk of (poor) weather. I would rather be programming in January and February because people love to go out in January and February. And yes, then there is always the threat of a nine-foot snow storm. Weíre in Maine. We are hardy people.
In the summer, if I get a weekend show great, but I also like weekday shows. It allows people to go out after work, and enjoy a show. On the weekends, maybe, they can still go out on their boat or go to their camps.
Do you sometimes get bands that you might not normally due to routing?
Oh yeah. I definitely think thatís a play with some of the bands that we are booking here. But I have been doing this (booking) in Portland since I moved here over 10 years ago. It is a combination of building the relationship; maintaining the relationship; and kind of staying on agentsí radar and letting them see that Portland is a viable market where they can make some money.
But Portland is usually the start or the end of a tour. For instance, with M. Ward recently, it was the start of his tour. We just had the Mastodon tour start here.
It is great working with The Bowery and having them as a partner with Alex Crothers because we do have options if bands are looking. They can play Vermont, come to Portland, and then go down and play for The Bowery in Boston and then go to New York. The Bowery just opened a new room in Philadelphia called Union Transfer in partnership with Sean Agnew (R5 Productions) and Avram Hornik (4Corners Management). So itís a nice little straight shoot down 95 (highway).
With having two partners, you can offer many groups multiple dates.
We can do multiple dates. It doesnít actually happen as much as I think that we, or people, thought it would. But yeah, it is definitely an option that we can offer, but often it is not taken advantage of. That is because every market is so different.
Synergy is an overused word.
I had enough of that word when I worked for Live Nation. Every other word was synergy.
How do you market shows?
We do a little bit of everything. We have moved a lot of money to online nowóFacebookóI love geeking out on Facebook. We do the traditional radio. Not so much print anymore and rarely television because of my budgets. Mainly, itís radio and online. We have a huge email list, about 30,000. We do a lot of social media. Word of mouth and grassroots, which is a huge thing here.
Iím not going to complain about the internet. What a great way to market shows. Okay, so you have not heard of this band, now with our State Theatre site, you can put a link to their MP3 clip or to their YouTube videos. So bands become familiar before people come to the shows. Itís an awesome tool.
Do people sometimes attend shows based on trusting your judgment?
We get that a lot. We also get emails from people who have friends who dragged them along. For instance, the Head and the Heart played here recently, and it (the show) sold out. I knew that it was going to do well. I was pleasantly surprised that it sold out; and a lot of those fans were like, ďMy friend really likes this band and I was like itís a $20 ticket, so I will go to the show.Ē They ended up loving it. Or they may have heard their single on the triple A WCLZ (radio) station and were like, ďOh, I like this song. Maybe I will like the rest of the show.Ē We do get a lot of positive feedback about that type of thing.
Itís hard for a new act to break through.
It is. I think that has a lot to do with the internet. It is just easy and fast access to get your music out there; but, as a listener, sometimes it is overwhelming trying to find something that you like, and you are seeing that there are 50 new things going on. (The business is) a lot of touring now, which I really like. Thatís why I really like Portland, Maine because I feel that this venue size in this market is the sweet spot. Weíre not really concerned about arena tours here because itís really hard to make them work. And as much as I love to do smaller club shows, and Iím talking about at the 300 capacity level, sometimes in Portland itís hard because people arenít familiar (with the act) so they donít want to come out. But thatís why it all comes back to that ticket price. If you can keep it fair, you are going to capture those listeners who are on the edge of whether to go or not (to a show).
So many once non-mainstream acts now have sizable followings.
Itís an interesting shift in the market here. We did shows here years and years ago where it was such a heavy rock and metal market. Thatís what sold. And some of these up-and-coming bands didnít sell tickets. Now it has completely flip-flopped. Whereas the metal isnít doing so great, Bright Eyes, Iron & Wine, and the Head and the Heart and those type of bands are just crushing it.
Did the metal fans just get older or is it because there arenít as many new significant metal bands?
I think there are a lot of up-and-coming new metal bands, but I just think that for this market, those fans have moved on, and they canít keep up.
Like other musical genres, metal has greatly fragmented.
Instead of that one metal (style) that used to exist, thereís now speed metal and hard metal and so on. You can no longer say, ďIím going to book a metal show,Ē and metal heads will show up because some metal people donít like that type of metal.
How about booking mainstream country?
I would like to start doing more country. For me, itís hard here because the (local radio) stations play the bigger acts like Kenny Chesney and Taylor Swift that we canít get at the State; and itís hard to fit at the Civic Centre because of the size. And itís not my strong suit. Whenever I have a country act come across my radar, I will always check in with country radio. It just hasnít worked out for one reason or the other. And Waterfront Concerts up in Bangor, they do well with country. They have that nice outdoor site (Bangor Waterfront Pavilion) that they can fit 10,000 people. Thatís a great site for them. As much as I would like to break into that genre, itís been a little more difficult than I thought; but Iím not going to stop trying. Iím a totally old school country fan. I am a huge Willie Nelson fan; and Waylon Jennings, unfortunately R.I.P., but I am a huge Waylon Jennings fan. Loretta Lynn. All of that old school.
When Alex Crothers approached you about running the State Theatre what did you think of the idea?
I loved the idea. Alex and I met probably seven years ago when I was working for Live Nation that was (a division) then part of Clear Channel (Clear Channel Entertainment) at the time. Just through mutual friends in the industry, we met, and kept in touch. When I was working for Live Nation, they did the exclusive booking for the State Theatre. So I was well acquainted with the venue; did some shows here; really just fell in love with the venue itself; and knew that there was a lot of work to be done to keep it maintained the way that it should be. Of course, it was then closed.
It had been closed several times over the years.
Yeah, it closed in 2006 for four years. It was then just the combination of too many people in the mix. Nobody was putting the money into the venue to keep it in shape. It fell into a real sad state of disrepair. So it was closed for four years because of that. But Alex and I had just kept in touch because we were in the same business. Weíd throw some ideas out at each other. He approached me with this idea and I really, really wanted to be involved.
Renovations at the theatre had already started before Alex approached you?
Correct. They (the landlord) understood that if they were going to get someone to take a long-term lease on this property that they had to do a lot of work. So they started in, I believe, 2008. And they did a ton of work. Combined (with later work) it was about $1.5 million. They had to rewire the entire building, basically, and they had to completely renovate the ceiling, which had plaster falling off.
The ceiling had partially collapsed twice; once during a raucous concert.
What collapse (laughing)? A couple of chunks had fallen off. So they fixed that. Completely redid it.
What shape was the theatre in when you arrived?
It was in really good shape. The landlord (Stone Coast Properties) did a lot of the cosmetics. It wasnít in bad shape, but it definitely took three months to get it to the state that we needed. I donít even know how it happened but the walls of the auditorium looked as if someone had taken a machine gun to them. There were all kinds of pock holes. We had to completely re-plaster the walls. We obviously repainted everything. We re-did the bars and built some new ones. We put in all new seats, and we put in new carpeting, upstairs and downstairs.
Were you out in the theatre painting?
I was not painting. Nobody wants to see me with a paintbrush. I know what I do well, and that is not one of the things. But every hand that we could get helping was in here trying to get it done.
The stage was raised.
We raised the stage about 18 inches. It was a low stage. It is amazing to look at where the stage was originally. It didnít have very good sight lines, and now you can see. If you are sitting in the back of the venueówe have two sloped orchestra sections in the backóand there people standing in the frontóyou can now see the stage. You can see everything.
What is the seating capacity?
Our occupancy is 1,870. That is full general admission. When we do a full reserved seated show, itís around 1,340.
How did you feel the opening night with My Morning Jacket?
Oh man, it is such an indescribable feelingóa combination of exhaustion, relief, elation and excitement. I will never forget it. Just the little group staff meeting we had just 10 minutes before the doors opened was unbelievable. It was really, really a great night, and it off went perfectly well.
How soon before that had you become involved?
Glancy and Alex signed the lease May 1st, 2010. They offered me the job immediately after that. I closed out my obligations with Live Nation and came on board here June 1 (2010). So that whole summer was spent on renovating the property. Yeah, in three months. It got a little bit hairy there but we did it. And I could not have done it without the building engineer because the entire building served as our GC (general contractor), Perry Glidden. He just really drove it home and right on time.
You worked for SFX Entertainment and Live Nation with Jim Ahearne in Portland, and then with Don Law in Boston.
Jim Ahearne hired me in Portland. At the time, he was looking for a marketing assistant, and a kind of a general assistant for him. Technically, we were a satellite office from Boston.
There was nothing in your background working in live music.
Oh, you know when they say, ďItís all who you know.Ē I just happen to know Jim Ahearneís buddy Johnny Lomba, who owned The Skinny and who was doing some rock shows. He introduced me to Jim and we just hit it off. I am and have always been a huge music fan, and thatís how I got into it.
What did you do as assistant/marketing coordinator?
I did almost all of the marketing. Then, when Jim got a promotion as a vice-president for Live Nation, he commuted to Boston. While he was doing that I took over most of the club talent buying. So I did a combination of marketing and buying.
[Wayne, in fact, began promoting shows at The Big Easy on Market St. with such acts as Clinic, Rachel Yamagata, Ray LaMontagne, and the Decemberists.]
You worked for Live Nation in Boston as well.
I did work out of the Boston office for a year. I worked in Portland until 2009, and then as the marketing director in Boston went on maternity leave, and they brought me into fill in. She ended up deciding not to come back into the business. I was commuting (from Portland) because I didnít want to move there. They let me drive down Tuesday mornings, and drive back Thursday nights.
Boston is a great town.
Boston is a killer town.
Working for Don Law must have been fascinating.
I canít say enough good things about the Boston office. It was an honor to work for Don, and I learned a lot working with everybody down there. Don, heís always 15 steps ahead. Those people are outstanding. They are the best at what they do. Iím really lucky to have worked with the office for eight years.
While with Live Nation did you feel like you were working for a local company or as part of a bigger family?
I think initially it did feel like we were all working for Don, and it was our company and it was local. I think as more and more of those national initiatives and directives were coming out of L.A., thatís where it started becoming really frustrating; especially some of the discounting programs (in 2009) that they were doing. With the Boston office, there was a bit of a push back there.
Those Live Nation discounting policies have since been changed.
It has changed a lot but it did start to feel like we were losing control a little bit with what we could do. But the Boston (Live Nation) people are very good at making sure that they are doing the right thing for their town; and I think that they did that.
Working now with indie promoters like Alex and Jim must seem like another world.
Oh man, itís awesome. It is an entirely different world. They understand that we each understand our market the best. As much as they have been mentors to me, and have helped with some of the buyingóthey are on our weekly conference callsóthey have been pretty hands-off. It is really great to be trusted. They know that Iím always going to be doing the best job that I can.
Can a Bachelor of Arts degree with double majors in history and journalism be helpful in your job?
Yeah, my history degree really comes into play. Not at all. The journalism has definitely helped with the press releases, and the publicity and the marketing stuff. The history, I have been an avid Civil War buffóI am really into the Civil War. My problem is that I keep buying books, and I havenít read all of my other books.
Being raised in Virginia, you must have visited the Civil War battle sites.
Oh yeah. My grandfather was a Civil War buff, and he took me to Gettysburg, Antietam, Chancellorsville, and Vicksburg. I have been to a bunch of (battle) sites. It is such a fascinating period in our history, and I feel that it is really important to understand what we went through.
Red Rock Recycling & Rubbish is on your resume. You gotta explain that to me.
When I was in Sedona (Arizona) my brother started a garbage and recycling company. I was the family labor helping. I actually drove a recycling truck around. And I was good at backing up a trailer into a tight pocket. I used to have to back a huge recycling trailer down 100 feet of a winding dirt road. Yeah, Iím really good at that. Thatís another one of my skills.
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 ďMusic From Far And Wide.Ē
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