When Lou Reed played last Monday’s opening-night party for the HighLine Ballroom, his only gripe concerned the belching smoke machine. No wonder: The 700-person club has a great sound system, cushy banquettes, and a menu that features truffle-butter popcorn. It also has plenty of company, at a time when promoters are on a building binge. Maybe, when the smoke clears, too much company.
“There’s a full-scale concert-promoter war going on,” says Andrew Rasiej, who founded Irving Plaza. The dominant player is Live Nation, the national concert-promotion giant that spun out of the radio conglomerate Clear Channel. Its local properties include the Roseland Ballroom and Irving Plaza (recently rebranded “Fillmore New York,” complete with memorabilia from Bill Graham’s old Fillmore East on Second Avenue). Already this year it’s opened the 600-person Blender Theater at Gramercy and the Luna Lounge in Williamsburg. Its fastest-growing rival is Bowery Presents, a local company that owns the Bowery Ballroom and Mercury Lounge and puts on shows at Webster Hall and Hiro Ballroom. In the coming months, it’ll relaunch Northsix as the Music Hall of Williamsburg and open a space in midtown where the club Exit used to be. AEG Live, Live Nation’s major national adversary, just made a deal to co-promote shows at the HighLine (which was opened by the family that owns the B.B. King Blues Club and the Blue Note.)
The competition heated up last year when Live Nation’s New York honcho Jim Glancy defected to become a partner in Bowery. The idea was to help move the alternative-rock bands Bowery nurtures into theaters and arenas. (Bowery is putting the White Stripes in Madison Square Garden July 24.) That also puts it in competition with John Scher’s Metropolitan Talent, which books many area theater and arena shows.
Until this year, Live Nation hadn’t put much energy into booking under-1,000 capacity events. But as Bowery expanded, Live Nation wanted opportunities to connect with new talent. “To an enormous extent, the Gramercy is about development,” says Bruce Moran, Live Nation’s president of music for New York. “We want to know we’ll have the talent to play shows at Madison Square Garden and Giants Stadium.” And that’s where the money is. With intense bidding for the best acts, it could be difficult for anyone to make money, though. “New rooms have heat,” says Marc Geiger, head of contemporary music at the William Morris Agency. “The test is two or three years from now.”