When word of the Showbox’s sale to Los Angeles-based promoter AEG (which maintains a small office in Seattle) broke here on Reverb Monday night, it left more than a little nervous speculation in its wake. Would the fact that they retained former owner Jeff Steichen and talent buyer Chad Queirolo mean little would change? Or would the presence of an outside corporate influence shift the tone of programming or inflate costs for patrons? The prospect of an outside force taking over a much-loved, solid venue with a rich history of well-produced shows is disconcerting, but conjecture and gossip isn’t going to help fans and artists understand how this will ultimately impact our community. In a text message Tuesday morning, Queirolo said he is “truly excited”-and I had no reason to doubt his sincerity-but I wanted to know more about the nuts and bolts of what this change means in a practical sense.
Much remains to be seen, since we’ve yet to watch the changes fully take effect, but in effort to start deciphering what this all means, I got on the phone with AEG talent buyer and marketing director Andrew Roe yesterday afternoon. What follows is a partial transcript of our very long conversation.You specify Jeff, Chad, and their team as being part of the acquisition, but I'm wondering what if any staffing changes are in the works. For example, since Jeff will be the GM, what does that mean for current managers and long-time employees Amie Danielewicz and Gary Wright? Are any AEG staffers going to be working in-house? Will this impact current security and production staff?
They are all staying. None of those roles are changing; we want them all. The Showbox staffing shouldn’t be changing at all-they’re just becoming AEG…who their paychecks are coming from will change. It’s pretty much status quo. It’s new ownership and it’s an alliance. We decided to get hitched and hopefully we’re going to make some babies together.
Just to be totally clear, you guys now own both clubs entirely-Steichen no longer has a financial investment, he’s an employee?
Yes, he’ll be the general manager in terms of that. Actually, he’ll be considered an executive, not an employee-same with Chad.
So in terms of how this is going to impact the people that pay the money and go out to shows, what’s the average audience member going to notice about this changeover? Because there’s all sorts of speculation about it being sort of a “McDonald-ization” of the club. Are ticketing procedures going to change, either in the way that you sell them or in cost?
No, there should not at all. First of all, in terms of the word “McDonald-ization”-I like that. I used to manage the Damned and I used to call the House of Blues “the McDonald’s of rock”, but that was actually complimentary when I used to say that-we knew how our burgers were going to taste. We knew how our production was going to be every night…that sound and lights would be all be of a good quality for a tour for an aging, legendary band.
But in this case, that’s not it at all. AEG does not have any sort of brand-we’re not about brand. It’s not like the Live Nation Brand or the House of Blues brand-AEG is about the artist. It’s still going to be the Showbox branding. Someone else asked me if we were going to try to take the Showbox and make it a national brand like the Fillmore or House of Blues, and that’s not the case at all either. The Showbox is a name in Seattle and it’s one of the finest clubs in Seattle. They are going to continue doing what they do.
Ticket prices are competitive based on what the artist wants. They only time ticket prices go up in a way that affects the fans is when you have multiple promoters bidding on an act. Now there are a lot of promoters in this town, but we aren’t taking Chad out of the equation or adding anything-it’s pretty much staying status quo in terms of the number of concert promoters that are here.
Now that said, if this was one of those McDonalds-type corporations you are talking about, some of them are closed shops that won’t allow the independent promoters to come in. Mike Thrasher, Monqui, Lori LaFavor [Infinite], Sealed With a Kiss [the joint venture of Canadian promoter Dani Vachon, talent buyer Malcolm Croome, and Neumo’s owner/agent Jason Lajeunesse], Live Nation-everyone is invited and welcome to put their shows in either venue still.
Jeff had extensive remodeling plans for the Showbox SODO in 2008. Will AEG be picking up those upgrades now?
I don’t really know the 100% answer to that. There definitely are going to be improvements, but I don’t know exactly what they are going to be yet. The venue was pretty stripped down when he took it over and since then he’s made milestone improvements—the lights, the sound the acoustical treatment-the draped curtains on the stage, building a real proscenium-even the operational procedures. Those improvements are already there and he’s got the vision to make it a great club. And we as a company would obviously assume [any more] costs-it’s not going to come out of Steichen’s wallet anymore. It’s AEG’s wallet now and we do hope to do some improvements.
I understand why there would be fears that things could change and there could be tinkering-but we’re not going to tinker with what’s not broken. There’s no sinister thing here. It could have been a different situation if someone else bought it, but we don’t want to hurt it; we’re here to help it.