*Post updated at 9:50 a.m. & 3:46 p.m. Tuesday.
Developer Bill Weyland‘s CITY Properties Group and Live Nation have teamed up in Louisville to open the Mercury Ballroom. Though the new music venue isn’t set to open until April, its concert calendar has already sparked concern over how the locally owned Headliners Music Hall will be affected.
Jeffery Smith runs Crash Avenue, a locally owned media and management company with offices in Louisville and New York City. Last week Smith posed this question on Facebook, stirring the pot in the Louisville music scene:
Do you boycott Mercury Ballroom because they’re going to be in direct competition with our locally owned / local fave Headliners Music Hall? Understand, they’re going to be competing for the same talent coming through Louisville… but Live Nation has the money to essentially throw at the talent until they drown out the competition. If you’re going to be diligent about eating locally, should you not be diligent about extending where you choose to take in your smaller national acts?
Insider Louisville interviewed Smith, who claims Live Nation — the publicly traded (NYSE, LYV), Los Angeles-based entertainment company — may snatch a market that Billy Hardison built.
Hardison owns Headliners and is a partner in the local talent-buying agency Production Simple, alongside Joe Agabrite III, John Grantz, and Lizi Hagan.
“This is entirely about (Live Nation) seizing an opportunity to pounce on a Louisville owned and operated venue that employs over 30 Louisvillians, and ultimately coming after Billy Hardison … simply because they smell money to be harvested in a market that Billy Hardison has taken years to sow and tend,” Smith says.
One major concern, according to Smith, is that Live Nation will overpay for talent that would typically play at Headliners. In addition, Smith made note of the newly formed Mercury Ballroom Team: Matt Schwegmann and Sean Bailey.
Bailey is the social media strategist for The Louisville Palace — a Live Nation venue — and the Mercury Ballroom, as well as the voice behind the local music micro-blog Louisville MUSICulture. This brings a bit of “localness” to the new Live Nation venue.
Schwegmann will be the Mercury Ballroom’s talent buyer, a job he holds at the Vogue in Indianapolis, which was recently taken over by House of Blues Entertainment, the same division of Live Nation that is to run the Mercury Ballroom.
National bands can expect a lot of Vogue-to-Mercury Ballroom trips and vice-versa.
But in five years, he says Headliners may be, “In the same sentence as Tewligan’s when people tell stories about the first time they saw ‘that’ band” back in the day.
“As Louisville continues to take pride in buying local, supporting local businesses, raving about how incredible our food scene has become… Louisville needs to take that same passion for being hyper-local and apply it to their entertainment dollar.”
Yet, not everyone in the local industry is ready to boycott the new downtown venue, and that includes local bands.
IL asked a handful of local bands whether they’d like to play the Mercury Ballroom, and all of them responded yes; in addition, they all wished to remain unnamed, as they didn’t want to tarnish their relationship with Production Simple — the company that books Headliners.
Each local band hoped Live Nation would provide an opportunity to perform with national acts to boost exposure to the local market and showcase their abilities to higher-ups in the industry.
Though it remains unclear to what extent that opportunity will arise, plans have been announced for an all-local band event called “Mercury Rising,” which is seemingly the relocated “Faces at the Palace” — the all-local band event that had been hosted at the Louisville Palace.
Kenneth Tyler is in A Lion Named Roar, a band that has played Headliners and has experience working with Schwegmann in Indianapolis.
“My hope is that Matt Schwegmann will start to assimilate with the city and help elevate hard-working local acts,” Tyler says.
Tyler says he would play any venue that provides a platform, adding that the addition of the Mercury Ballroom should be good for the city. “The Ballroom broadens the scope of musical acts our city can bring in, and creates options for bands, booking agencies and promoters alike.”
Heidi Stenson sings and plays accordion in the local band Moonlight Peddlers, and she believes there should be no conflict between the two venues, and that Headliners should have enough of an intimate connection with Louisville music fans to endure new competition.
Stenson says the rapport between bands and venue operators is often the force behind a positive atmosphere that impresses music fans, and she has had nothing but great experiences at Headliners.
Yet, nothing would hold the Moonlight Peddlers from gracing the Mercury Ballroom, as Stenson and the band will play their music anywhere and for anyone.
“We’d absolutely play the Mercury Ballroom if invited, simple as that,” Stenson says.
Bands see the Mercury Ballroom as symbiotic, and as an additional opportunity, not as a replacement of Headliners.
Thomas believes the Ballroom could complement Headliners and boost the local music scene if the House of Blues Entertainment Division capitalizes on under-served markets in Louisville such as hip-hop, hardcore and mainstream pop.
Yet, if the Ballroom decides to go after the same market as Headliners instead of fill the void, Thomas fears it could damage the entire music scene.
“If that void isn’t filled, then I think it may just be redundant and saturate a market that only has so many people willing to buy tickets,” Thomas says.
While Thomas is unsure of the impact the new venue will have on Louisville’s live market, the biggest question is where will fans go, or rather, where will the dollars flow?
“I’ll go where the talent and good music is,” says Shepard Vail, a music fan who has seen live shows at just about every venue in town.
He also says the one wish he has for Louisville’s music scene is the ability to see more than one act a night, as most of Louisville’s music venues are scattered around the city.
“It’s not really about where I go,” Vail says, “it’s about who I see.”
And that’s really how this all boils down: The customer is always right. All Louisville venues are businesses that rely on booking acts people want to see.
*Post was updated to more accurately describe Brass Management as a “management team,” not an agency.