Inside My Concert Booking Mind: Feel Free to Propose Shows & Send Suggestions!

I've been one of the programmers at Hugh's Room Live in Toronto for a few months now, and while we got off to a slightly shaky start because a few of the other new team members decided they couldn't do it afterall, Blair Packham and I, together with manager Mary Stewart, have settled into a great working relationship.  We're constantly trying to improve things and attract new and younger fans as well, which is why we introduced student pricing for certain shows.  The Hugh's Room Live menu has had an overhaul (it's not my department, but I'm sharing the news) and the quality has gone up, and Mary deserves full credit for initiating that.  Some really magical shows have happened, we've had a really pleasant surprise in how incredibly popular Mike Daley's monthly artist talk/shows have been, and Jully Black blew the doors off the place a few weeks back.  The spring/summer is shaping up with some really special things, including a fantastic show on April 30th for International Jazz Day that I'm happy to part of it, supporting the new web radio station  

Tickets for that one, and everything else are at

We'll be announcing most of the summer lineup, including our first ever GUITAR WEEK (July 12-19 with some great names) very shortly.  Hugh's has a legacy of booking great singer-songwriters, great acoustic, folk, and bluegrass, electric and acoustic blues, groups performing music from all over the world (as opposed to always lumping them together as world music), and jazz and r&b and beyond (I'd like to get more chamber music in too).

The challenge for Hugh's Room Live is it is a big space (seating 180 at tables, 220 once the bar stools and standing get factored in), and it is very much a concert venue that happens to serve dinner and drinks (as opposed to a restaurant that decided to have live music).  The crowds come based on who is playing there, so it does not have the same kind of drop in crowd as other venues that are smaller and focus on one genre only.  This means that every time we book a show, we have to consider the potential draw, ticket price, and also what is programmed next to it because if there are only so many jazz or blues or folk fans, it doesn't necessarily make sense to put too many of the same genre's shows back to back.  Sometimes a group is really big in one market, but not yet known in Toronto, and from my end that usually means doing some research on where the are playing, when they were last here, and taking a guess at how they will do.

On June 25th for example, I've booked a great band called Over The Rhine, and if you go to You Tube you'll see they tour all over the United States playing theatres, do all the key radio/tv/internet shows frequented by singer-songwriters, and work with some great names.  But they aren't really known in Toronto from what I can see.  They approached me for a date because they are close by at the Rochester Jazz Festival, and I like the music so I wanted to make it happen.  I've had to negotiate with their agent in a way that comes to terms with the fact that they aren't as well known in Canada (and luckily their agent gets it.  Some are not so cool).  Ideally every negotiation is a win-win for the club and artist, and as a musician myself I recognize the work it takes to tour and the fees that are fair or appropriate.  As a talent buyer, I have to balance my pro-musician brain with not risking to much of HRL's money if it is a slow night.  My programmer head is always balancing the music I want to hear against the financial ramifications of each show.  And ours is a fickle business, where something you didn't commit a lot of money to and don't expect too much from sells out quickly, and another act that sold out the last time (so you commit to a big fee) has a really bad night. By the way, tickets for Over The Rhine are going on sale shortly, and if you want to hear a great singer and some beautiful songwriting, I hope you'll join us June 25th!

I'd love to hear from people about the acts they'd like to see come through Hugh's Room Live, or of course for them to pitch me on their own group (if it's a pitch, please use thanks).  There's a lot of music in the world, so it's good to find out what people are listening to.  I had a student tell me that she goes down to Buffalo to see certain bands because they don't come up to Toronto, and I thought "why isn't that band routing through Toronto?  I should make that happen."  So help me make stuff happen and send me your suggestions anytime!