The downtown Civic Theater has not been immune to the turmoil in the national concert industry caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Since opening in 2013, the Civic’s diverse music roster has been curated by The Bowery Presents, the New York-based concert promoter owned in part by global entertainment giant AEG Live.
But in the summer of 2020, in the face of pressure from COVID-19’s live music shutdown, The Bowery Presents told Civic owner Bryan Bailey that the company would end its partnership with the theater.
This left Bailey in need of a new talent buyer for his 1,200-seat venue.
Initially, he sought to add an internal position. But then a new New York-based promoter, Brooklyn Made Presents, approached him.
Brooklyn Made Presents is run by two Bowery alumni, Anthony Makes and Charlie Adler. They had left Bowery in 2017 and joined Live Nation in New York. As the pandemic decimates the concert industry, Makes and Adler part ways with Live Nation and launch Brooklyn Made Presents.
Following a series of shows in early 2022 at the Civic previously booked by Bowery, Brooklyn Made Presents will be tasked with filling one of New Orleans’ midsize venues for touring.
“The Bowery has helped build the Civic brand for eight years,” said Bailey. “If COVID hadn’t happened, we would still be partners. I wasn’t looking to change. But we are excited about the future.
Brooklyn Made Presents is reserving three venues in New York: its own new Brooklyn Made club in Brooklyn, as well as the United Palace Theater in Manhattan and the CMAC Amphitheater outside Rochester.
The Civic is now the first Brooklyn Made Presents affiliate location outside of New York City.
“It’s up to them to show the industry and the agents that they can make it work,” Bailey said. “They are hungry. We will take advantage of their hunger and their urge to push.
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The transition should be seamless, Bailey said. Makes and Adler already have strong relationships with reservations agents and managers, and know the Civic intimately.
“Anthony was one of the first people to show officers the place” in 2013, when he worked for Bowery, said Baliey. “They understand the play and how we operate.”
The Civic was built in 1906 and lay dormant for decades until its renovation in 2012. In terms of capacity, it sits between Tipitina’s, the House of Blues and other local clubs and larger venues like the Saenger Theater and the Fillmore New Orleans.
The Civic’s size is perfect for emerging artists, indie rock and pop groups, and veteran late-career artists. Past performances at the Civic include Kendrick Lamar, BB King, St. Vincent, Head and Heart, Caamp, Glass Animals, alt-J, Beach House, Neko Case, Amanda Palmer, Conor Oberst, Iron & Wine and more.
In 2015, the busiest year for the Civic, it hosted 55 concerts. Overall, the year has been a success, “but there were 10 shows that didn’t go well and were difficult for the team and the venue,” Bailey said. “I prefer to have 40 great shows. I prefer to focus on quality. Forty to 45 shows a year, in addition to our private event activity, it’s a great place.
Bailey was not interested in lining up the Civic with AEG Live or Live Nation. “It’s not that they don’t run big venues – they do,” he said. “But one of the things that drove me to do this business, and what I love about New Orleans, is its spirit of independence. I like to operate as we want. We are a truly independent place.
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The Civic has kept its five full-time full-time employees throughout the pandemic, Bailey said. “It was economically painful, but the alternative would have been more painful. How did I want to get out on the other side? I couldn’t imagine building a better team than the one we already had.
“Our top priority was to maintain the consistency of the experience” for artists and patrons.
The arrangement with Brooklyn Made Presents does not necessarily mean that the Civic will not put on any shows with other promoters. The Civic recently hosted two sold-out performances of contemporary bluegrass guitarist Billy Strings, promoted by Sonny Schneidau, former Tipitina’s and House of Blues talent buyer.
When a plumbing issue at the Joy Theater, booked by AEG affiliate Winter Circle Productions, could not be resolved in time for a bassist Thundercat show on October 28, Bailey invited Winter Circle to use the Civic.
“Our commitment is to the New Orleans community,” Bailey said. “Whether we are hosting live music, weddings or private parties, we are a community center supported by the community. As such, when Thundercat had 1,200 fans in New Orleans ready to see him play and they had a problem (at Joy) and we had an open room, of course we would.
Between concerts and private events, “my main focus and responsibility is to program great content to bring the city together and celebrate life,” Bailey said.
With Brooklyn Made Presents, “I’m trying to put ourselves in the best position to do it. “