The Show’s The Thing: The Legendary Promoters Of Rock

They got it right.

When so many get it so wrong.

Of course I’ve got complaints. First and foremost, those who were left out. Then again, those who pay for the writing of history control it. And the people involved did a mighty fine job. If you were there, you’ll resonate. If you weren’t, maybe now you’ll understand.

Most people believe the business was always here. That it arrived fully formed. As if there was no development. They lived through the tech tsunami… Then again, most people don’t remember when you had to be your own mechanic in order to compute. Now the devices just work. They didn’t. And there was no Genius Bar, you had to be your own genius.

And the people who built the rock and roll business were just that, geniuses.

Never number one in their class. Never the most popular. Always outsiders with a twinkle in their eye. Willing to take a risk, not knowing what was on the other side, but believing in their hearts…the journey was worth it.

It began with the Beatles.

Because before that national tours were not organized, and the caravans that existed were comprised of lineups of acts. The belief was that an hour plus show of one act would bore the attendees. But the attendees ate it up. Because music was everything, it delivered meaning, it was the only thing we had and we were glad.

So what this film does is give Frank Barsalona his due. He opens and closes the film but truly, his story should dominate, he built the touring circuit, he built the bands. The record companies and the radio stations think they did, but the truth is classic rock was built on the road, and you had to start somewhere, usually at the bottom of the bill, and Frank put you there, by trading much bigger horses. If you delivered, word spread, momentum built, you were on your way. The hit record was just the icing on the cake, oftentimes unforeseen, can you say FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE?

And the promoters were all young guys who gave up their path to join the circus. They were not playing it safe, not going into finance, not becoming a doctor or a lawyer as you did for insurance back then, but living on their wits.

And it was so fulfilling.

It’s hard for a young ‘un to understand what once was, even though many of the bands are still plying the boards. But if you watch this documentary, you’ll get it.

But will people see it?

It’s so hard to break a film these days, to break anything, that there’s a long lead-up of marketing to gain accolades and attention to get you to view it. But this is a documentary that should skip theatres and go directly to Netflix. After maybe screenings at legendary rock clubs, the ones that still survive. It needs to hide in plain sight so you discover it, so you watch it.

Sillerman rolled up the promoters more than two decades ago. Just as the internet hit, long before social media. Some in the business have only known Live Nation. And the one thing about Live Nation is they’re not promoters, there are hardly any promoters left. There are people who rent out halls and put tickets on sale, but few who actively work to get butts in the seats. It’s too hard, it’s just too much effort, and the people in charge work for the man and are too far from the epicenter and although they have little upward mobility, their jobs are safe.

Nothing was safe back in the day. Not the bands, the promoters or the labels. You were fighting for it all day long. And all night too. You worked 24/7 and you enjoyed it. Because you serviced the people, you allowed them to have a good time.

And although there are great songs and clips and pics, there are a couple of times when your skin tingles, like Ron Delsener setting up Simon & Garfunkel in Central Park and then hearing the duo sing “America.”

Now nobody drives cross-country. Everybody has the answers, nobody’s looking for anything, just promoting themselves. But way back when that was the ethos of the younger generation. We were searchers.

So I could walk you through from Delsener to Law to Magid to Belkin to Granat to Graham, but either you know the names or you don’t. Either this movie is second nature, or brand new.

But the most fascinating thing is said by Peter Rudge. Who mentions that he’s been through thirty or forty presidents of Columbia Records, but he’s still dealing with the same handful of promoters.

There’s an excitement, a rush when the lights go down.

And it doesn’t matter if you’re sitting in the front row or the upper deck.

You feel the surge of adrenaline. The speakers start to pump and you become euphoric. This is the place, this is where it’s happening, there’s nowhere you’d rather be.

If anything, I wish this film were longer. Maybe a ten part series. Kinda like a Ken Burns production, but not made by him, he sanitizes everything, takes it too seriously. But music always had a streak of irreverence. And this flick is only the tip of the iceberg. These stories need to be told.

And some of them I’ve heard differently, like how Graham lost the Stones.

But that’s rock and roll, it’s an oral tradition, you learn on the job, all the awards and certifications are b.s., there’s no school that can teach you. But if you were there, it was the most important thing to you.

And for many of us…

It still is.

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