A Chat with Chris Weathers

by Nook Schoenfeld • in
  • April 2018
  • PLSN Interview
• Created: April 12, 2018

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The promoter rep may just be the most unsung job in the whole touring industry. Nobody writes about the accolades of this job, but any seasoned touring professional will tell you that the difference between a great promoter rep and one who hasn’t mastered their trade is the difference between a good and a bad gig. They are the liaison between the venue and the tour. Or, as I like to think about it, they have been hired by the parents to watch the house and make sure the kids coming to the party have a good time, but get home safely.

For anyone who has toured through the Chicago area plenty of times, you have probably met Chris Weathers. He got a start in this business 30 years ago and has worked his way up to the top, holding his position as Director of Productions for the central region of the U.S. for Live Nation. His Chicago office looks after shows in 11 states, while employing six full time promoter reps and another dozen freelancers to cover them. His office produced 26 stadium shows alone in 2017. He doesn’t always have time to catch up with everyone that passes through his town as much as he’d like anymore, and it pains him just as much as the touring folks. Because anytime we walked off the bus and saw his smiling face, we knew it was a good day.

“Speaking of that, I’ve been doing this so long, that I can tell by the demeanor on the first few touring faces that step off the bus in the morning if this is going to be a great day or if it’s a production that has had its share of difficulties,” Chris says. “There’s always been this misconception of who’s the first in and the last out, at any show. I can honestly say that would be me. I have the keys to the buildings. I can’t be late.”

Growing up in the Chicago vicinity, he started promoting shows himself while still in high school. “I produced dances and small concerts. I started going to shows around town to see what was going on. I was a young high school guy enamored by the business. I would go to the Arie Crown Theater, the Vic and call ahead and interview people. I had a big binder full of pages — I took detailed notes of everything. I even knocked on the door at Jam Productions as a teenager. Fred Ordower, Bruce Kapp and Ron Stern were running the place back then and spoke with me. People actually opened doors for me as a kid.”

Buddy Sokolick

Buddy Sokolick was the local rep for Jam Productions, which at the time was the huge promoter in Chicago. “Fifteen years after I knocked on their door, Jam Productions called me, asked me if I wanted to be a runner. I said ‘Sure…What’s that?’ Buddy became my mentor. He schooled me in a lot of things, but the most important thing he ever taught me was to be a nice guy,” Chris relates. “From day one with Buddy, I could see how he conducted himself. He was well liked by the bands and the buildings, and I saw the importance of that. Being that person that can bridge the gap between artists, management, buildings and labor. That’s really what I do.”

‡‡         Bump in the Road

Chris had married VaLouise in 1979, and ten years later, she couldn’t have been happier that her husband got a break in life with a shot at a new career. He had applied and been accepted to the FedEx Management Training Program. They were offering him a salary with job security, paid vacations and benefits. With the four children they would raise together, this was the answer to a lot of dreams. “I figured this was it, my chance to set myself up. I threw all my notes I had collected in the trash and accepted the fact that I was going to take this good deal.”

But by 1990, Weathers had bridged a few gaps, brokered some shows, and had moved on to being the Jam rep at the smaller college shows or out of town cities they covered such as Minneapolis. “They needed people to handle college shows in South Bend and central Illinois. I raised my hand and volunteered for all these gigs.” Around that time, Chicago was gearing up to open one of the largest U.S. amphitheaters in a suburb called Tinley Park, a venue first called The World. Weathers saw the writing on the wall and ended up taking a gig as the local promoter rep at this prestigious building. “I still enjoy going down there. I was able to cover three shows there last summer, and it’s just like going home for me.”

Eventually, other promoters heard of his skills and reached out to Chris. The Nederlander family, Cellar Door and even Al Hayman ended up hiring him to represent them for shows, since he was freelance. “Quite often, I was called on to take jobs that I wasn’t overly sure of how to do. But I took those jobs and spent a lot of time calling friends, asking them how to do it.”

Perhaps one of the toughest things Chris has had to do in his life was to go back to VaLouise and tell her he was going to turn down that FedEx opportunity. “She threatened to leave at that point. It took her years to realize that this was actually my career.” He had become entrenched in the business and saw a future that offered a bit more excitement and challenges than a shipping company offered.

‡‡         Building a Better Workplace

Weathers explains that times were different in Chicago when he started out. “I took a lot in as a young man. I listened to everyone. I realize that managing labor in the Chicago area, just like most large cities, is a big deal. Over the years, I’ve had to maintain a relationship with the IBEW, Local 2 IATSE and the Teamsters. When I first started out, things were a lot different. Departments didn’t respect each other. Road crews and house personnel didn’t always respect how they went about working with each other. There were rules about hands on gear that were enforced in some venues. We had Teamsters fighting in trucks at times. Heated arguments between roadies and locals that needed to be ironed out. Lots of little issues that could give a town a bad name, instead of respect.

“I wanted Chicago to get a name in this country as the best place to go to produce your show,” Weathers continues. “We needed a transition. People should look forward to playing here and getting a chance to work with the skilled labor that our town offers. I wanted to develop a better relationship with a new group of people coming up in the ranks. I came up when Jimmy Iovino (long time head of the local IATSE) was the older guy, almost the godfather of the union bosses. He was a great guy, and I was very fortunate that he liked me and taught me so much. We talked a lot, and when Chris, his son, moved up in the ranks, he saw things from a slightly different point of view. Chris had done shows outside of the union, where he oversaw the labor for big trade shows for a production company. He saw how everyone worked in different ways, in all sorts of different venues around the world. Weathers explains, “There were a lot of people involved in making this transition happen in Chicago. Chris was definitely one of them. I can honestly say that labor has changed in a good way. This includes road crews, of course. The young people we see come up now are more safety-minded and educated in their jobs then back when I started.”

‡‡         Consolidation and Changing Times

Come 1997, some major changes started happening in Weather’s world. Certain promoters were buying whole tours, chopping out regional promoters. Promoters were being bought out in some cities and brought into a fold with others. Mega promoters such as SFX and AEG were sniffing around, and something was happening in the promoter business.

Weathers explains how he got involved in this sweep. “Some friends of mine over at the Nederlander organization (a family theater organization that owned venues and promoted shows) called and told me of this company that was buying up venues and promoters, and they were probably going to sell. The writing was on the wall, and I should think of getting a foot in there. But I sat on my butt. Then they called again a year later and said I should call this fellow I was unfamiliar with named Tim Orchard, so I did. He told me, ‘SFX has bought my company, and I am putting together a team for this area. We’re going to start promoting shows all over. I need a marketing person, a ticketing person, an office full of people.’ I gave it some thought, but I was a loyal guy to Jam by now. I asked them what they thought, and they kind of laughed off the notion that someone could become a unified worldwide promoter. So, I shrugged and went around my business in town. Tim called me back a couple months later and basically said ‘Sh** or get off the pot,’” Weathers recalls. They spent eight hours on the phone in one day and cut a deal. Chris was off to SFX.

“There’s a term that some friends mentioned to me a long time ago. Pride is bigger than money. We are in an egocentric-driven industry. Especially in the level of booking agents, managers and artists. There’s a lot of pride there. That’s why I love production. We are the bottom rung of that ladder, and we have pride, but our egos are not as big,” states Weathers. SFX Entertainment succeeded and was sold to Clear Channel Communications in 2000. By 2004 they had rebranded this entertainment division as Live Nation.

Live Nation is split up into regions, with Weathers reckoning his office probably covers the most land geographically. Despite the large amount of shows they do, Weathers prefers to run his side of the business from a personal perspective. “Obviously, we live in an email-driven business. We must cover so much information when production managers advance shows that we need documentation. Unfortunately, a lot of that has taken away from the personal touch of promoter reps and their counterparts developing relationships over years. I’ll tell you what, I live in a world where I can easily get 300 or 400 emails in one day. A lot of that info can easily get lost. Sometimes a two-minute conversation can eliminate 30 emails. You can’t replace that one-on-one.

“Real relationships are made talking to people” Chris expands.” But I realize we live in a world where handheld devices rule.” Live Nation has changed the way people find ways to entertain themselves as a worldwide organization. “The vision of Live Nation is to be a handheld device. Our CEO made a decision when he was hired, that he wanted Live Nation in the hands of everyone. If you are looking for entertainment, you simply have to look to them to show you what’s available. This is great, but as far as email goes, it’s not the same as getting on the phone and asking someone, ‘Hey, how’s your family. I remember you got a son in college, did he graduate?’ To me, that’s so important. Relationships, like you and I have, were forged when we still used pagers. They came from a time when we looked each other in the eye and trusted each other. What you said was true. What you promised, you would deliver. Your word was gold, not just some text on an email.”

Nowadays, Chris takes great pride in watching his team tackle the promoter rep jobs he used to handle. “They rarely have to call me for answers anymore, and they take pride in that as well,” he says. “When you first start out in this business it’s easy to make mistakes. Little things can turn a great day into a bad gig. Something as simple as screwing up the fluff and fold or having catering show up late, or the worst — running out of clean towels — can make for a bad day.” He admits to being new and clueless when he started, telling the tale of how he once took a band’s laundry to a place that offered fluff and fold, only to be handed a $700 bill later that day for all the socks and underwear he had dry cleaned. He was fortunate to have a PM laugh at him and hide the bill that day.

Patrick Stansfield

‡‡         Combining Talents

Among the other ways Chris Weathers has contributed to our industry, he now serves on the Parnelli Board of Advisors — the people who determine who gets named for the lifetime achievement honors every year. Patrick Stansfield, co-founder of the Parnelli Awards, had pushed for Weathers to be the first promoter-rep named to the board. Stansfield had noted that “we need to include these people among us, because they see things from both sides of the coin — through the eyes of the touring crew as well as the venue. Getting a combination of both views is what we need.” Weathers joined the board early last year.

“I have the job of having to look after a show from several angles,” he says. “I need to often explain to traveling road crews that they do not own the building, they just rented it for the day and there are rules. Like no smoking inside. At the same time, I may find myself in the middle of a heated argument elsewhere. A stage manager is screaming at a house guy to remove a hockey dasher. The house guy is yelling back that this dasher has been in place for 35 years, and it isn’t coming out for this show. Now I know, all I have to do is separate these two people for a little while. The hockey dasher will eventually come out, but you may have to wait 30 minutes while we locate the venue person who can accommodate this. There’s always a solution, and I’m often the person tasked with putting out fires.”

One of the pleasures Weathers has had lately is being able to hire some of the top touring guys on the occasion that they are off the road, as promoter reps. “We need to hire freelancers at times to cover our shows. Lately I have been fortunate to be able to use Malcom Weldon (currently on tour as Pink’s PM) to cover shows. He’s perfect as he’s been advancing shows with me for years. Many people know him and he knows all the answers. To the crew walking off the bus, it’s like Groundhog Day. Different day, same work schedule. But to us, it’s the first time we have seen the production. “I try to work smarter now,” Weathers says. “I do the master schedules (and) choose who’s covering what shows. I do look after the troubled accounts that have reputations before they get here as well as the large shows as those production people like me to be around. But I need to trust my staff to make decisions on their own, and I do. They had to feel the heat from the fire and figure out how to fix stuff on their own. They have to learn how to say ‘Yes’ to productions, while the building is saying ‘No.’ We have amassed a group of highly trained professionals as promoter reps.”

Kevin Lyman photo by Lisa Johnson

Chris acknowledges that there aren’t enough hours in his day for him to stop in and say hi to all his friends who pass through. But one he will not miss is when Kevin Lyman’s Vans Warped tour comes through town for the final time this summer. “Kevin is a special friend to me,” Weathers says. “We started at the same time, and I watched first-hand what he has accomplished and given back to this business.” In 1990, Kevin was working as a stage manager for the second stage on the Lollapalooza Tour. Weathers recounts that day. “It was pouring rain all day. I was on deck, squeegee-ing off water, when I looked over at Kevin. He was just standing there in the rain, staring off into space, as if he was having an epiphany. I was worried and walked over to see if he was okay. He said, ‘Chris, I have an idea. I’m not gonna be up here doing this again.’ Well, that epiphany was the Warped tour. This was always a huge seller in Chicago, and we worked together to make it happen for more than 20 years now,” Weathers says, of the extravaganza set to play in Tinley Park on July 21, 2018. “I will not miss this date this summer, not a chance.”

‡‡         30 Years, and Counting

This year marks 30 years that Chris has looked after all of us that travel through his town. VaLouise is still at his side, while the youngest of his four children will graduate from college in May. He has two grandchildren as well. “While I may have lost a step with age, I’m still loving my job and the camaraderie that comes with it. Looking back, I’m glad I made the right call with FedEx.” So are all of us in the biz.

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