93.1 JAMZ and Z104 shouldn't bring hip-hop concerts

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Posted by madcityradio.com on November 06, 2009 at 10:22:24:

Dane of My Existence: Madison isn't ready for major hip-hop shows

By Katjusa Cisar | Posted: Friday, November 6, 2009 8:15 am

Madison rarely gets big-venue hip-hop shows, maybe a handful in a decade (the last one fellow reviewer Rob Thomas remembers attending is Mystikal in 2001 at the Alliant Energy Center).

Madison gets passed over for a reason, based on what I've heard from a few people closely involved in last week's chaotic, ill-presented and poorly attended Sean Kingston/Twista and Ludacris shows in the 10,000-capacity Coliseum at the Alliant Energy Center.

Bluntly, Madison is not ready for hip-hop shows of this size. That's the consensus of Alliant Energy's assistant Center manager Ted Ballweg and Sam Brown, the Chicago-based promoter behind last Thursday's Sean Kingston show.

At the least, something was very wrong with last week's events. In response to my reviews of both (here and here), I got e-mails from backstage staff at the Alliant Energy Center. They backed up what I witnessed: neither show filled the venue to even 10 percent capacity, and the organization backstage was a disaster. The crew didn't know the order of performers or who was on stage any given time, and had no way to communicate effectively because the promoters apparently wouldn't spring $100 for a Clear-Com system (a walkie-talkie setup commonly used in stage work).

Ludacris' main opener, UrbanSol, never got to perform -- presumably to save time due to continual delays, even though many other openers got time on stage. In the end, even Ludacris got the short end of the stick: he had to cut his set at 41 minutes.

Kevin Gyles, a Chicago promoter and production manager who oversaw sound and lights for the Sean Kingston show, called me Monday to express his disgust and frustration. He was backstage at both shows. The Ludacris show on Friday was better organized, he said, but both suffered from poor promotion.

"I do a lot of concerts, and I've never seen anything that crazy. It was totally a madhouse," he said.

A hip-hop show in Madison should attract a sizable audience, he reasoned. The recession hasn't hit Madison very hard, and there's lots of potential with 40,000 UW-Madison students. Even if 3 percent of the college population came out, it would be better than the advance ticket sales on the Ludacris and Sean Kingston shows combined, he said.

So, what gives?

Alliant Energy's Ted Ballweg says the problem seems endemic in the hip-hop industry. His venue has "tried for many years to find a capable promoter for the hip-hop genre," but hasn't had luck. Other genres pack the Alliant Energy Center and have few organizational problems, he said, but hip-hop shows continually cause headaches.

Last week's shows only confirmed this. His dealings with the Sean Kingston and Ludacris promoters were a litany of woe, from chaotic backstage management to unprofessional booking standards and a lack of advertising. The Sean Kingston promoter "changed artists so many times, my head spun."

"We want to be inclusive, but we're really struggling," he said. "The industry has been notorious for artists not showing up and not selling advance tickets."

That's where he and Sam Brown, the Sean Kingston promoter, agree. Based on bad experiences in the past (Brown cited a Gucci Mane and Young Buck show), Madison audiences simply don't have confidence that hip-hop artists will show up to perform, so they don't buy tickets.

Brown blames the low turnout last Thursday on the weather -- "rain as big as golf balls." Other than that, he doesn't understand where things went wrong.

"It's not a lack of diversity," he said of the Sean Kingston-headlined show. He had everyone from teenybopper-attracting New Boyz to established acts like Twista opening. Plus, he said the ticket prices were reasonable ($28 to $68) and the show got "promoted like crazy" on 93.1 JAMZ and Z104 (in addition to "40,000 flyers in the market").

Brown probably won't bring another hip-hop show of that size to Madison: "Based on what we've seen -- the turn-out -- a small event with 1500 (is) the most we'd do in that market."

Audience skepticism played out for both shows last week, said Ballweg. The Alliant Energy Center got a disproportionate number of inquiries on its website for Ludacris and Sean Kingston. "A lot of people were looking, but not buying," he said.

Ballweg was "embarrassed" by last week's shows and their "horrendous stage management." It's a sad state of affairs, he concluded, but the Alliant Energy Center probably won't host another hip-hop show anytime soon.

"I just haven't seen solid evidence that it's come of age," he said of the hip-hop industry.

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