PHILADELPHIA music fans have long benefitted from a hyperactive and competitive concert-promotion scene, a high-stakes game with its share of drama and intrigue.
Still, 2010 is going down as one for the books. Larry Magid, the area's best-known concert promoter, was finally judged dispensable by the buyers of his business and took his leave from the Live Nation operation in February. Magid refused to disappear quietly into the night, though.
Instead, the 67-year-old promoter has come back as a reinvigorated rival, with salutary effects for the Philly nightlife scene.
Larry Magid Presents has heated up the action at a high-profile rock joint, helped relaunch a renovated beauty of a North Philadelphia theater and boosted music and theatrical bookings at Center City's premiere performing-arts center.
Come 2011, said LMP marketing manager Dave Chesler, "Our company will have an even better story to tell."
Nowhere has this sea change been more evident than at the Electric Factory, the Northern Liberties venue that Magid and team (including second-generation business partner Adam Spivak) miraculously held on to in quasi-independent fashion even after the rest of their Electric Factory Concerts empire had been sold to SFX, the national concert conglomerate later bought by Clear Channel, then spun off as Live Nation.
The past few months have seen a serious ramp-up of shows at the Factory, including a bunch - like two nights of Phil Collins' Motown tribute, Michael Franti & Spearhead and Killers frontman Brandon Flowers - that arguably would have played at the Live Nation-controlled Tower Theater if Magid were still working for the operation.
The Factory has also bundled acts (like Minus the Bear with Tim Kasher, of Cursive) that otherwise might have gone to the TLA, another Live Nation-controlled venue.
Shaming rivals, the rejuvenated Electric Factory instigated a half-off on all tickets (a/k/a price war) in October as a "15th anniversary celebration." And the facility regularly sells tickets at its box office free of service charges - a harder pill for Live Nation to stomach, given that Ticketmaster is its sister company and primo profit center.
More of a crap shoot and labor of love for his old alma mater, Magid has introduced contemporary music to the larger theater of the just-renovated Temple (University) Performing Arts Center, a gorgeous, historically certified, 1,100-plus-seat auditorium on North Broad Street known (in consecrated days) as the Baptist Temple.
Magid's ace booking guy, Bryan Dilworth, has been placing an assortment of attractions there - from soul-pop comeback El DeBarge to Fistful of Mercy (with Ben Harper, Joseph Arthur and Beatles offspring Dhani Harrison) with Rickie Lee Jones and, next March, Loretta Lynn.
The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts lately has been looking more to outside promoters to help fill its two halls and to light up the Academy of Music and Merriam Theater. Live Nation and a likewise revved-up national rival, AEG Live (operators of the Keswick Theatre and promoters at the Trocadero and Mann Center), both bring some pop attractions to the Kimmel, said its director of programming, Matt Wolf. So, too, on occasion, does Bowery Presents, a New York-based group run by "another bunch of former Live Nation guys."
Larry Magid Presents is adding more excitement "because Larry's not just a rock-and-roll guy," noted Wolf, himself a Live Nation alum. "He understands the entertainment business, and his tastes are very wide. He's produced Broadway shows, too [Billy Crystal's Tony-winning "700 Sundays"]. And does anybody else know . . . the city like this guy, who grew up here and lives four blocks from the Kimmel?"
In recent weeks, LMP brought Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience to the Merriam and just finished a week's run in the Perelman of Jake Ehrenreich's "A Jew Grows in Brooklyn."
For 2011, LMP has already booked a double bill of Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt into the Merriam (Jan. 20) and has several "holds" on Kimmel Center-managed theaters, contingent on which of the local competing bids for shows is accepted.
Live Nation used to contract acts for an entire tour, but the strategist who took them there, Jason Garner, got the boot last month. Successors will bid more often for shows on a city-by-city basis, recent reports suggest.
That could play well for Magid, said Wolf. "When you're a legend in the business and know artists personally, a number of them will want to work for you. Of course, the guys at Live Nation and AEG have their relationships and loyalties, too."
So is this simmering competition a plus for entertainment buffs here?
Says Wolf: "It's good for the Kimmel. It's good for show-goers. It's good for the city."