Lessons Learned: Alex Cooley

Pollstar continues its series of real life lessons in the business.

I started in this business buying talent for the first Atlanta Pop Festival in Hampton, Ga. I’d call the New York agents to secure rock acts and they would say, “Oh no. These acts don’t come South. It’s only the doo-wop bands. Do you want The Four Silks?”

So many people said, “Oh, you’re making a terrible mistake,” that I started to have doubts. But we drew around 200,000 people with Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Joe Cocker, among others. We did the second one in 1970 in Byron, Ga., and we drew more than a half-million people, so I learned that this type of rock worked in the South.

We actually made money on the first festival – one of the few if not the only one at that time to do so. But we were a bunch of hippies and we were kind of ashamed to make the money. We used it to do a free festival in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park with the Grateful Dead, Delaney & Bonnie, and four or five other acts.

After that, I learned that if you made money, it was all right to keep it. That was my biggest lesson.

We had to learn everything the hard way. One of the first acts I ever did was Ted Nugent. A stagehand came up to me and said, “Hey, you want to use these side-tree lights? They’re here from a Broadway play last night and they’re all connected.”

And I said, “Hell yeah! That sounds like a good idea!”

So I and one of the guys on the road crew were back there raising and lowering the lights. We didn’t know what we were doing. Ted Nugent looked to the side of the stage and mouthed, “What is this?”

And the business has gone from that to shows that have 60 to 70 trucks of equipment.

I’ve learned how to make or build an act in a market. There are no big secrets here. You just need to underplay the market, keep pricing reasonable, and play the right venue. There are a lot of nuances to promotion and the local people know it best. I’ve definitely learned that.