Executive Profile: Scott Stienecker

Scott Stienecker, head of PromoWest Productions, has promoted more than 6,000 concerts since he got into the business in the late ‘70s.

His company, based in Columbus, Ohio, along with the PromoWest North Shore branch in Pittsburgh, not only handles the majority of shows in Columbus, it is also known for its venues. 

The  is the name of the company’s signature venue design — a facility that is both an indoor 2,200-capacity theatre and a 5,200-capacity outdoor amphitheater, which allows for performances year-round hosting almost any level of act.

For .PDF version with additional photos, click here.

See also: executive profiles archive

So let’s start at the beginning; when did you first get the bug?

In 1976, when I was a sophomore in high school, I went to see this band called KISS at St. John’s Arena at Ohio State University.

That was the show that blew me away. Everybody else was blown away by the makeup and the spitting of the blood. I was blown away by the production.

The lights, the sound. I was 16 years old. I thought to myself, who organized all of this?

Later to find out, it was Sunshine Promotions, a company out of Indianapolis that I ended up partnering with.

But that was the show that hooked me. I was an athlete; I played baseball, football and basketball.

I headed to Bowling Green University to play baseball.

That show made such an impression on me that when I got to Bowling Green, I gave up on baseball and joined UAO, the concert activities board.

I actually did a show in high school. When I was a senior, a lot of the players on the sports teams I played for were older than I and they would get on my age group about not having parties. So I rented a warehouse and brought in a band that painted their faces similar to KISS. They were called Mandrin Cypher out of Akron, Ohio. 

I brought them into a warehouse, sold tickets and made $1,080. I was 17.

At Bowling Green, after giving up on baseball, I wanted to become the next Jules Belkin. The Belkin brothers pretty much controlled Ohio concerts. They were based in Cleveland and did a lot of shows in Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton. I engraved in my locker at Bowling Green, “Jules Belkin, Bill Graham and Jerry Weintraub.”

They were the three guys I wanted to become. I ended up partnering with Jules Belkin at one point; I interned for Bill Graham for a summer in 1980; but I have never met Jerry Weintraub. When I transferred from Bowling Green University to Ohio State University, I joined the concert committee (OSU Pep Board) and ended up becoming president of it. We did shows at St. John’s Arena, where I saw KISS.

That’s how l met Jules. With Belkin Productions, we did Black SabbathAC/DC, and Jimmy Buffett. After school I moved to San Francisco and lived with my older brother for two-and-a-half years. I worked one summer for Parallax Productions – Gary Purnell, who booked concerts in secondary markets in California. Bill Graham had San Francisco, and Avalon had L.A. Gary Purnell would do things in Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara. So I ended up doing a couple of Clash, Go-Gos, and Talking Heads dates. Around this same time (1983), I heard news that the Agora Theatre in Columbus was going to shut down.

At the time, there were about a dozen Agoras across the country. So I ended up calling Hank LoConti, who was the owner of the Agora chain, and said, “Hank, if you’re going to shut the place down, I’d love to lease it from you.” We struck a deal on the phone to lease the building. He was going to turn it into a Walgreen’s Drug Store. So I created PromoWest Productions, signed the lease agreement, took over the Agora and renamed it Newport Music Hall.

The name originated from my desire to fulfill the need in the city for club level rock shows — a “new port” for music in Columbus. Newport Music Hall is now the longest continually running rock club in history. It was the Agora from 1969 to 1983 and it’s been running as the Newport for 30 years. So for 44 years it’s been doing rock shows. It’s located on High Street right across from Ohio State University.

We have you listed with five venues. Is that accurate?

It depends on how you look at that. In Columbus, we have five venues. Newport is a 1,400-capacity room. Downtown, we have the  indoor theater at 2,200, Outdoor Amphitheatre at 5,200,  next door, which is a 500-cap room, and  below it, which is 300.

In Pittsburgh, we have 3 venues –  indoor theater at 2,300, the Outdoor Amphitheatre at 5,200 and Club AE at 500.

We have eight venues right now. The indoor/outdoor design concept is what we refer to as a “PromoWest Pavilion” but we sell a naming rights-sponsorship for each one.

In Columbus we signed an agreement with Lifestyle Communities, which is a condo builder, so the venue is called the LC Pavilion. In Pittsburgh we signed an agreement with American Eagle so it’s called Stage AE.

What was it like to do an early Clash show?

That was one of the greatest shows ever. It was at the Santa Barbara County Bowl in 1981 or ‘82. Over my career, I’ve produced more than 6,000 concerts and that was in the Top 10.

Can you rattle off some more of them before we get into the beefy business discussions?

I was hired by Ohio State University in 1997 and PromoWest Productions produced the Rolling Stones‘ Bridges to Babylon tour at Ohio Stadium. That’s probably my No. 1 favorite memory. I developed the Polaris Amphitheatre, which opened in 1994, and booked two nights with the Eagles the first year. Those were definitely top of the list. Others are Tom Petty at the Ohio Expo Center, Foo Fighters and Coldplay at LC Pavilion, AC/DC at , The Ramones, BB King and Frank Zappa at Newport Music Hall and The Black Crowes at Palace Theatre.

Are they favorites because of the performances or something else?

They all have stories to them. But some of the bigger names you remember. I’m a big Tom Petty fan. I’ve produced shows with them three different times and all of those shows stand out. Every once in a while I’ll go on QFM96, the classic rock station, and they’ll have people call in and say band names and I’ll tell them a story. I have to be careful what stories I tell sometimes. I’ve been doing this for – (bangs on desk calculator keypad) – 35 years.

Let’s take you up to the creation of the Polaris Amphitheater.

I was 23 years old when I bought the Agora lease and started the 

We opened in 1984 with Neil Young, which was pretty cool. Dave Lucas of Sunshine Promotions landed that for me – two nights of Neil Young

The cycle of Newport was I’d have great shows in the spring, I’d lose money when the Ohio State kids would leave in the summers, and then I’d have to make my profit in the fall. Build up cash, lose cash, and hopefully end up with some cash. That was the whole cycle. I was down in Jamaica on vacation in 1987, on the beach, and it struck me: I’ve got to build me an amphitheater in Columbus, Ohio.

My summers are killing me. So when I came back, Sunshine Promotions had just built Deer Creek in Indianapolis.

I called Dave Lucas and said, “Dave, any way I can borrow your Deer Creek architectural drawings? I want to build an amphitheater in Columbus.” He said, “Well, hang tight. We’ve been thinking about that market ourselves. Why don’t we partner?” We did. It took us seven years. We considered five different locations.

At first we were at the fairgrounds but that didn’t pan out. We had a piece of property up north off 36/37, and then we thought about building downtown. At that time, you had Belkin Productions, PromoWest Productions and Sunshine Promotions out of Indianapolis who’d come into Columbus every once in a while.

Belkin and Sunshine competed and I don’t think they were the friendliest to each other. So I said to Dave, “If we can bring Jules Belkin into the mix, he’ll stop doing shows out at Buckeye Lake.”

That was a big outdoor field where they’d do Grateful Dead, Bon Jovi, etc. So Lucas approached Jules and that’s how it ended up being three of us. They had the clout but I was the local guy and we handled all the production, security and marketing. We opened Polaris Amphitheatre in 1994.

Three years later Lucas was approached by Robert Sillerman of SFX to buy out Sunshine Promotions. Dave called Jules and I and said, “Hey, I have an opportunity to sell my own company. I need you guys to cooperate and sell your portion of Polaris.” So we all sold in 1997, right at the beginning of Sillerman’s takeover.

Regarding Polaris, and shopping locations. Any concerns about NIMBYs?

There were lots of concerns about noise. South of Columbus there was a horse track, Beulah Park, and Nederlander went in there for a couple summers, put plastic chairs on the horse track and made it a kind of an outdoor venue. That was our fourth attempted location because they closed up shop. We met with Charlie Ruma, the owner, but we ran into a councilmember who was anti amphitheatre.

That’s when Bob Eckel called me. He had purchased all the land north of Columbus, called Polaris.

He said, “Hey, I’m finishing my off-ramp up here, what kind of money are you looking at spending?” I said, “Well, we were hoping to find land for $5,000 an acre.” He said, “Well, once this off-ramp’s finished I can sell you the 83 acres here for $50,000 an acre.” So we ended up pulling the trigger. I met with Jules and Lucas, and Lucas was the driver for the purchase of the land.

We bought 83 acres at $50,000 an acre – $4.1 million.

After we sold to Robert Sillerman, I started producing events in the Brewery District at a place called the Brewery District Pavilion. We’d build this little 4,000-capacity bleacher stage configuration for the weekends and did shows like Hootie & The Blowfish and Violent Femmes. But it was so expensive to build the venue every weekend, SFX, which had bought us out of Polaris, heard my 15-year lease was about to expire at Newport Music Hall.

Rumors were they were going to buy the building and not renew my lease.

That way they would have Polaris Amphitheatre and have their hands on the main rock club and pretty much put an end to PromoWest. So my response was to design the first-of-its-kind indoor/outdoor facility, the PromoWest Pavilion. That’s what LC Pavilion in Columbus is and what Stage AE is in Pittsburgh – they’re PromoWest Pavilions.

It’s 2,200 capacity indoors but it’s the same stage — you just open up the building and you have an amphitheater out back.

You turn your sound and lights around and aim them outdoors. You have the same hospitality areas, dressing rooms, production offices and restrooms. The first was built in Columbus in 2001. The second was built in Pittsburgh in 2010. I’m hoping to get my third built in 2014. We’re getting closer; we have several markets we’re dealing with right now and two are starting to heat up. We’d be 2,400 capacity indoor and a little larger with 6,200 outdoor.

So when it comes to amphitheater business, what is fact and what is fiction?

Your big amphitheaters, like Polaris, which was 18,000 – it’s gotten harder to fill them with inventory. We’re not creating the superstars we once created. When you and I grew up, we listened to radio and we had a main rock station in every market that told you what was hot. If they played Aerosmith, you listened to Aerosmith.

Now the world’s completely different. It’s driven by the web and the kids tell us what they want to hear. Now the thing is, as an act gets hot and starts to gain momentum, there’s so much music out there kids are quick to move onto the next big thing.

There are bands that can push 10,000 tickets.

That’s about as big as acts can get and then, boom; the kids are on to something else. In the industry, about 85 percent of acts today can play our outdoor amphitheater at 5,200 capacity or less. Other than maybe a few country acts, we’re not developing rock acts that can sell out an 18,000-capacity amphitheater anymore.

You still have your mainstays from the old days – Petty, Buffett – but newer rock stuff is primarily 5,500 and under.

We were doing 40 shows a year out at Polaris those first three years in the mid ’90s. When Live Nation shut it down, they were doing 12 to 15.

Considering you have what can be called smaller-sized amphitheaters, are you in competition for outdoor shows in other markets?

A little bit. Michael Belkin of Live Nation has the big amphitheater in Pittsburgh (First Niagara Pavilion) and we don’t step on each other’s toes very often. He’ll do the big country stuff and we end up doing – for example, tonight we have the Flaming Lips.

We’re doing Brian Wilson. We just did Mac MillerO.A.R.Social DistortionPassion PitKendrick Lamar, and Of Monsters & Men.

 There’s a lot of inventory out there that can do 5,500. Live Nation will have a good summer – he’ll probably do 25 shows out there, which is a good amphitheater summer. I think it’s a good concert year all around. We’re having our biggest concert year ever. It’s gotten stronger every year.

What compliments do your venues get?

It’s usually the tour managers who say, in settlement, “Man,

we need one of these in [whatever city they’re from].”

The concept would work in just about any city.

We’ve had offers to do these in a lot of different places but I need to make sure they’re large enough markets and make sure they’re not markets controlled by Live Nation. You also don’t want to go to markets where there’s a House of Blues. They’re at about 1,200 capacity. Indoors, we’re much bigger but we do the same kind of acts. It has to be a large enough market. I was approached by Toledo, Ohio, but it just isn’t a large enough market.

So how many employees do you have?

We have 52 full-time and about 380 part-time. We do 650 shows a year.

Are almost all of the shows in your venues?

Pretty much. We’ll venture out every once in a while and do an arena, theatre show or a festival. We venture out a dozen times a year but predominantly we’re in one of our eight venues.

What shows do well for you?

We’re a rock promoter primarily.

If I pulled out an alternative rock station’s playlist, like CD 102.5, Franz FerdinandThe NationalNine Inch NailsPortugal. The ManSilversun PickupsVampire WeekendJimmy Eat World, Of Monsters & Men, Phoenix — that’s what we do.

The cooler rock stuff, primarily.

How do you determine what cooler rock stuff is?

We have a great alternative rock station in Columbus, so we monitor that. But those are also the acts we’re putting in Pittsburgh.

When it comes to promotion, is radio still king?

It’s not what it used to be. We still use it but the world now is so viral.

If it’s a pop show or classic rock, we’ll use a lot of radio but primarily we’re viral. We’re all over Twitter, Facebook, etc.; we have a whole digital media department.

They also produce our TV show that runs every Saturday night in Pittsburgh, Columbus and Youngstown.

It follows “Saturday Night Live” in three markets and we’re getting ready to add a fourth.

We film the bands that come to our venues and we put them on “PromoWest Live.” It’s a great time slot because you’ve got that person who’s watching SNL so it runs directly after at 1 a.m. and does huge ratings for that time slot.

So how long this has been going on?

Four years, I believe. It was just a natural progression for us. It was a great way for us to promote our shows because we do so many in those two cities.

Also in Youngstown, which is right between Columbus and Pittsburgh, We have a DJ from Pittsburgh who hosts the show. We’ll feature two to three different artists.

The kids will see their favorite bands and they’ll hopefully get to see themselves.

Excuse me, I need to take this call.

Since we’ve been on this interview, two people have called: John Branigan from William Morris Endeavor and David Klein from CAA.

Two big agents. With Branigan we’re talking about the Kid Cudi / Tyler the Creator package and David Klein is calling about our  show.

Here’s a question straight out of the “Dating Game.” Is there anything the industry would be surprised to learn about you?

I’m a huge baseball card collector. I don’t think anyone in the industry knows that. I started when my son was about eight. I pulled out all my old football and baseball cards and we started getting into it. We first started collecting pro players in their college uniforms, like Matt Leinart in his USC uniform.

That was our niche. We’d go to different shows and find them. It grew from there.

I just started getting into baseball, football and basketball. I collect athletes I was into when I was a kid.

But it’s mostly baseball. I have a room in my house that is solely dedicated to cards.

So who are your hobby partners?

My neighbor is the No. 1 NBA collector in the world. He really got my son and me into it big time. He makes a living off of it.

What are your top cards?

I’ve got a couple Babe Ruths worth some moolah.

Before we go, let’s play that game where you tell stories about artists. Have any stories the industry might enjoy?

Let’s think. Everybody has a Rolling Stones story and a Jimmy Buffett story.

Here’s a good, clean one. We were involved with a Grateful Dead show out at Buckeye Lake. It was a Belkin production but PromoWest was asked to help produce it. At the time, Jerry Garcia was watching his health and had a guy on tour with him to watch his cholesterol and blood pressure.

The band would fly in on a separate helicopter; Jerry flew in with this health guy.

They landed the helicopter, came backstage, and the guy who was supposed to be watching Jerry’s cholesterol ends up going to the restroom. I’m standing with Jerry and he wolfs down five tacos faster than I’ve ever seen anyone eat anything. It was the funniest thing.

He was just cramming them in. When the guy came out of the bathroom, Jerry’s beard had cheese and lettuce hanging from it.