Communion Tour Takes Flight

Before Communion Presents Ben Lovett joined Mumford & Sons in 2007, he and fellow musicians in London found themselves dealing with what fledgling artists everywhere do – scrambling for gig opportunities that barely exist, if at all.

“That’s the hardest part of the whole thing. Before Mumford & Sons I was in a bunch of different bands in London and it was really tough. It was tough the first year or two with Mumford & Sons – getting to where people are choosing to come to a show on a week night and spending their hard-earned money to listen to your music,” Lovett told Pollstar. “I remember how strange a feeling it was when I didn’t know the people in the room. They weren’t friends or family or friends of friends.

“That’s the breaking point for any band when they’re playing for people who are there for the music and not for them. Communion facilitates that moment and with that, other elements.”

In 2006 Lovett, Kevin Jones of Bear’s Den and producer Ian Grimble decided to create those opportunities by founding the Communion club nights, the source for the Communion Tour.

This independent platform for developing, emerging and established bands to tour has since spawned treks around the U.K., Australia and the U.S. From that underground success came the launch of Communion Presents and, in 2009, Communion Records, which boasts a roster including Gotye, Ben Howard, Michael Kiwanuka, Daughter, and many more. 

Photo: John Shearer/Invision/AP
With Kimbra as he accepts the Grammy award for record of the year in Los Angeles as Prince looks on.

“The most successful story for us has been Ben Howard. He started his journey as the second of six artists on a Communion club show in London and then we built up his live profile over the course of 18 months,” Lovett said. “We did 15,000 tickets with him in London and it all sold out months in advance.

“We knew we would get somewhere close to that by how people reacted to him in that club environment.”

Now Lovett, S2BN Entertainment’s Mike Luba and Paradigm’s Jonathan Levine are expanding the Communion Tour in the U.S. with a series of monthly club nights with different lineups each month that kicked off Oct. 1 featuring Rubblebucket, Roadkill Ghost Choir, Willy Mason  and Yacht Club DJs.

Lovett said the concept gives new acts a chance to be seen by audiences that may never hear of them through even popular outlets such as YouTube or iTunes.

Photo: John Davisson
“Gentlemen Of The Road Stopovers,” Francis Field, St. Augustine, Fla.

“Communion is just another avenue for people to discover music. Go back a few decades and a live promoter was one of those sources that everyone trusted,” he explained. “If Bill Graham put on a show, people would just go to it. Or Goldenvoice.

“People know it’s going to be a great gig because the other gigs they’ve put on are great.

“By building trust and keeping our quality up, we will become purveyors of the live music experience and encourage people to take a chance. The avenues for discovery are getting slimmer and slimmer.”

And when the tour stops in each market, two local acts will be added to the bill, giving more performers a chance to be discovered.

“By working with the local reps and promoters on the ground in each of those cities, we’re getting the word out on the street what’s causing a stir in the live local scene,” Lovett said. “If it goes down really well, we can offer [the acts] other shows that take them out of their cities and states.”

But giving new artists a platform to grow their fan base isn’t the only perk the Communion Tour has to offer. The audiences benefit from the shows as well.

“It’s been amazing educating people about Deap Vally or Half Moon Run or Nathaniel Rateliff,” said Lovett. “I’ve [usually] seen the live shows before so I not only watch the gig, I watch the crowd and their reaction to what’s going on.

Photo: John Davisson
Gentlemen Of The Road Stopovers, Francis Field, Saint Augustine, Fla.

“I get a real rush out of that. I love giving people that moment of discovery. There’s something really beautiful about it.”