Building The Next
Arena Headliner

Despite some ribbing by Ali Harnell, there was really only one star on the panel.

Photo: Barry Brecheisen

The room was chock full of star power, if one likes to think of promoters and agents as such. Louis Messina has his share of fans (read: butt kissers) because of his credentials.

The promoter is touring some of the biggest names in music, from George Strait and Kenny Chesney to Eric Church and Taylor Swift.

On the other end of the panel was John Huie, agent for the likes of the Zac Brown Band, who was sitting in for Hunter Hayes’ agent, Darin Murphy.

But the star was obviously the fellow in the middle, Hunter Hayes – now all of 19 years old and four years older than when Huie first heard his record, and said it had to be heard immediately.

“We didn’t make a lot of promises to Hunter,” co-manager Ansel Davis said. “We didn’t tell him he was going to be a star, or promise him that he would be rich. We promised him that his music would be heard by the world, or we would die trying. And so far, we’re pretty healthy.”

Hayes is a multi-instrumentalist who is about to launch his first arena tour not even three years since he was fully launched as a touring and recording artist. His actual history dates back to when he was a young child, and YouTube shows a child Hayes onstage playing accordion with Charlie Daniels.

But Hayes – who has already met his idol, Stevie Wonder – will have a lifetime career because of his ability to play practically any instrument handed to him, and he played almost every note on heard on his album, including drums. But there’s something more to the story – the same element found in other Messina clients.

“It’s all about the dream,” Messina said. “Kenny Chesney was always opening for George Strait. He was opening, opening, opening. And one day he asked me how he could have a bigger career. I said, ‘The most common thing is to go play dates with your name on the ticket. People have to come see you.’

“And then there was this 12-year-old girl who convinced her parents to leave Wyomissing, Pa. To go to Nashville. And when she was touring with George Strait she was up in the morning in the production room, on her phone doing radio interviews.”

As for Hayes, he was always “talking to people backstage, talking to the production crew. He had his dream; he had his vision.”

Hayes, who got a big cheer at his introduction, made clear his vision has been around since he was a kid.

The panel became the back story of Hayes. A screen showed one of Hayes’s first set lists. He ran through his early sketches of his dreams. He would design blueprints of tour buses and even designed the interior of a tour jet. He sketched out a conversion of a kitchen to a recording studio.

And, after seeing Garth Brooks, he designed 3D models of arena production. “I’ve always been obsessed with production,” he said. “And when it came to arenas, it was said that you can bring your lights and sound, but you have to use the stage that is there. I said, ‘That’s fine but with a square stage up front, I feel disconnected.’ So we turned the stage into a diamond where I can be further into the arena without aisles. It’s living and breathing.

“I’m excited about this tour because I can show the fans something I’ve been thinking about since middle school.”

Davis added that he is well aware that the world is run by the 18- to 24-year-old music listeners, but Hayes will have 30 years to his career because his music is evolving, and the new album is far more mature than the last.

Audience members, though, offered another reason why Hayes will be here to stay: he puts on one of the best live performances in the world today.