Voices From The Trenches: Jason Zink

Pollstar’s periodic column providing snapshots of players in the industry.

Jason Zink is one-half of Emporium Presents, the product of a merger between Zink’s Sherpa Concerts and Dan Steinberg’s Square Peg Concerts, with Zink operating out of the Denver office and Steinberg based in Seattle (with a third office in Nashville).

How did you get into this business?  And how exactly did your business relationship with Square Peg develop? 

My first job was doing lighting work for the Cincinnati Opera when I was 18. I worked for Local 5 in the summers during college at Miami University and my first promoter job was for Nederlander in Cincinnati where I was assistant production manager at Riverbend and production manager at Taft Theatre when I was 21 or 22.

I started working with Dan Steinberg long before he started Square Peg: I was managing the Paramount Theatre for House of Blues in Denver when I was 25, and Dan was a cool indie promoter in the market. We started co-promoting shows.  We have been doing shows together ever since including when he moved to the Northwest and I was working at Outback Concerts in Nashville.

Any artist or agent you particularly enjoy working with? 

There are so many great characters I have the privilege of working with but three characters in particular that keep it interesting are Aaron Pinkus, Bobby Cudd, and Jay Williams.  We work with all three across the U.S. They are passionate about their amazing artists and are just quirky as hell, which I love.

In 2008, we ran a story about you organizing an “unauthorized” charity walk involving Hanson to raise awareness for AIDS / HIV that wound up with a potential $250 fine and 30 days in jail.  All of your “friends” in the industry couldn’t resist giving you shit about it online

Having to tell people I got arrested at a Hanson show makes it sound like Zach Galifianakis’s character from “The Hangover.”  I got arrested for the Hanson Charity Walk even though I had next to nothing to do with it. I was just promoting the show. 

The police came to the backstage door and asked who was responsible for the concert and I raised my hand.  The story ran in the Cincinnati Enquirer and my 94-year-old grandmother called to tell me she was proud of me.  That made it worthwhile right there. 

The case got thrown out of course but I still get grief about it.  I also got arrested once outside The Fillmore in Denver for handing out flyers for one of my shows at the Paramount. 

That also got thrown out but I’m still mad about that one.  I spent Halloween night in jail and you can imagine what the Denver jail looks like on Halloween.

If there’s one thing you could change about the industry, what would it be? 

Nothing.  The random nature with which people apply the unwritten rules of the business is fascinating and amusing.  The people we get to work with make me smile and keep it interesting.  I like that with knowledge, fairness and a little money you can forge a really interesting path in this business.

What’s the next step in your career? 

Dan and I are in the process of building out our machine at Emporium.  We have a lot of great people working in our offices in Denver, Seattle, and Nashville.  There is so much growth that is possible.  We are currently doing better than 400 shows a year and we’re just scratching the surface of what we can accomplish.  We’re really excited about what our team will create in the future.

You can give shout-outs to three people in the industry (we’ll spot you Steiny).

Mike Smith was my first boss at Nederlander in Cincinnati and I learned a ton from him about how to promote and compete in a market by focusing on controlling real estate.

I was Mark Norman’s assistant when I started in Denver and learned a great deal from him about booking a wide geographical area, touring, and the nuances of working with agents. 

A big shout-out to Al Bunetta, Rest in Peace, John Prine’s longtime manager whom we lost this year.  He was a great guy from whom I learned much about loyalty and the value in working with the right people and having fun while doing it.  Miss you Al.

What is your most memorable concert experience – good or bad – from high school forward?  You can list three if you want.

Tom Waits -Paramount Theatre Denver in 1999, Phish at Newport Music Hall in 1993, and Jesco White opening for the Black Keys at the Ryman in 2008.  I paid Jesco’s sister $100 to drag him off stage.

What artists are you promoting now that you think have a great future? 

We’ve loved seeing Sturgill Simpson grow like mad this year and it’s been really fun to see Dave Rawlings Machine becoming an established draw in theaters.  I put a lot of sweat into trying to turn Dierks Bentley into an arena draw and it’s really satisfying to see his success over the last two years.