Bob Roux sees American music moving back to its roots: the smaller markets where many bands made their bones during the golden age of general admission venues.
Roux, president of U.S. concerts for Live Nation, oversees the promoter’s arena and amphitheater business and, to a smaller extent, its festival operations. As a result, he ranks among live music’s most impactful executives.
Despite his stature, Roux remains a small-town guy from central Illinois, and he relates to secondary markets getting their share of dates. On recent Live Nation tours, he noted, Metallica played Grand Forks, N.D., and Chris Stapleton performed in Huntsville, Ala.
Metallica’s September 2018 concert at Grand Forks’ Alerus Center sold 15,735 tickets and grossed $1.9 million, according to Pollstar Boxoffice data, and the gig set arena records for concessions, merchandise and sponsorship sales, per local reports.
Shows like that are part of a “new resurgence” Roux has seen among established artists whose strategy is getting their music in front of wider audiences that extend beyond North America’s 30 biggest cities. Additionally, acts are increasingly booking multiple venue types on the same route.
What’s driving the trend? Some artists have affinities for specific venues from past experience and request those facilities be included in their itineraries. Others simply enjoy playing a mix of arenas and amphitheaters during summer tours, Roux said.
“You’re starting to see some bands, like KISS, doing an extensive tour of arenas, but also choosing to play a mix of open-air shows,” he said. “The same thing with The Who. Keeping an overall tour interesting for the artist is very important.”
Roux has been a concert promoter for 40 years, dating back to his days as a student at the University of Illinois in the late ‘70s. In college, Roux studied engineering – but discovered a more lucrative calling as a talent buyer.
“At that time, engineers were making $35,000 a year,” Roux said. “I did a few shows where I made half that amount of money in a single night. I found something where the money was good and it was something I enjoyed.”
His start in the business came during the era of regional promoters who held tight grips on their respective territories. In the Midwest, Jam Productions and Celebration Concerts (Chicago), Sunshine Promotions (Indianapolis) and Contemporary Productions (St. Louis) were the dominant promoters. It didn’t take Roux too long to figure out that, as an independent promoter, he couldn’t survive competing against those firms.
“I ended up at Stardate Productions in Milwaukee working for Randy McElrath and three years later joined Pace Concerts with Louis Messina,” he said. “Now, I work with Randy’s son Ryan in our touring department in Los Angeles.”
That’s just one example of how things have come full circle for Roux. The modern expansion of GA venues, such as the Fillmore model, reminds him of once-dominant armories, auditoriums and vintage halls, such as the old Red Lion Inn in Champaign, Ill., where Roux saw Cheap Trick play just before the group released its 1977 debut.
“Today’s ballrooms that we’re all building emulate that same communal vibe,” Roux said. “It’s great for the fans and the bands.”
Long term, Live Nation’s strategy is to develop a portfolio of facilities, starting with 250-seat clubs, midsize ballrooms and amphitheaters, and topping out with the strong relationships it has with teams running arenas and stadiums.
“We would like to have a collection of various venue types in every major market … the right segment of buildings to grow the bands as they grow their audience,” Roux said.
Artist to watch in the next year:
I really like Sturgill Simpson. I don’t know if it will be this year or next year, but he’s an incredible live performer.