When CMA Lifetime Achievement Award winner Brian O’Connell lays down, at least 42 weeks a year, it’s on a bus somewhere Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley, Florida Georgia Line or Miranda Lambert is playing. Or he’s parked at one of the myriad festivals O’Connell has created and built out over the last several years.
Fresh from his second year at the Tortuga Festival, the lifelong Notre Dame fan is consumed with “making the experience better on both sides of the barricade.”
Stressing the importance of streams and downloads, “because five No. 1s, four No. 1s, even a No. 1 doesn’t always mean consumption,” O’Connell has an even more important metric. “Use your eyes. Did people get to their first band at 7:30? Who’s in the pit? On the hill? The second tier? Because when people show up, it means something’s connecting.”
As the man who really brought country to the amphitheaters in the ’90s with Brooks & Dunn’s Neon Circus tour, along with Tim McGraw, Toby Keith, Rascal Flatts and Brad Paisley, he expanded that experience with the MegaTicket that served as a way for fans to develop relationships with each other the same way season ticketholders at sports events do.
“We consciously built it this way. It’s not a coincidence,” O’Connell says. “Country is a community, and when the fans get to know each other by sitting in the same seats, it gives the experience more meaning.”
For O’Connell, that experience is everything.
“It’s a grind, but being around the fans, getting to know them, what makes them tick, that’s powerful,” he says. “[Music] has the ability to make people’s lives better. Whether it’s the little kid on their Dad’s shoulders high-fiving the singer, or that moment when a fan and the artist’s eyes meet – and you see the connection, that’s the greatest feeling.
“When I started out at Cellar Door, I couldn’t get enough. I turned off the lights at night, and I also turned them on again in the morning.
“Getting to do this every day isn’t having to go to work, it’s getting to be part of something that brings joy and inspires. How do you get tired of that?”
The one that gets me into the show that night.
“This is a living, not a life.” Jack Boyle
Also, “It’s all about the artist. Without the artist, we got nothing.” Jack Boyle
What Would You Tell Your Friends At Labels/Radio:
Pay attention to consumption.
Where Can You Be Found During A Show:
At the start of the show, out front. Then, especially with bands I’ve seen a hundred times, left side of the stage.
People who show up at shows demanding things. “Where do I park?” “Where’s will call?” Especially when I’m in some other town.
Russell Dickerson, Ryan Hurd
Technology that most impacts your life:
Cell phones, especially smart phones.
Concert that changed your life:
Paul McCartney + Wings, 1976, Wings Over America Tour, Chicago Stadium
TEN YEARS REMOVED FROM THE GREAT SLUMP — CAN IT HAPPEN AGAIN:
Of course it can happen again. You gotta watch the greed on everybody’s side.
When it’s a bull market, those prices keep inching up, but their attention can get away from you.
In a world where so much is in the palm of their hand, getting people to get out of their house, pay the money, deal with the parking and the crowd, you have to make it convenient and compelling. It’s too easy to stay home, and we can’t lose sight of that.