“It’s still a thrill when something or someone new comes along,” says AEG’s Debra Rathwell. Having come into her own as VP of Concerts with legendary Montreal-based promotor Donald K. Donald, the New York-based Rathwell got behind “American Idol” – and “Dancing with the Stars” – as a touring franchise when everyone thought she was crazy. She’s also the go-to tour promoter for Justin Bieber, Carrie Underwood and Lorde.
Currently orchestrating the Elton John: Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour – slated for three years across the globe, launching Underwood’s Cry Pretty: 360 Tour’s 55-city North American juggernaut, wrapping John Mellencamp’s sold-out, 40-city theater tour and launching JoJo Siwa’s 70-city tour, she’s got plenty on her plate. Other than a hiatus in the ‘80s producing award-winning Broadway shows – “Tango Argentino” and “Black & Blue” – concerts are in her blood.
Having witnessed Woodstock ’94 as her first concert experience after the move to America from Canada, she embraced the idea of spectacle and matching people to what they love.
Viewing today’s technology as a boon, she says it “has changed how we evaluate an artist’s ability to sell tickets. It’s now a constant and ever-evolving learning curve. I’m always trying to find the markers.”
Still as obsessed with music as when she was growing up, Rathwell believes that while consumption platforms are changing, kids still want to be part of the concert experience.
“I’ve always believed young people will continue to evolve into ticket buyers, who will in turn become the audience of the future,” she says.
“Look at the explosion of club and ballroom shows today. That is the result of the internet and music streaming.”
Artist to watch – breaking in the next year?
I’m hoping Why Don’t We break big next year. I’ve had my eye on them for the longest time, and they’ve gotten so good. All the right pieces are in place.
Where can you be found during a show?
I’m usually standing at the back of the arena floor, near the sound and light boards.
Biggest miss by you and/or the industry?
How about the biggest “Save”? When every promoter turned down the offer to promote “American Idol,” I decided to take a chance. It turned out to be a 10-year win for all sorts. Of shows and tours.