Q’s With Joe Litvag, Danny Wimmer Presents’ New President of Live Events

Courtesy Joe Litvag
– Live With Litvag
Danny Wimmer Presents hired Joe Litvag as President of Live Events in August.

Powerhouse festival promoter Danny Wimmer Presents was poised for a mammoth 2020. For the company’s second full year of independence following its 2018 split from AEG, DWP had lined up an exclusive booking deal with Metallica that would bring the metal legends to five DWP hard-rock festivals – and, domestically, only those events – for two sets apiece in 2020, and in February, it received substantial funding from Ron Burkle’s The Yucaipa Companies.

Like many plans, the pandemic interfered. But DWP still sees plenty of opportunity, and it hired industry vet Joe Litvag as President of Live Events in early August to help the company reach its potential when touring returns.

It’s a homecoming for Litvag, who worked at AEG from 2003 to 2018 and was intimately involved in developing and executing DWP’s festival slate when it was still an AEG partner. After a brief stint at Blackbird Presents as President of Live Entertainment in 2019 and early 2020, he’s reuniting with executives who are both longtime colleagues and friends.

Though Litvag teases future expansion on the festival front for DWP, he’s most bullish about beefing up the company’s offerings in other areas, including national touring, venue management and concessions.

“We’re a music company and we’re going to expand into all aspects of music and entertainment,” he says. “That’s part of what my job is going to be: As we grow in each of these individual but related areas, how do we tie it all together into one cohesive strategy?”

To accomplish that, Litvag will draw on experience earned not only at AEG, but in the ‘90s and early ‘00s as a talent buyer and venue executive who started out at Contemporary Productions and weathered subsequent acquisitions by SFX and Clear Channel.

Litvag connected with Pollstar to discuss DWP’s business, his new role and what he calls “the goosebump factor.”

POLLSTAR: You worked with these guys in the past. What brought you back?
Joe Litvag: I maintained longstanding friendships with [founder] Danny Wimmer and [CEO] Danny Hayes and [executive senior vice president] Gary Spivack and several of the other folks at DWP, dating back to when we created some great festivals together. Gosh, it’s scary to think how many years ago that was! I had left my position at Blackbird Presents right as COVID was taking a hold of the business and was looking for the next new challenge. These guys felt like it could be a good time to consider bringing me on board because there’s a lot of new opportunity that’s sitting in front of DWP currently. They wanted an additional person with a complementary field of experience to join the team to help fully develop and discover these other opportunities that exist out there outside of their current business. The timing made sense. I was waiting things out to see how the live business was going to recover and how long it’s going to take – obviously none of us have that crystal ball. But this opportunity presented itself, and having the opportunity to work with good friends and people that you’ve done great things with in the past, those types of opportunities don’t come along very often. I felt like this is something I had to jump at.

You mentioned new opportunities sitting in front of DWP. What areas do you identify for growth?
While a lot of companies out there big and small are just sort of paused, the message DWP has for the entertainment industry is that we’re open for business. We’re open to explore new opportunities that make sense within the company’s business model. Danny and I have always agreed that the key to building a great company is being very diversified, and I think COVID really hit that home for a lot of companies. We think there is incredible opportunity for growth in the venue space, be it purchase, be it operation, management, booking. DWP’s already been approached by several venues to get involved in their business and help them create a new path forward post-COVID. They felt like it was good timing to have me join the company because I’ve got extensive experience on the venues side of the business. There are several venues the company is already deep into discussions with, and I think there are a lot more opportunities like that out there. There are going to be not just venues, but other independent promoters that are going to need some help going forward. DWP is in a position where we can provide that help, be it financial or otherwise.

I also see a lot of potential in the company’s concession business SoHo, short for Southern Hospitality. I got to know SoHo intimately [via DWP] and they were incredible to work with – so good that I even brought them in as the concessionaire on other festivals I was doing in my time at other companies that DWP wasn’t involved with. I have a lot of confidence in SoHo’s ability to not only execute well but to also generate new forms of revenue on the concessions and merchandising sides. Most venues and festival producers know the big names of the concessions business. SoHo has been under the radar and I’d like to change that.

Stephen J. Cohen / Getty Images
– To 11
Fans enjoy Louder Than Life, one of DWP’s annual “Louisville Trifesta” events held at Highland Festival Grounds at Kentucky Expo Center.

In terms of venues, is DWP looking at a particular region or tier of venue size or anything like that, or are you looking across the board?
It’s across the board. There’s a fairly decent sized list of venues that have reached out and we’re in different stages of conversations with. Some are pretty far down the line, and others are in preliminary stages of discussion about how we as a company can help them. DWP knows where its strength lies, and we want to focus on venues that are going to complement the strengths that we have. You’re going to see some larger venues, you’re going to see some mid-sized venues, maybe some smaller venues. They’re going to be strategically located in geographical regions that relate to either DWP’s current business or plans we have for expansion in other markets. It’s all going to be very strategic and tied together.

When you say the support DWP could provide to a venue, do you mean booking-wise, promotion-wise, marketing, that type of thing?
It can be any one of a variety of things. The core pieces of a successful venue business, some of the things you just mentioned – the booking side of things, the marketing side of things, sponsorship, premium ticketing, which has obviously become such an important part of the business, operations, concessions. There are also potentially venues out there that just need some financial help to be able to come out the other side of what we’re all dealing with right now, and that’s certainly an option as well. The company’s open for business, and the phone continues to ring every day with new venues calling us going, “Hey, we could use your guys’ expertise.” That’s exactly what we’re there for. That’s how we grow into these new segments of the business.

DWP’s announcement of your hiring also said the company’s looking to get into national touring. What might that look like?
Obviously it’s a crowded space and there’s larger companies out there that do it and do it well. We’re focused on who we are as a company. We understand at this point in time what our identity is and what audience we speak to. We know the artists that we’ve got closest relationships with, and we’re going to be there for artists that are looking for an alternative to the more typically known touring players. The two biggest things DWP has to offer are, number one, our expertise and our relationships. Number two is our base of loyal fans for all the company’s current business. We’ve got significant credibility in the rock space and we’ve been approached by some artists about getting involved with them on a touring level. It’s another thing that I’ve got some experience in. As those opportunities arise, we want to take advantage of them.

Chad Martel
– Range Life
Gary Spivack, Danny Wimmer and Joe Litvag (from left) enjoy DWP’s Rock On The Range in Columbus, Ohio, in 2011.

How do you see DWP’s core festival offerings bouncing back in 2021?
The core DWP festivals have been in great shape the last couple years. They were poised for massive years respectively at each of the key festivals for 2020, before COVID took hold. We’re trying to continue to be optimistic, but we’re also realistic in taking a wait-and-see approach. If the festivals are back in 2021, we’re ready to hit the ground running. Will we be developing more in the future? Sure. But right now, when it comes to that sector of the business, the focus is let’s get back to having a live business, and then we’ll press go on that.

How has the infusion from The Yucaipa Companies helped DWP weather the crisis? Has it given DWP some breathing room?
DWP has been very fortunate to take on a great partner with Yucaipa, and Yucaipa’s provided DWP with the runway needed to continue building this company into a great company. The next 10 years are going to be really critical for this company. How do we get from where we are now to times 10? Yucaipa provides some great insight to Danny and Danny and gives them the runway and the wherewithal to be able to go out and expand the company. An advantage we have is that we’ve got them standing right next to us.

What are you most excited for in your new role?
I’m excited for the challenge of developing these new lines of business, because I think there’s so much more there. This is a tree that’s just started to blossom with fruit, and I think there’s a lot more fruit to come. I love opportunities to come into a company where the seed’s been planted, the tree’s starting to grow, [and I can] then nurture and fertilize the tree and help it really grow to its full potential. That’s where I excel. The timing was right. DWP is at the right stage in development, I’m at the right place in my career where I can offer some relevant experience and take everything I’ve learned over the years and apply it in a positive, productive way.

Who are you most excited to see perform when physical concerts return?
To me, it’s less about being excited to see a particular artist – it’s more about being excited to get those goosebumps again. I’ve always referred to it as the “goosebump factor,” where an artist that you love walks out onstage and performs the songs that are meaningful to you. I just want that goosebump factor back! I can’t wait to experience that again, and that could really come from a variety of different artists. To just be in the room with the artist when they walk out onstage again, that’s what I’m looking for.