Q’s With Jessica Gordon, Broadberry Co-Founder And Independent Promoter Alliance President, As Richmond Preps For Podded Shows

Courtesy Broadberry
– Pod Promoter
Broadberry Entertainment co-founder Jessica Gordon, who also serves as Independent Promoter Alliance president, has helped the Virginia company pivot into drive-in and podded concerts.

Six months ago, confining household-sized groups of people to small designated zones at concerts would’ve seemed far-fetched, a cumbersome inconvenience constraining the free movement of audiences. But like many ideas unthinkable in the pre-COVID world, podded seating is now salient, allowing patrons to enjoy shows without being tethered to couches for livestreams or cars for drive-ins – and offering promoters and artists the chance to rebound from months of inactivity.

Broadberry Entertainment, the Richmond, Va., promoter that staged some 550 shows at several venues regionally in 2019, will put on its first podded show Sept. 25, when it brings Americana guitarist extraordinaire Keller Williams to ASM Global’s Bon Secours Training Center – where, in normal times, the NFL’s Washington Football Team would be running drills this time of year – to perform for 1,000 people spread across just over 200 pods.

Broadberry’s model is noteworthy for its scale, but also because its stringent guidelines could represent a safe, sustainable approach for future outdoor shows as promoters around the country grapple with the possibility that traditional concerts might not return until well into 2021.

Williams’ gig has already sold out, and Broadberry has more Bon Secours podded shows in the works, including Tom Petty tribute band Full Moon Fever on Oct. 3. Broadberry Entertainment co-founder and Independent Promoter Alliance president Jessica Gordon connected with Pollstar to discuss Broadberry’s forays into podded and drive-in concerts and what such socially distanced formats could mean for the industry going forward.

POLLSTAR: How did you move from drive-ins to podded shows?
JESSICA GORDON: Back in April, I saw some of the drive-in shows that were happening in Europe and got the idea for drive-ins. We did two drive-ins already and have a bunch of them coming up. Having successful drive-ins gave us the idea for the pod seating. I had seen some smaller examples of that in parks in Brooklyn and some other places, so we took that model and looked for a large empty space in Richmond where we could mimic that same idea. There is a space that’s across from the main venue that we book in downtown Richmond that was formerly the Washington Football Team’s training camp. That’s where they had practiced for the last eight years. Obviously they can’t practice right now, and also their lease is ending. What it is is two football fields with a large, very high-end indoor viewing station on the side. It’s just sitting there and located in a great part of the city. We know the people who coordinate that property [ASM Global] because they also do the large seated theaters in town. We’ve worked with them before. So we sat down and had a meeting and worked out a way to do the pod seating.

Did ASM have models? Where did your guidelines and ideas come from?
These are entirely ours. We are working with ASM – obviously it’s a partnership because it’s their property. We developed the guidelines using the guidelines from the drive-in shows and our research into what other people are doing for similar things, and adapted them to the particular space.

Lee Coleman / Icon Sportswire / Getty
– Remember Football?
Washington linebacker Trent Murphy trains at Bon Secours Training Center in Richmond, Va., in 2017.

How many people can come?
Richmond allows entertainment venues to have up to 1,000 people, or 50% of your capacity. It’s two football fields, the capacity is like 40,000. We’re allowing 1,000 people in that 40,000-person space. We have 207 pods. The pods have 12-foot walkways in front and behind them, and at least six feet of space on each side. You always have at least six feet of space between you and each pod. You can only leave your pod if you’re going to the restroom.

The walkways are one-way, right?
Right. We took that from the supermarket model. Some grocery stores have done that. It makes it feel a lot safer.

People can bring food and non-alcoholic beverages. Are you minimizing concessions to encourage people to stay in their pods?
In previous events we’ve done at drive-ins, we’ve done no concessions, because we don’t want people to leave their vehicle area, for all the obvious reasons. You’re going to see a friend and naturally stop and try to talk to them. We want to avoid that kind of stuff. For this event, we are applying to sell beer. It would be a situation where you would purchase the beer – if we get the license, which we don’t know yet – as an add-on for your ticket, and then once you get to the venue and get IDed, you would pick up a bag with ice and beer that you’ve already paid for in a contactless delivery and proceed to your pod with it. We don’t want to do the traditional “I’m standing in line at the beer truck” thing. That would not be safe.

Did you devise the podded seating model and then say, “OK, who are we going to book for it?” Or did Keller want to do a show and you then figured out podded seating?
The first way. We came up with the idea to approach the location, because we’re getting asked to do a lot of shows. Some artists are interested in [podded concerts], other ones want to stick with the drive-in model and obviously some artists don’t want to perform at all. But of those who are looking to perform, in both models, you’re outside, and in both models you have an excess of social distance between your group and any others. They’re just different scenarios for how to do a show.

So, Keller was in a winnowed-down group of artists interested in doing this. How’d you put it together? He has Virginia roots, right?
He’s from Fredericksburg. Some of the artists that are playing [Broadberry’s distanced shows] are located a one-hour or two-hour drive away, so it’s easy to come down, play and go home. In Keller’s particular situation, I’m sure that was a factor in his decision.

What has been the most challenging aspect of planning podded shows so far?
It’s a lot more work than what I’m used to doing! I’m a talent buyer. I also am a promoter. I’ve worked in every capacity in venues over the 17 years I’ve booked shows. But prior to the pandemic, I was mostly just buying talent. It’s a completely different ballgame to go from being the person who books shows to being the person who books the show, makes the ticket, does all the marketing, gets everything set up. We’re just sort of in charge of everything now.

Scott Dudelson / Getty
– Secured For Secours
Keller Williams, pictured at California’s BeachLife Festival in 2019, will play Bon Secours Training Center’s first podded show in September.

I saw pictures from a podded gig in England. Everybody had these mini-platforms. Will the Bon Secours shows be on the grass or will you have infrastructure like that?
We are on the grass. I saw that picture too. Even with a long-term strategy, I don’t know how you could afford something like that, unless you have a lot of expendable income. We don’t. I don’t imagine most companies could afford something like that, or that it would be cost-effective or even necessary. Having a barrier in place that visually designates your area to both you and to other attendees is integral to the success and safety of the event, though.

I don’t need to be on a platform. I go to shows in the park on a blanket even when it’s not COVID.
I also think it depends on the kind of music. The style of music is really important in considering which artists to book for these, for both the drive-ins and the pod seating shows. It’s not going to work for punk bands or a lot of metal bands.

Was that part of determining you wanted to go the Keller route, that he made sense for the vibe at this specific type of event?
Yeah. After booking shows for 17 years and a lifetime of attending shows, I instantaneously know with every artist exactly how the crowd is going to behave. It’s second nature to me. It’s obvious to me which bands it won’t work with and which bands would be more conducive to this new atmosphere.

Do you envision continuing these podded seating shows into the fall?
I do. We are currently booking through October. In the old days, we booked six to 10 months out. Now everything is one month or six weeks out at most. We’re doing all sorts of outdoor things through October. We’re talking right now about whether we could extend through November. In normal times, we wouldn’t be doing outdoor shows in November, but there’s not going to be any other kinds of shows, so people might be more interested. Unlike going to an outdoor show where you’re standing shoulder to shoulder, if you’re going to sit in a pod you can bring a blanket. You can bring things that would make you more comfortable if it’s a little bit chilly. And in November, we have plenty of warm days in Virginia.

Couresty Keller Williams
– Uncle Safe Show
A promotional poster for Keller Williams’ fall tour, which kicks off with a socially distant podded gig in Richmond, Va.

Football happens outdoors in December, and people just bundle up – in much colder parts of the country than Virginia.
Exactly. I think it might be viable. And I do see the pod seating and the drive-ins as a long-term strategy right now, because I don’t personally think there’s going to be big indoor shows next year in the summertime. It seems to me that most agents don’t think so either, based on the fact that they’ve moved all their shows a third time and are now looking at fall [2021], the late fall in many cases. I think it’s very likely that we’ll still be doing stuff like this next summer.

Is this a model you could see other venues employing throughout the country? Do you think there’s a makeshift routing circuit that could happen?
I’m the president of the Independent Promoter Alliance, and [Patchwork Presents founder] Dave Poe is the CEO. We’ve created a non-profit trade organization for promoters. We started it back at the beginning of COVID. We have close to 500 members now nationwide. We have been trying to start an initiative where we focus on some of the innovative, interesting, successful work that promoters are doing safely during this time. Using our Slack channel, we’re starting to get people to share the events they’re doing. There’s a lot of sadness right now, but when promoters can see the good work and safe work other people are doing, it gives them ideas about how they can adapt that in their own market. People just need to hear and see examples. Then they start thinking, “Do I have a space in the city I live in where I could do this?” I have also noticed that some of the really big agencies have put together these drive-in departments and databases of who’s doing drive-in shows, but a lot of the smaller agencies have not done that. Sometimes agents will say, “Our artist wants to play your show, but we can’t have them drive like 10 hours.” If I could say, “Well, here’s another place to stop, you might not know about this drive-in,” that would be useful if that information was available and public. We’re working on that.