For professionals across the live industry, the pandemic-spurred shutdown offered the opportunity to rethink the fundamental processes that govern touring.
For Adam Hartke, co-founder of Wichita-based promoter and venue operator Hartke Presents, and several other independent promoters and venue operators, that meant reimagining the very way tours are booked and routed through the country’s secondary and tertiary markets.
Along with founding partners including Pittsburgh’s Drusky Entertainment, Louisville’s Production Simple, Tampa’s Crowbar and Cleveland’s Happy Dog, Hartke announced D Tour on March 1, an innovative network that will facilitate national touring in independent venues.
“The founding members were a group of folks that worked closely together lobbying Congress to get relief,” says Hartke, who also serves as co-chair of NIVA’s Advocacy Committee. “We all had that battle experience together and knew each other’s capabilities and knew what each other brought to the table.”
The network is already up and running: Upon its announcement, D Tour also revealed its first tour, where 22-year-old multi-instrumentalist Elise Trouw will play upwards of 35 dates.
Hartke connected with Pollstar to discuss D Tour’s inception and how the network will work.
Pollstar: How did D Tour come about?
Adam Hartke: A group of us got together, led by Blayne Tucker [of San Antonio’s Blue Water Partners] and [Production Simple’s] Billy Hardison. They had the idea that we needed to keep the unification that we had established throughout the pandemic going and really work together to do better business and create new ways of doing business as we move forward. We got together in early April 2021 and started formulating a plan.
Regarding that unification from the pandemic, how did your experience with NIVA inform and lead to the creation of this network?
We all quickly realized that we had been operating in a bubble isolated from one another, and we also quickly realized how fragile the whole industry of the independents is, from venues to promoters to agents and managers and artists and everything in between. Your differences are wiped away in the face of great adversity; we saw that our commonalities were so much stronger than any divisions we had. We quickly saw that if we worked together, we could create such a better world for all of us to exist within.
Tell me about the specific partners in this network. How did people join up?
There was a group of folks that got together as founding members. We’ve been reaching out for the last two months to others within the network. We hope to expand to folks that we don’t know that share these collaborative values. It’s a small group that started it, but it’s quickly expanding.
Say that I’m an agent. What is my experience going to be like using the D Tour network? How is it going to change booking shows, if at all?
With this network, there’ll be one point of contact. An agent or a manager or artist can reach out to somebody they know within the network, say they’re wanting to do X amount of dates, here’s some target markets, what capacity they’re wanting and just some overall parameters, and we’ll send that out to folks in those markets. Then [we] put an offer pack together, send it back. With Elise Trouw, we had 35 dates for them to review, all independent venues, all standalone shows. D Tour is not producing these shows specifically; they’re all shows that are in-house at the venues, but they’re in an offer pack that helps [teams] look at a tour as a whole and see what can be done. It alleviates tons of back and forth, tons of communication and trying to figure out routing and all that.
So it’s a win-win, because it helps the artist’s team on the planning side, and then D Tour’s constituent venues are all in it together.
That, and we’re having some strategic marketing plans – everybody will be responsible for their own markets but we’ll have some national [marketing campaigns] as well. It’s not going to be these isolated dates that are just reliant on themselves; there’s going to be a network of folks that support each other. If a market’s down or if a market’s doing really well, [they’ll] figure out what’s going on in each area and take that to the rest of the network to help the overall tour.
Elise’s tour has 35 dates, more than the number of D Tour’s founding partners. I’m assuming you’ll fill these tours out with the deep network of indies you’re in touch with all over the country.
We’re working with tons of different venues and promoters all over the country. They’re basically affiliates that we’ll be pulling in. If an artist needs a 500 cap in a certain market, then we’ll reach out to folks in that market and figure out the best venue for that artist and the best promoter for that artist.
How did Elise become the first artist to book a tour through D Tour?
Her manager, Jim Weatherson, had reached out to me about possibly doing a tour of independent venues, prior to his knowledge of D Tour. I said, “We’re about to announce [D Tour] and I think Elise would be perfect for one of our first tours.” He loved the idea, so we quickly got an offer pack over to them and worked with him and Scott Clayton at UTA to solidify it. We all felt she was the perfect artist to kick everything off with that really represents what we’re wanting to do. We don’t want to just throw in offers and see what happens; we want to work with agents and managers to get something custom for an artist that’s really going to benefit everybody involved.
What has the experience been like operating in a smaller market as the live industry came back online? Has it been hard getting bands to come to Wichita over the last year?
Jessie [Hartke, Hartke Presents co-founder and Adam’s wife] and I and others that we work with within this market have been working to get bands to Wichita for decades, so it wasn’t really that much different. And, honestly, we saw a surge like everybody else did. There’s so many awesome bands out on tour right now and everybody needs a place to play. Wichita’s making a lot of good progress. It’s a great city for shows.
How do you expect the D Tour network to impact your business at Hartke Presents?
We just hope we get a few more really good shows every year. That’s our end goal with it, to be able to put five, 10 more shows a year on the calendar that we might not have gotten had we not been part of this network.
VenuePilot is involved on the tech side here. What has their role been?
We’re working on developing some software specifically geared toward what we’re doing, the routing and booking of tours and some of these artist development things. We have some concepts, tech-wise, that VenuePilot loves and is helping us develop.
How important was it for you with this initiative to help local communities and economies?
The venues that are involved and the folks we’re reaching out to, they’re really the backbones in a lot of cases of local music scenes and those local economies. When those businesses and those venues and promoters have good years and they’re thriving, then that money goes back into the community. I think we’ll see a lot of these local music scenes really benefit from this. Even beyond that, the more resourced the indies are in each local market, the more they’re going to be able to support their local scenes and get those bands out on the road, push them out to experience some other venues regionally – and then really help the growth of the overall music ecosystem. That’s vitally important. We’re not profit driven. We’re working to curate really awesome events and to really bolster the overall music economy.