How Genesis With Michael Cohl’s EMC Presents & Regional Promoters Topped Q1’s Charts
Not only did Genesis’ “Last Domino? Tour,” with its classic lineup of Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks, top Pollstar’s 2022 Q1 Worldwide Tours Chart, but it also represents something quite extraordinary and unexpected in modern touring: It is one of the few tours in recent memory that wasn’t promoted by Live Nation or AEG Presents to lead Pollstar’s charts and one of the only to use regional promoters.
“Originally, I went to all the guys we work with, who I did lots of Genesis tours with, and the ones we used in 2007 – 14 years ago,” says legendary tour promoter Michael Cohl, chairman of EMC Presents that promoted Genesis’ tour.
His strategy, to not use major promoters like Live Nation, which he resigned from as chairman in 2008, for the tour’s Q1 run of East Coast and Midwestern dates in the U.S. and Canada, is all but unheard of.
The “Last Domino? Tour” grossed an impressive $46,456,405 on 230,596 tickets in Q1 2022 – $13 million more than any other act in the quarter, which ran from Nov. 18 to Feb. 16 and was marred by the Omicron variant. The run still brought in a solid $13 million more than runner up BTS, the K-pop juggernaut which grossed $33.3 million. Only perennial Q1 powerhouse Trans-Siberian Orchestra, with its two Christmastime touring units, sold more tickets, 288,500, yet brought in less than half of Genesis’ gross.
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“It’s fantastic that it was the number one tour, I never truthfully expected it,” says Cohl, who is on the phone from London catching the last dates of Genesis’ European run at The O2 arena in London.
“With all of the things that Live Nation and AEG do and the lay of the land since I’ve left the industry, I’m really happy and surprised.”
More surprising, for some, is that Cohl, who helped invent the modern touring industry, has returned to using regional promoters, a practice that today seems all but lost. For decades before the 1990s, when larger corporate promoters began rolling up smaller ones, regional promoters dominated the business, a time some consider the industry’s maverick glory days.
Then, the nascent live business was run by an array of colorful regional promoters who had expertise, capital and a lock on their respective markets. Post-show settlements were often all cash, hardnosed and contentious (sometimes with the involvement of alcohol, illicit substances and/or weapons). Hallowed names like Barsalona, Graham, Law, Zelisko, Fey, Belkin, Magid, Delsener, Scher, Slater, Granat, Mickelson, Boyle, Messina, Roux, Cooley and others controlled their respective territories.
Cohl, originally from Canada and now in his mid-70s, is himself an O.G. regional promoter. His career began in the late ‘60s and saw him working successfully on projects in most fields of entertainment, including music, sports and theater. In 1973, he launched Concert Promotions International (CPI) out of Toronto and would come to promote tours for legions of legendary artists, including Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Pink Floyd, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and U2. Cohl, however, may be best known for expanding the “one promoter for the world” concept when CPI promoted the entirety of The Rolling Stones’ 1989-1990 “Steel Wheels Tour.” The 115-date global run grossed a then-unheard of $300 million and remains the model for much of touring today.
In the ‘90s, Robert F. X. Sillerman would blow up the regional promoter model, rolling them up and forming SFX before flipping it in 2000 to Clear Channel, which in 2005 was spun off to form Live Nation. AEG simultaneously started its run in 2002 picking up regional promoters and steadily expanding its live industry holdings. Since then, the two massive entities have dominated the industry streamlining and professionalizing national and international touring with decentralized divisions that include venues, festivals, ticketing, sponsorship, marketing, concessions, production and far more under one roof. That model would grow industry revenues exponentially and raise many touring industry boats in the process.
“Generally, over the course of the ‘70s and ‘80s, the business became very professional and got rolled up and rolled up,” Cohl says. “Early on I was part of the roll-up.” Then, he notes, “I got rolled up and then I was part of the roller-uppers.”
Cohl became Live Nation’s chairman after it picked up CPI though he would leave his post in 2008. His departure was followed by lawsuits and counter-lawsuits that reportedly settled amicably. He went on to form S2BN Entertainment that same year, which would promoted shows by Barbra Streisand, David Gilmour, Phil Collins and Oprah Winfrey as well as theatrical and musical productions.
The February 2020 launch of EMC Presents, Cohl’s partnership with German powerhouse promoter CTS Eventim into the North American concert market, was widely noted but poorly timed. “It was the weirdest luck of all time,” Cohl says. “I signed that deal on Feb. 20, 2020, can you believe that? Three weeks to the day the world ended. Dennis Arfa (of Artist Group International) used to always refer to me as ‘Lucky Lefty’ and I went, ‘Well for once he was right, because I signed a fantastic deal.’ Then, three weeks later, it was like, ‘What the heck are we going to do?’ We spent a long time putting together some good things, and we have a good thing going.”
Those good things included landing the Genesis tour. “There was this night during the Phil Collins tour that (manager) Tony Smith started saying, ‘Hey, you know, Mike’s (Rutherford’s) talking to Phil, and Mike’s talking to Tony Banks. And you never know, but this thing might happen.’ I got goosebumps because it was one of the very first groups I’d ever worked with. And Tony Smith, we go back to the late ‘60s or early ‘70s when he was working with Monty Python’s Flying Circus and I was a local promoter in Toronto. He just said, ‘You know, they’re thinking of getting back together.’ And I just went, ‘Oh my God, I have to do it.’”
As for the regional promoters, Cohl says, “I always believe in using boots on the ground. We had local promoters in every city, we had a Ticketmaster rep in connection with every building we worked with.”
John Harper, EMC Presents’ COO of Concerts, concurs. “As long as I’ve worked with Michael, which has been a long time – 17 years – he insists on using local promoters …He says, ‘you should really have a local person on the ground who can call up the mayor if they need to and who goes for beers with the building manager,’ and I agree with him.”
The regional promoters EMC Presents worked with on the Genesis tour included Larry Magid and David Chesler in Philadelphia, Andre Hudon at Donald K. Donald in Montreal, Frank Russo in Boston, Seth Hurwitz in D.C., Gary Hinston in Pittsburgh, Arny Granat in Chicago and Columbus, Stuart Green in Buffalo along with EMC itself doing Toronto and New York. The trek also used promoter Louis Messina, who is partners with AEG, in Raleigh, Charlotte and Cleveland.
“It’s retroactive; it’s like going back the way it used to be,” says Arny Granat, who is now in his 50th year of putting on concerts in Chicago (and co-founded Jam Productions). “Someone would get a tour like a Genesis or Rolling Stones or whatever before there was a Live Nation and they would use local promoters for those tours. This tour was really enjoyable and reminded me of the early days. Genesis is one of the first acts I ever did when Peter Gabriel was the singer. It brought up great memories and great people. I’ve worked with Michael Cohl for almost 40-plus years.”
With Granat, Genesis did two nights at Chicago’s United Center Nov. 16-17 grossing nearly $5.6 million and selling 25,128 tickets, the run’s largest haul. The tour saw similar grosses for its two-night stands at New York’s Madison Square Garden, Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center and Montreal’s Bell Centre.
EMC also hired Michele Bernstein, of Michi B and formerly WME’s head of music marketing.
“I didn’t think twice about doing it,” Bernstein says. “I was like, ‘That’s a big one, I think we can make it great.’ I’m a fan and there’s nothing better than marketing something you love, right?”
How did it go with regional promoters? “It’s like old school and new school,” she says. “On one hand, on the digital side, it was great to have people in market, but you worked directly with the buildings, too. I bought a lot of media through buildings, which I hadn’t always done before with promoters. It was a whole new thing to be in touch with the building and their marketing staffs and the local promoters. In every city it was its own hybrid.
“It was an adventure,” Bernstein continues. “It’s a totally different model than what people have gotten used to and I enjoyed the challenge of it and learning. A guy like Stu Green in Buffalo can call the radio station PD and the head of sales and negotiate directly, that’s his gig. Not that the big promoters like AEG or Live Nation don’t usually do that; it’s just usually done by a local marketer. It was very different and fascinating.”
In addition to Bernstein and Harper, the EMC Presents team includes Ken Craig who Cohl calls “our Swiss Army knife, basically our promoter’s tour rep, organizer, production man and a man of all trades;” and also Glenn Orsher, the company’s Chief Creative & Production Officer and with whom Cohl’s worked since the 1970s. John Giddings in the UK, who booked Genesis when he was in college, helped book both the North American and European legs. Michael Farrell was the original agent for Genesis in North America but passed away some 10 years ago.
Ahead for the EMC team are Nick Mason’s “Saucerful of Secrets Tour” and current tours with Maxwell and New Edition, plus a “broad scope of things, whether it’s musicals, kids shows, films or Broadway shows.”
Cohl doesn’t necessarily think regional promoters are the secret sauce to any tour. “It can be done regionally, nationally, internationally; there’s different ways to do it,” he says. “At the end of the day, this was really just about a group I’ve promoted forever and it turned out great. Once the band started playing, the show was fantastic. I’m a lifelong Genesis fan and this was unquestionably one of the best shows they’ve ever done.”