Mari Davies, VP Of Booking And Talent At Live Nation Urban, Talks Curating Strength Of A Woman Festival With Mary J. Blige

Mari Davies

Mari Davies initially wanted to be a sports agent, studying sports management and business management as a double major. While it seems like she fell into music, with an internship as the rapper Fabolous’ assistant as the first job she was offered after graduation, Davies notes that she has a long history with live. After all, she was “essentially a promoter in high school without knowing what a promoter was (laughs), promoting social events.”

Last fall, Shawn Gee, president of Live Nation Urban, brought Davies over from ICM to become VP of Booking and Talent. Davies spent nearly 10 years at ICM, during which she worked closely with Caroline Yim as one of her mentors, and signed artists including G Herbo, Yung Bleu, Davido, Cordae, and comedian Hannibal Buress.

Pollstar caught up with Davies to chat about some of the upcoming events she’s been working on, including the Strength of a Woman Festival and Summit happening in Atlanta over Mother’s Day weekend May 6-8, presented in partnership with Mary J. Blige.

Pollstar: What’s your favorite thing about your role and being part of the team at Live Nation Urban?
Mari Davies: I’m most excited about having the ability to be more creative, less transactional, more impactful. Our goal is to create experiences for the Black and brown communities and to give artists in urban music – whether that’s gospel, R&B, hip hop – a platform. And creating experiences that have cultural impact and aren’t just your traditional [shows].

What’s a takeaway from your time at ICM – anything that’s stuck with you?
I worked very closely with Caroline Yim, who was one of my mentors. And in 2012, 2013, she signed a young rapper named Kendrick Lamar. And I went to her and I was like, “Hey, your roster is really cool. I’d love to work with you and help you build.” So I would work with Dennis Ashley until about 6 p.m. when he clocked out, and then I would check in and work with Caroline Yim until 11 p.m. or whatever it took. 

And so that really helped me learn how to identify talent and how to develop talent because Caroline had this incredible roster [including] Jhené Aiko … I remember meeting Kehlani before her EP came out and sitting down with her and learning what her vision was for her career. Caroline had The Internet … I got to work with all these acts very early and it was just a cool experience. And then it helped me develop my strengths as not only an agent but a curator of culture and music and cool events.

You’re a founding member of Live Nation’s Next Gen Fem. Anything you can share about your involvement with the organization?  
That’s Heather Lowery’s initiative and I think she’s done an incredible job and I’m so happy that I could be a part of it from inception. Mentorship is critical, particularly when it comes to educating young adults about opportunities in music. A lot of people don’t necessarily understand the back office or the business side of things, like they know A&R, but they don’t necessarily know you can be an agent, you can be a promoter, or you can be a tour director. There’s just so many opportunities. So it was important for me to not only educate the students, but then walk them hand-in-hand, be an advisor, be a mentor, teach them how to navigate this world, introduce them to opportunities within the entertainment industry. So it’s been a super great program. We actually just finished our first year and we’re doing a recap soon on the impact.

Congratulations on all of the success of the mentorship program.
One of my mentees is going to be volunteering at Broccoli City Fest. She’s a Howard University junior or senior. It’s cool – now she gets real life experience at a festival to learn operations.

What was your vision with curating the Strength of a Woman Festival?
Obviously we’re honoring and celebrating women. So for year one we wanted to focus on all female talent who have an organic connection to the fans. We wanted to have acts on the bill that generations [could enjoy together]. You could bring your mother, your grandmother, your daughter, your niece. There’s something for everyone. So Chaka Khan – living legend. I went on Instagram and I think one of the funniest comments was something like, “Chaka Khan and City Girls on the same lineup? – I’m there.” That’s not something you would expect, but that’s what makes this cool.

And it was also important to have representation of talent from Atlanta so super happy that we have Omerettá [the Great] and Baby Tate on the bill … and obviously Xscape, the iconic girl group that hails from Atlanta.
And we have Ms. Pat … her stand up is taking off. The [comedy] show sold out almost immediately, which let us know that we’re headed in the right direction.

And Mary J. Blige helped curate the lineup?
Mary J. Blige was very involved in the curation of both the summit, as well as the talent for the musical performances. Mary is definitely someone who stays aware of what the next generation is listening to. She is a trendsetter, so 100% she was involved in the curation.

What other festivals are you working on?
So Roots Picnic, this is its 15th anniversary and obviously The Roots are involved. We have Wizkid on it this year, who is a Nigerian superstar. I’m very excited. I’m half Cameroonian. So bringing African artists to America is super important to me. My mom would be so proud. And then we’re currently booking Lights On Fest with H.E.R. and that’s in Mountain View, Calif. That’ll be this fall – super excited for that. And we have Broccoli City Fest, which is in Washington, D.C., the same weekend as Strength of a Woman Fest. I love because it’s young, it’s hip-hop, … It’s a cultural event. Historically, it’s a Black hip-hop festival in D.C. So I love that we’re able to come back after a two year hiatus because of COVID.

Any passion projects or something you wanted to add?
We’re working on a big Juneteenth celebration with CNN at the Hollywood Bowl. Because it will be broadcast globally, it’s an opportunity to educate the world about Juneteenth, the meaning behind it. And also doing some other Juneteenth celebrations and shows during Black Music Month.

On the philanthropic side, every year I do a day of service around my birthday and I invite colleagues and friends to come out and serve the housing insecure and less fortunate. This year, in July, we’re working with Maverick City and the L.A. Mission to put together a day of service, which I’m really excited about.

One other thing I want to mention is we’re programming for BET Weekend. … And then also the Club Quarantine Live tour with D-Nice. We’re taking that into several markets across the U.S. this summer celebrating music, celebrating that we survived quarantine and the community of Club Quarantine.