Louis Messina 50th Anniversary Special: The Pollstar Interview


A promoter in the old-school mold, Louis Messina – Louie to most – has been many things over the course of 50 years in the live entertainment industry, reinventing himself many times to meet the challenges presented by the evolution of the concert industry, as well as his own personal alliances and relationships within it. And while he has mellowed somewhat from the Bill Graham-styled screaming that marked his early career as a hard-nosed rock promoter, working with Messina is still as funny and fun as it ever was, probably more so.

When one weighs the last half- century of the live music business, Messina can be found in the thick of most of the significant innovations that have taken place. Following his independent roots in New Orleans, Messina was one of the first to find success in the “corporate promoter” world in forming PACE Concerts with friend and mentor Allen Becker out of Houston.

Finding the economics of the concert model untenable, PACE launched the trend toward promoter-owned amphitheaters, building numerous outdoor venues that evolved into the central value of the SFX promoter rollup that saw the industry consolidate in the late ‘90s.

Messina was also an early proponent of touring festivals with Ozzfest and the George Strait Country Music Festival. With the launch of Messina Touring Group, he shifted his core business from rock to country, elevating the touring careers of artists including Strait, Kenny Chesney, Taylor Swift, and later Eric Church, Ed Sheerhan, Shawn Mendes, Lumineers, Old Dominion and others through exclusive national touring deals. Today, partnered with AEG Presents, MTG is rolling along at a torrid pace, producing hugely successful shows at amphitheaters, arenas and stadiums from coast to coast and developing artists’ box office clout to ever new heights.

Pollstar recently spoke with Messina to commemorate his 50th anniversary as a concert promoter in this special issue.

Pollstar: We’ve talked about your dad (New Orleans boxing promoter “Leapin’” Lou Messina) and essentially how he didn’t directly influence your career path as a live music promoter; but if there’s a promoter gene, you got it.
Louis Messina: Yeah, totally. I’m not dissing him, but it’s not like he influenced me in the sense of, “Oh, my dad’s a promoter, I want to be a boxing promoter.” I wanted to be a concert promoter because I swear I love music and all that was going on at the time. It was Monterey Pop Festival. And the T.A.M.I. Show, and Elvis and James Brown. As a kid, this was all I wanted to do. I would see all those films and Woodstock, and I’m going like, “I need to be a part of this shit.”

Your timing was perfect, because all of those great ‘70s touring bands were coming up and there was just the one rock format. They all knew how to tour and that was the model for success. Look how many of them still can sell tickets today. Like Journey, Styx, Springsteen, Eagles, and on and on. Your timing to be part of that and to help grow it was fortuitous.
Absolutely. Without a doubt. The industry was built by them. I look at myself as a third-generation promoter, with the Bill Grahams first, and Ron Delsener and the Larry Magids of the world, second. And then my generation, which was me and Irv Zuckerman, Danny Zelisko, Gregg Perloff, came along, and it grew from there. But that was the roots of it.

It was a big leap to go from what you were doing in New Orleans to go to Houston and work with [PACE founder] Allen Becker. That would seem a leap of faith on the parts of both of you. What do you think he saw in you that made him think “we’ve got something here that we could grow”?
It’s like that line that Chesney wrote, “You had me from hello.” He had me from hello, and I had him from hello, we just gelled. New Orleans was still living in yesterday. There’s no way I could have survived in New Orleans. And Allen had a thing going on, so, yeah, he bet on me and I bet on me too.

What year was that?
1975. The Who opened the Summit, the first rock band, followed by ZZ Top and Willie Nelson. Those were the first three shows I did as PACE Concerts. We had a party after the Who show, and Keith Moon got arrested.
That makes it memorable. But that was a success and you were on your way, right?
That was the beginning of it. Back then, we had the building, so people had to co-promote with us. I think [late promoter] Barry Fey was the co-promoter on the Who. And then on Willie, it was Dahr Jamail, he was my partner on that because he was close friends with Willie – he still is – and his brother Randall, the Jamail family. Dahr was the one that put me on Willie Nelson. We did New Year’s Eve for Willie like 12, 13, 14 years in a row. Then I started doing Willie’s birthday thing in Baton Rouge. Mark Rothbaum was the manager, and literally there were three promoters – me, Alex Cooley and Barry Fey, that promoted Willie Nelson around the country.

q.kenny .george
Kenny Chesney, Tony Martell Lifetime Entertainment Achievement Award recipient Louis Messina, and George Strait during the T.J. Martell Foundation 9th Annual Nashville Honors Gala at Omni Hotel on February 27, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Photo by Rick Diamond Getty Images / T.J. Martell Foundation

Maybe you got lucky from a “right place, right time, right partners” perspective, but you still gotta do the work, pull these shows off, because it was a really small business at the time.
I had a three-person staff when I started PACE Concerts. That was it. And then we chipped away, chipped away, chipped away. In 1978, when I did the first Texxas Jam, is when it really exploded for me.

By that time, you were established, PACE was a real thing. Who were some of the early guys who played a role in growing PACE? It was almost like a school for a lot of the promoters to learn the trade and move through that system of PACE.
[Late promoter] Bruce Kapp worked for me. [Live Nation U.S. Concerts chief] Bob Roux worked for me. [Production legend] Steve Lawler, who still works over there [at Live Nation]. [C3 Presents partner] Charlie Walker, he worked for me. Bruce Eskowitz, who’s now at Red Light [Management], worked for me. So many people, I can’t even remember off the top of my head.

One thing about all those guys you mentioned: they’re all pretty damn good.
Yeah, they’re pretty damn good. We had a great stable of people that came through the PACE doors. PACE was one of the biggest entertainment companies
in the world. When you could consider motor sports and theatrical, we had the biggest subscription series throughout the United States, and then motor sports just took off between tractor pulls and monster trucks and motorcycle races. It was ridiculous.

And on the concert side, man, y’all built a fence around Texas and beyond, but especially Texas. If the big rock acts played Texas, they played for y’all most of the time.
We put up a fence, but it was not a Trump fence, it was a rock ‘n’ roll fence, meaning that everybody was welcome to come to our shows. We didn’t try to keep anybody out of Texas except other promoters.

And then you’re rolling right along, but you saw a fundamental conundrum with the promoter model in that you took all the risk yet you didn’t get all the revenue from ancillaries. Thus was born the whole promoter-owned amphitheaters model, which makes a lot of sense. And Starwood Amphitheater in Nashville, wasn’t it the first?
Starwood was the first legitimate amphitheater we had that wasn’t just a popup. Starwood and then Dallas. This whole amphitheater thing was Allen Becker’s idea. He just said, “Your business sucks, Louie, you can’t make any money. We got to own the popcorn and peanuts and parking.” And Brian Becker, his son, was the one that really followed through and made it happen.

Did y’all go from town to town, to the markets you wanted to be in, and just look for property?
The answer is absolutely yes. We looked at different sites and all these sites were in the middle of nowhere. And in Pittsburgh, when we got to the site, I went “holy shit, this is a mud pit, what are we doing here?” and so on and so forth. Atlanta was in the middle of Downtown, it’s like the worst neighborhood you could possibly imagine being in. Same thing in Camden, New Jersey. I mean people were getting killed if they left the house. Murder capital of the United States. Right across the river was Philadelphia, but when you gotta get the kids inside, it was like “patron beware.”

There were some epic performances at all those amphitheaters. I guess the deals were right, because all the big acts played them, the fans came out and, man, there were just great, great shows.
It was great; we changed the business when we built these amphitheaters. We are the ones that knocked down all the fences. You were talking about boundaries, because [pioneering agent] Frank Barsalona started the whole territorial type of promoter system, where he divided the country up. But when we opened the amphitheaters, we were the carpetbaggers. We just went in.

As it played out, talk about unintended consequences, when the promoter consolidation happened, it was the companies that had real estate that had the most value. As we’ve talked about before, a promoter is only worth what you think he can do next year, because what he’s already done has no value. It already happened.
It already happened, right.

q.tim .faith
Tim Mcgraw and Faith Hill speak with Louis Messina, CEO of Messina Touring Group, at Montage Beverly Hills on Nov. 14, 2017, in Beverly Hills, California. Photo by Jerritt Clark / Getty Images

But a promoter with real estate, you had something tangible that Wall Street could look at, “Oh they have all these venues, they can be programmed, they’re going to do 30 shows a year,” You had collateral, so to speak. And it gave companies like PACE and Cellar Door, or even a House of Blues with the clubs, very real value. But definitely PACE and Cellar Door legitimately had more value beyond what you hoped a guy like Louis Messina could do with just his relationships.
Without a doubt. And that’s why when [Robert] Sillerman bought up everything, PACE was the gem. PACE was the backbone of it; we weren’t the only one, but we were one of the few.

I mean, Irv Zuckerman had an amphitheater in St. Louis. Jack Boyle (Cellar Door) had amphitheaters, and not many people other than us had their own amphitheaters. But we wound up having a dozen of them or so before it was all said and done.

Y’all were one of the last to sell. Was it just waiting it out to see how high it could go? I’m sure with all those huge “multiples time earnings” deals that were being thrown around, the money was there for a few years before you actually caved and sold. What was that “waiting it out” period like?
Well, just getting the deal we wanted. Even before Sillerman sold [SFX] to Clear Channel, Clear Channel tried to buy PACE direct, before they bought [SFX] from Sillerman. But the deal that Sillerman offered us, it was an offer we couldn’t refuse. And that was it. And then a couple of years later, Sillerman flipped it, made a fortune, and Clear Channel took over.

Then it was just this weird period, with all these titans under one roof. There you are, in your prime as a rock promoter, you have relationships with every touring act out there, had promoted everybody, and then you’re thrown into this pot with all these other big names from their territorial markets, with varying levels of how big they were. I remember from covering it at the time, that it just didn’t seem like it was going to last long for Louis Messina.
Well, it started feeling that way. In all honesty, I felt like I was not being pushed out but more like they were trying to minimize what my role was with the company. Then I just saw how disorganized it was.

Here I am, still competing with for the same acts with the same promoters as before that now are under the same umbrella. It was a joke. I realized, “Fuck this, this is not what I want to be a part of.” And I made a decision, [sings] “I gotta get out of this place.” I felt like I was working for the federal government and I fucking hated it. When Clear Channel bought SFX, I thought it was going to be a great marriage. And instead of them coming in and trying to embrace the business, they tried to come in and totally control the business, which was the wrong way of taking it. So it was promoters versus artists back then, and I didn’t like that.

I remember. It’s worth pointing out that what that was then bears little resemblance to the company Live Nation is today, other than those amphitheaters they still have, most of them. You can’t really say that about the leadership there now at Live Nation.
No, the leadership is great now. I mean [LN President, North American Concerts] Bob [Roux] and [LN CEO] Michael Rapino, [LN Global Touring President] Arthur [Fogel], they’re great, I mean, they’re fabulous.

For your whole career to that point, you were unequivocally a rock ’n’ roll promoter. What’s the path that led you into the country music business? It’s not like you’d never done a country show, but to go headfirst into almost exclusively country, that was different.
Well, I had a relationship with Willie, of course. I had a relationship with George Strait, because I started the George Strait Country Music Festival.

And through George, that’s where I met the Chicks; that’s where I met Tim McGraw; Faith Hill; Kenny Chesney. So when I decided to leave, I thought I had a one-year noncompete, which I was willing to sit out. And they thought I was there for life.

Actually, they said I had a five-year noncompete, and we went back and forth, and then the attorneys started to get involved. I was able to change the five-year [noncompete] to a two-year, but carved out country music. George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, and The Chicks.

Not a bad way to enter the country music business.
No, it was fucking great, everybody was on fire. I mean George was George Strait. The Chicks exploded. Tim did so good, that was the first “Soul2Soul Tour.” And Kenny just blew up. I mean that’s when he first started headlining.

Lee Zeidman, SVP & GM of Staples Center, promoter Louis Messina and Taylor Swift attend a press event for breaking The Staples Center’s then-record of most sold-out shows for a solo artist held at The Staples Center on August 20, 2013, in Los Angeles.
Photo by Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Was it in partnership with AEG from the beginning?
No. I was two years by myself. And then about another year after I got involved with AEG, because John Meglen (co-president of Concerts West) used to work for me when we had PACE Touring

That’s when we did Ozzfest and we did the George Strait Country Music Festival. So, John left [SFX] and started Concerts West, he and [co-President Paul] Gongaware.

Then I ran into them, I’ll never forget: I was in Los Angeles crossing the street and there was John and Paul. They said, “You’ve got to come join us.” I’ll never forget telling John, “You can’t afford me, man.”

And then they did the deal with AEG, they were the first promoters that [AEG] acquired. So I met with [current Oak View Group CEO and former AEG CEO] Tim Leiweke, that was during my noncompete. Then he got threatened by the people at Clear Channel, saying “tortuous interference” because I was still under the contract, and Leiweke said, “Call me when you’re done.” And when I was done, I called him and we cut a deal [for TMG to partner with AEG].

So when Meglen first left SFX, he started the smaller Concerts West, pre-AEG acquisition, right?
Yeah, he was small Concerts West, he and Gongaware worked for the original Concerts West with Terry Bassett, Tom Hulett and Jerry Weintraub, and that’s when I met the two of them and we became friends. And then John went to work for Michael Cohl in Canada, and I was like Cohl’s “Southern guy,” I did Pink Floyd, I did all his tours, he gave me all the Texas stuff. At one point, John didn’t want to be living in Canada anymore, so,we were talking and we started PACE Touring. Our first tour was George Strait and our second one was, I believe, Ozzfest.

And that was pre-SFX?
Pre-SFX, yes. And then we sold. I’ll never forget when we met Sillerman, we all looked around, “What the fuck is this show?” I hate to say anything negative about him because he passed away, but it was like, “What are we doing here? This is not what it was supposed to be like.” And then when he sold [to Clear Channel], like I said, everybody was excited. John’s already gone by this time, but I was excited, and then it was worse than SFX.

I don’t want to leave out Ozzfest, because certain other festivals get the credit for pioneering the touring festival. But to my knowledge Ozzfest was definitely one of the first out there, or at least the first to make a lot of money.
Actually, George Strait Country Music Fest was before Ozzfest. We did 18 shows a year for four years in a row. It started out with one show, then it went to three shows, then it went to 18. With Ozzfest, the Glen Helen Amphitheater, and Hal Lazareth was working for me as a talent buyer; he left CAA, and Ozzy had just played the Forum [in LA]. He did good business, and they wanted to play the amphitheater.

And I go, “Wait, Ozzy did 10,000 tickets at the Forum, and now we have to go to a 35,000-seat amphitheater? No way.” I go, “I tell you what we’ll do, let’s build a festival around Ozzy,” and that’s how it all fucking started. And Sharon [Ozzy’s wife and manager] loved the idea. And our general manager at Glen Helen, Al DeZon, actually came up with the name “Ozzfest.”

So we did it at Glen Helen; it was hugely successful. And then we talked about touring it, and CAA was the agent at the time. Rob Light was the agent, and he put it up for bids. Rob Light, I’ll never forget, at his golf tournament, he and I had breakfast and that’s where, even though I created Ozzfest with Sharon, I had to throw my hat in a ring [to promote the tour]. But I had all the amphitheaters, so I knew I was OK.

That’s a pretty good ace in the hole there. But also being Louie never hurts, either, and you had the relationship.
I had a good relationship with Sharon; Sharon’s awesome. We had so much fun doing Ozzfest, and Ozzy’s so much fun, and Sharon’s so much fun. We just had a blast for as many years as I was involved in it.

So now you’re in what I’ve called the greatest second act in the concert business. You had the Strait relationship, and you partnered with Kenny Chesney. They both had great careers before, but nobody would argue that you didn’t elevate the live careers of these two artists, especially Chesney to the stadium level. He had a few hits, but nobody saw him as a stadium act before you were involved.
Well, no one but Kenny, myself and [Chesney manager] Clint Higham thought he was a stadium act. When I got involved with Kenny, everybody was going, “Why are you getting involved with Kenny Chesney? He’s just a wannabe.” Now, everybody’s a Kenny Cheney wannabe, “I want a career like Kenny’s.”

The key with Kenny’s touring, and I think probably a lesson learned at Ozzfest and the Strait Fest, was to make it a lifestyle event that people want to be part of it. People want to be part of that No Shoes Nation.
That’s how it was, man. I love brick and mortar buildings, and I always hated field festivals, because back then I never saw one that was ever successful. Now they are, you have Coachella and Lollapalooza, but there’s a lot more misses than hits. There’s Glastonbury and places like that. In the beginning, on Coachella, Paul T[ollett] lost everything because of Coachella. But he hung in there, made it the biggest festival in the world, because Paul’s that good. But I was just never into that, I was always into creative shows. Even when I was still in New Orleans, my very first stadium-slash-festival was called the Bayou Boogie Festival, and Black Oak Arkansas was the headliner. I had Peter Frampton on that show, Bob Seger on that show, Wet Willie, and so on and so forth. That was in 1973.

I bet it was wild as hell. I think I saw a poster from that show.
It was crazy. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. Shit, I still don’t know what I’m doing.

But even then, same as now, it’s the names on the posters that get the people out there.
Yeah, no shit right?

So when there’s an act you want to work with, what’s the pitch? Some of these acts, you tell them pretty early in their career that they’re going to get to stadiums. Are you sure of that when you tell them?
Well, usually I’m high as shit. But yeah, I believe in that. And I’ll never forget, with Taylor on the “Fearless Tour,” I just got hired and in the beginning we had a mish-mosh tour. At that point, no one knew how big Taylor was or wasn’t. We tried to package her with people and she can’t do this, she can’t do that, and I wound up doing a dozen shows opening for Keith Urban.

We were in Boston and playing the [TD] Garden, Taylor opened for Keith. We already had the tour on sale and everything was sold out. I mean sold out. But we honored the commitment to Keith. And Taylor comes off stage, she goes, “This is the best venue I’ve ever played!” I’m in the dressing room and I’m in there with [management team] Robert Allen and Andrea Swift, that might have been it. They were like, “Taylor, Louie wants to talk you about something.”

Taylor was on the computer and just doing her thing, and keep in mind she’s still 17 years old, maybe she’s 18 at this time. I gave her this offer to play Gillette Stadium and she went, “Oh my God, I can get my apartment now.” And finally she goes, “Where’s Foxborough?” I go, “That’s where the Patriots play.” And she hasn’t even done her first [headlining] tour yet.

That’s pretty impressive.
So I try to be more than just a promoter. I try to get inside of the artists’ dreams. I always say, as I told Eric [Church], “Tell me your dreams and I’ll dream you.” And that’s what we do. I have a great staff. I mean, shit, the other night Ed Sheeran goes up to Sara Winter and says, “You’re the best person that we work with anywhere in the world.” She does the marketing for Ed.
I’m not interested in signing every band or working for every band. That’s my line: I just want to work with the bands that want to work with me, and that want to be with me 10, 15, 20 years from now, too. I was just with Ed Sheeran and we were talking, we’ve been together 10 years. Taylor and I, 15 years. Kenny and I, 24 years. George and I, almost 30 years. Eric [Church], over 10 years. It just says a lot.

MTG is unique in this business, a boutique that services a certain amount of acts at the highest level. So, that’s part of the model. But your team is not huge either. What’s it take to work for you?
First of all, you got to be just as big of a goofball as I am. And you got to have the vision that I have, and all the people here, they do. And my biggest line is, “If I have to manage you, you shouldn’t be working here.” So I let everybody basically manage themselves, everyone here can make decisions. Taylor has her team, Kenny has his team, George has his team, the Lumineers have their team, and Ed Sheeran has his team. Sara, all she’s responsible for is three bands. Kate [McMahon], she’s just responsible for three bands, Kenny, George and Old Dominion. That’s how it goes with my artists.

I have a team that every day they wake up and think about that artist. It’s not like I used to be, I used to be a “turn the page promoter,” like I had no idea what was going on because I had so many shows going on at the same time when I was booking all the amphitheaters. And I’m going like, “This is bullshit. The acts are inventory and I’m just pushing paper.”

There was no promoting involved. It was just buying and selling. It was all about per caps. It wasn’t about career development back then, the amphitheaters. And that’s when I realized I had to stop. I had to get back on my track to why I got involved in this business.

I remember back before consolidation and acts would play for different people or they would work with a promoter coming up and then when they got big, switch promoters. The old-school guys would always say, “There’s no loyalty.” But look at you, the acts you work with and the people that work with you on your team, that looks like a lot of loyalty to me.
Nothing but loyalty. I don’t have any contracts, I don’t have a contract with any of my acts. I haven’t signed them for 20 years. They haven’t sold their souls to me. They didn’t get the big check, but they make the most money. Yeah, because we’re good people, let’s start with that. These two words usually don’t go together, “honest” and “promoter.” But we’re very honest, we’re straightforward. Bands are involved with every penny and nickel that there is to be involved with. And we pay attention. I’m not saying a negative thing about any other company, because I respect everybody, I want everybody to be successful. But I think we just do a better job than anybody else.

When Kenny Chesney tells Eric Church, “you should be involved with Louie.” When Taylor Swift tells Ed Sheeran, “Is Louie trying to hustle you?” And he goes, “Yeah.” And Taylor says, “Well, you should listen to him, because I had no idea I would be as successful as I am right now without Louis.” This was on the Red Tour. All Taylor had to do was look in the mirror. She would’ve been successful with or without me – maybe. Most probably so, though, because she’s brilliant.

She would have been a huge recording artist no matter what, but the live thing is different. When you have the hits and the fashion and the cultural zeitgeist going on and you don’t have the live thing, it’s not complete, right?

L to R: Strait’s longtime manager Erv Woolsey; promoter Louis Messina of Messina Touring Group; George Strait; Jerry Jones, Owner, President and GM of the Dallas Cowboys; and editor and publisher of Country Aircheck Lon Helton attend the press conference for the 2014 “The Cowboy Rides Away Tour” at AT&T Stadium on Sept. 9, 2013, in Arlington, Texas. Photo by Rick Diamond via Getty Images / Essential Broadcast Media

When did spending time on the bus with Louis having a drink become a thing? People love that.
[Laughs] When I got a bus. I mean, hey, that’s my workshop, that’s my thing. It’s like that’s my bullpen, that’s my office, that’s my Louie room. And it’s like everybody gets to let their hair down and sit around.

When I sit on a bus and Ed Sheeran’s riding with me and he’s playing his guitar, it’s a “holy shit!” moment. When Taylor has a listening party on my bus, it’s a “holy shit!” moment.

And then hanging out with guys, people like you, and the building managers, and I invite everybody into my world. And people invite me into their world, because I treat people the way I’d like to be treated, if it’s an artist or a building manager or a reporter, or whoever you are.

We try to make things fun, we really do, that is the culture that we have here. We try to make every show something special. If the artists have kids, we are always taking care of the kids. The line here is, “We do cool shit.”

It is really cool. I mean, you roll into a town, you’ve got relationships that go back years. You get to renew friendships and have a moment with folks with a drink. It’s just, man, it’s where it’s at. It’s like having a party in every town.
Class reunions in every town. Class reunion, party every town, dance party, you name it, we do it.

You’re living the life, but some people don’t know, this is hard work, it really is. And there’s a lot of ways to screw up. So it’s not one big party. It’s really hard, and you do a great job, your team does such a great job at it. But nobody should have the impression that it’s just as you said in the conversation, it’s not just go to town and have a drink with Louie.
No, we don’t stop working. We really don’t. I mean when George is not working, we’re still working on George. When Kenny’s not working, we’re still working on Kenny. Or we’re still working on Ed or Taylor or Shawn, it’s 24/7. If we’re on tour this time with an artist, this tour is nothing but a stepping stone for the next tour and the tour after that. We’re always planning what’s next. Where do we go from here? We always do.

You had a really good thing going on in the ‘70s and ‘80s, where you could pull up to any building or any big show in the country and have a parking spot and go right in and open a beer and meet whatever artist was playing. That was cool, but it was so different. And a lot of people reminisce about the old days, but you seem to be having as much fun now as ever.
I enjoy what I do, I love what I do, and that’s all I can say.

Yeah, it’s hard work. I’m away from my family. I’m always traveling and I’m always at shows, and it’s hard work. When I’m not on the road, I’m in the office talking shit all the time. That’s what I do.

Our job is seven days a week and we don’t stop, that’s it in a nutshell. We have direct
relationships with the artists and with their managers, we just do, and it’s great because they trust us and we trust them, we’d kill for them. I think they know that.

How hard was it when the business shut down for a couple of years for COVID?
I was freaked out because I’m going, “Is this the day the music died?” I’m sitting at home and I’m just watching the meter run, tick-tick-tick-tick, with no income. I was able to keep my staff on, and then we just had to adjust, man. That’s it. And we did, and we survived it. That’s all.

It was rough, because I had no idea what it was going to be like once we came back. And in the beginning, it was rough. People with tickets, they were like 25% no-shows, so we were going like “holy shit.” And then all the mandates, the mask mandates, and people weren’t comfortable going to shows.

But I don’t see that anymore. People are living their lives right now. The only thing that’s going on that’s freaking me out is us cannibalizing each other, because there’s so many shows. The good shows are doing great, but if you’re a B-level show, you’re in trouble, man.

Louis Messina Jr, Jill Trunnell, Ed Wannebo & Louis Messina

I would feel pretty good with the acts you work with, but if you’re in the middle, or somebody that’s toured a lot, or somebody that’s trying to get traction, people are going to have to make some choices next year, it feels like.
Without a doubt. If you’re not swinging the big bat, I would stay home.

They’re not staying home. Everybody’s going out.
Yeah, you’ll see, though.

You were the first one that had the balls to tell me when we were stopped in ’20 that ‘21 wasn’t going to happen, either. And I’m like, “no way,” but you were right. See, I pay attention. You were also the one who told me the great philosophy which I’ve never forgotten: “If you’ve got the right artist for the right price at a place people like to go to, they’re coming.” And that’s still true. Country or rock, it’s about the artist and where they’re playing and can I afford it?
Can they afford it, and can the artist deliver for you, too. I mean, you can be hot, but there’s a difference between being hot today and being a star tomorrow. Some people rise to the top really quickly, and as fast as that star goes up, it comes down just as fast. So it’s about where we’re going from here, not where we are today.

Do you think we’re building new great artists and the industry’s doing right by them?
I think so. There’s a lot of good things happening right now. Look at Morgan Wallen, Cody Johnson, Parker McCollum. And people are doing it. Some are doing it the right way and some are not. The ones that don’t work for me are definitely not doing it the right way.

Is there anything you want to add?
I’m just excited that I’m still around doing what I’m doing and I’m still loving everything I do. And I love working with people like you, and all the artists I work for and their teams, and seeing the success, seeing the success of The Lumineers when everybody was a doubter, and then when we had a sold-out tour and sold out two stadiums, see people being like, “holy shit.”

And the same thing with everybody. People don’t know that when Taylor started, I got involved with her when she just turned 17. For her to grow the way she has grown and become such an artist that she is, that’s special, man. And for me to witness that, and still witness that, is pretty fucking cool.

Eric Church, Tony Martell Lifetime Entertainment Achievement Award recipient Louis Messina, and Katherine Church attend the T.J. Martell Foundation 9th Annual Nashville Honors Gala at Omni Hotel on Feb. 27, 2017 in Nashville. Photo by Rick Diamond / Getty Images / T.J. Martell Foundation

That’s definitely one of the great artist stories, and to be part of that has to feel pretty rewarding.
It’s nothing but rewarding, it really is. I’m really thrilled about everything I’ve got going on. And I love my team, they’re the best. And I love the artists I work for.

Next year, if everything goes the way I plan, this is going to be my biggest year I’ve ever had in my career. It’s so exciting. We’re going to do over 70 stadium shows next year.

Unbelievable. You can’t be at all of them, man.
No, I can’t, but I’ll be at a lot of them. Have bus, will travel. It’s exciting times for me personally. I’m just honored to be a part of it, I really am. I’m not just saying that to blow smoke. I’m just honored to be a part of the world I’m a part of. It’s blessed me.

I got so many family members working here, which is so exciting, too. And just seeing the rise of people like Hayley McAllister, Sara Winter, my son, Louis Jr.; Rachel Powers; Bridget Bower, who’s a rock star; and Kate and Rome, Mike Dugan, all these superstar people.

They would probably say the same thing about working with you.
Well, if they drink enough they would say that.

We could make that happen.
Yeah, absolutely. I never have to go too far to look for a drink.