IEBA 2023: ‘With Relationships Our Business Thrives’

GRAVY AT THE FAIR: Moderator Shannon Casey of Wasserman Music leads a discussion at IEBA 2023 on “Expanding Your Programming Palate: What Major Fairs Are Doing to Attract New Audiences” with panelists Yung Gravy, Henley Halem of YMU, Matt Adler of Wasserman Music, Renee Alexander of Minnesota State Fair, Tom Fohn of NW Events & Marketing and Clay Campbell of Triangle Talent.

When Yung Gravy was in 10th grade, growing up in Rochester, Minnesota, he finally got the chance to attend the Minnesota State Fair, roughly an hour and a half away near St. Paul, to see Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller – his “first time seeing a big show outside.” While speaking on an IEBA panel on Oct. 9, joined by his agent Matt Adler of Wasserman Music and manager Henley Halem of YMU, the 27-year-old rapper told the audience, “I cried, actually, because I was so obsessed with these artists.”

Yung Gravy, whose style blends trap with elements of soul music, among other genres, added, “It was awesome to go back as a performer. And I saw someone cry, so it continues.”

The rapper and his team shared about his experience embracing a new mode of touring and expanding his fanbase in 2023 by adding 12 shows at fairs throughout the U.S. to his schedule that also included appearances at major festivals including Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, following his hard ticket tour in 2022 that ranged from 3,000 to 8,000-cap rooms. The panel also included representatives from several fairs who discussed how they’ve had success booking performers outside of the traditional country and faith-based genres.

“I’ve always been comfortable at festivals but the energy is never as good as a hard ticket show,” Yung Gravy says. “But I was surprised – the energy was actually very good [at the fairs] compared to festivals that I’ve performed at. People are happy … they’re already having a good time.”

He added that his plans next year include Australia and a bus tour, but that he’s been “very clear” with his agent: “Let’s not book any dates until we know when the state fairs are. My favorite part [of 2023].”

During the IEBA panel “Expanding Your Programming Palate: What Major Fairs Are Doing to Attract New Audiences,” Renee Alexander, CEO of the Minnesota State Fair, said, “10th grade Yung Gravy is why we do what we do – the fact that that was your first big show. … I booked the Wiz Khalifa show with Mac Miller back then. I want the artist to be able to do the show they’d do at The Armory, that just happens to be at the fairgrounds.”

The panel was just one example during IEBA of opportunities for growth in the business. Highlights from the Oct. 8-10 event included panelists sharing words of wisdom, favorite stories (such as WME’s Aaron Tannenbaum recounting how Bridgestone Arena’s David Kells pulled off “such a gangster move” by kicking out a few rowdy fans at a concert, years ago) and laughs (including Wasserman Music’s Callender, UTA’s Rob Gibbs, CAA’s Meredith Jones, IAG’s Adam Kornfeld, UTA’s Nick Nuciforo and WME’s Kevin Shivers debating during the “Agents Power Panel” which member of the industry they’d kick off the island if this was “Survivor”).

Pam Matthews, Executive Director of IEBA, told Pollstar ahead of the sold-out Oct. 8-10 conference in Nashville, that “our mix of daytime programming and nighttime parties is unique” and promised “we throw a good party,” with the conference “of course, our biggest party of the year.”

IEBA delivered. There were artists and entertainment featured throughout the three days, whether it was during the panels at the Grand Hyatt – including a keynote Q&A from comedian Anjelah Johnson-Reyes and a performance from The Flying Karamazov Brothers during a breakfast for attendees – or the live sets held nightly at the Wildhorse Saloon in the heart of downtown with Sister Sledge, Shaggy, RaeLynn, Kimberly Perry, Restless Road, Parmalee, Dillon Carmichael, Tigirlily Gold, Crowder and more.

There were also shindigs held in town by various companies in the industry including Oct. 9’s independent happy hour at the Eastside Bowl sponsored by D Tour, See Tickets,, NIVA, and Music Venue Alliance Nashville.

Oak View Group (parent company to Pollstar and VenuesNow) hosted a cocktail reception Oct. 8 at the upstairs portion of Johnny Cash’s Bar & BBQ, decked out with stained glass windows hailing the saint known as the “Man In Black.” The event – sponsored by Bridgestone Arena and Yaamava’ Resort & Casino at San Manuel – featured drinks, dinner and mini desserts, with entertainment provided by two Nashville-based artists, singer/songwriter and guitarist Andy Kahrs and bassist/vocalist Sissy Dinkle (who records as BULLSHARK).

Attendees included Bridgestone Arena’s David Kells; Yaamava’ Resort & Casino’s Drew Dixon and Dan Pferschy (ahead of co-hosting the IEBA panel “This Is Not Your Mom’s Casino. The Casino Future Has Already Arrived)”; Kia Forum’s Becky Colwell, Wasserman Music’s Nate Ritches; IAG’s Harold Frogét, Seminole Hard Rock’s Victor Sanchez and more.

The conference and its nighttime components provided ample opportunities to network, catch up with pals or meet new folks. You never know who you might happen to sit next to at lunch. If you were lucky enough to snag a table like mine, you might have witnessed two up-and-coming artists, Kelly Iris (the CEO of boutique agency/promotion company H.M.K. Music LLC) and Dezha Sexton (who also serves as the director of operations and marketing director at Al McCree Entertainment), composing a rap for a staff contest at Bridgestone Arena and making connections with their fellow dining companions.

During Anjelah Johnson-Reyes’ keynote Q&A, the comedian discussed the importance of connection and relationships: “Everyone has a relationship of some sort whether that’s a partner, mom, coworker, favorite grocery store clerk. A lot of my stories are based in relationship. Whether it’s about me and my husband, you might be like – ‘Oh, me and my sister argue like that.’ Once we connect on a human level, you’re going to be like ‘Oh me, too. I relate to it and we’re connected.’”

The theme of relationships was woven throughout the conference, whether it was reaching out to elected officials about ticketing concerns or making the effort across the industry.

As Oak View Group’s Starr Jemison said when moderating the “Top 5 Booking Strategies from Top 5 Venues” panel, “Our business is obviously heavily related to relationships. And with those relationships our business thrives.”

Historic Theatre Group’s Rick Hansen added, “I make at least six or seven trips [a year] to Nashville, LA, Seattle, hang out with Steiny. I travel and meet up with people, just went up to Forest Hills … It’s about making facetime when there’s not a thousand people. To get more of a friendship, to have the hang when it’s not super busy. It’s my biggest tip and what’s led to my biggest successes.”