Memphis is either blessed or cursed with the mentality of "if we build it, they will come." Granted, we have a gem of a facility with the new FedExForum, but the city is plagued with purportedly outdated venues, like the Mud Island Amphitheatre, the Mid-South Coliseum, and The Pyramid. Another arguably underused venue is The W.C. Handy Park Pavilion, where blues star Robert Randolph will play this weekend.
The Randolph concert is one of the only events booked at the outdoor theater this fall, even though it sits in the center of downtown's multi-million-dollar entertainment district. Personally, I'm not surprised: The bunkerlike park, redesigned in 2001, features bleacher seats and a cyclone fence that greatly diminish the bluesy feel and organic nature of the place.
Nevertheless, Handy Park should be a viable performance space. "No one's been committed to making the park a successful venue," admits Howard Stovall, a co-owner of Resource Entertainment Group, who is currently working with Performa Entertainment Real Estate to revitalize the site. Resource Entertainment is handling the Randolph concert.
Stovall, who expects more than a thousand Randolph fans to attend Friday's concert, sees potential. "It's a great place to do something in conjunction with FedExForum," he notes, "and I'd love to see it become more a part of Memphis in May."
Along with Paul Chandler and Rollin Riggs, Stovall founded Resource Entertainment last spring. The trio boasts extensive experience in the booking biz: Stovall, the former director of the Blues Foundation, once worked in Harrah's entertainment sector. Chandler was the assistant director at GPAC, while Riggs operated a regional talent-booking company called Mustang Productions.
Under the aegis of National Talent, Stovall and Chandler booked the 2003 and 2004 Live at the Garden concert series; then, Stovall explains, "We wanted to take another step up, and we found Rollin, who was a great match. Each of us has individually demonstrated to the community that we can produce entertainment in a nonconcert environment."
Resource Entertainment primarily produces special events, like the 50th Anniversary of Rock-and-Roll party held at Sun Studio last July and the recent opening of FedExForum. As Stovall emphasizes, despite Randolph's show this weekend, the company is "not really in the concert promotions business." But he sees opportunities for plenty of local musicians on the special-events circuit.
"One of our exclusive acts, The Venus Mission, just got back from performing at an insurance seminar in West Virginia," he says. "Paul Bremer [the presidential envoy to Iraq] and Mikhail Gorbachev were speakers at the event. I always thought the road to success was to cut a record and hit the road, but the truth is, bands can make $300,000 a year playing covers for corporate audiences."
Resource recently signed a licensing deal with Tipitina's to promote New Orleans culture to a corporate clientele and, Stovall says, there's also an opportunity to package Memphis-themed events with barbecue and blues. "Both cities have a food and music culture that's definable and recognizable. Slow-cook some ribs and put Ruby Wilson onstage, and you've brought Memphis to San Diego," he says.
Although they represent dozens of acts, the company currently has four local entertainers signed exclusively to its roster: Wilson, The Dempseys, the Venus Mission, and The After Dark Band . "We get approached by plenty of bands looking for gigs, but you've gotta have a good demo and a great song list," Stovall says.
That's right, folks. As Stovall explains, his market is looking for cover bands, unless, of course, you're Bob Dylan or Madonna. "The musicians who excel take it to extremes -- costumes and big bands do well," he says. "But we'll look at any band of any genre, because we never know what our client might be looking for."
This Friday night, gates will open at the Handy Park Pavilion at 8 p.m., while Robert Randolph will take the stage at 10 p.m. Afterward, music fans might want to head over to the New Daisy Theatre for a concert starring soul blues hero Bobby Rush and Memphis' own Alvin Youngblood Hart. The show, which begins at midnight, costs $10 -- or $8 with a Randolph ticket stub. •