Q&A: Who’s responsible for Jay Z, Jimmy Buffett and Kanye at the Bowl? Talk to these guys
On any given night, concert promoters Andrew Hewitt and Bill Silva know it’s not just the talent that attracts large audiences to the Hollywood Bowl. “It’s a unique experience,” Hewitt said of the dramatic views and deluxe amenities at the hillside amphitheater.
But after 25 years of booking pop and rock acts at the Bowl, which is operated by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the business partners know something else too: It’s not just the promise of a large audience that attracts the talent.
Hewitt and Silva spoke at the Bowl ahead of their final batch of 2015 shows, including performances scheduled for this week by Blur and Jimmy Buffett.
Beyond its size, the Bowl has a certain clout among performers.
Hewitt: I wouldn’t call it clout. I’d say it’s cachet.
What’s the difference?
Hewitt: It’s a spirit of something being special, the history of artists who have performed here.
Silva: I remember the first time Carlos Santana was here. At sound check he asked everybody to leave the stage, and he just walked around for 10 minutes by himself. Afterward he said, “I could feel Miles out there.” That’s the cachet.
Silva: What we find is the desire of artists to play here is so high that they’ll route their entire tours around it. They’ll set the L.A. show at the Bowl, then book the rest of North America. That happens frequently. But when we got here in 1991, that wasn’t always the case.
Walk me back to those days.
Hewitt: The Bowl had a rich history with rock ‘n’ roll from the early ‘60s to the late ‘70s. And the Philharmonic has always done an amazing job of presenting the biggest classical artists in the world. But through the ‘80s and early ‘90s, they didn’t have anybody dedicated to rock and pop programming.
Silva: At that time the promotion game was about owning your own venue, and the largest promoters in L.A. had competing venues. So the concerts here were very sporadic.
Hewitt: Elton John played in ’82.
Silva: There were a few others: Julio Iglesias, Jimmy Buffett. Buffett [in 1990] was the nail in the coffin, because [the Phil] wasn’t running it like a concert venue. They didn’t think about the rock audience, which Jimmy Buffett was still playing to at that time, versus the classical audience. And the audience that came to see Jimmy Buffett, they brought their kegs, you know? So the neighbors got disgruntled.
Which led the Phil to the two of you.
Silva: What [then L.A. Philharmonic chief] Ernest Fleischmann convinced the board to do was to go find somebody who would basically make the Bowl their venue and restore it to the glory days when every performer wanted to be on the stage here.
Hewitt: They also needed someone who could bring some consistency with security, with the community. And they needed the messages that we’ve been giving all these years to patrons: Plan ahead where you’re going to park. Take the shuttle. Take the Park & Ride.
Do you think those messages have been received?
Hewitt: I know they have been. The numbers speak for themselves.
Silva: The beauty of the Electronic Age is that, when we started sending direct messages to people who’d bought tickets for a show, the Park & Ride ridership on our shows went up something like 22 or 23%.
Some people view the need for a parking strategy as a drawback to visiting the Bowl. It’s not something one has to think about at other venues.
Hewitt: You do at some venues, like the Greek, where you realize you’re going to be trapped for the entire evening because it’s stacked parking and there’s nothing you can do about it.
You’ve presented some important shows this summer: Kanye West doing his “808s & Heartbreak” album, Van Halen concluding its long world tour. Name a couple of personal highlights from over the years.
Hewitt: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant [in 1998]. As a kid I had seen many Led Zeppelin shows, and I sat with some of my childhood friends and watched the show and we were like, “My God, this is the best Zeppelin show we’ve ever seen.” Afterwards, Bill and I went backstage, and Jimmy said, “That’s the best show we’ve ever done.” I said, “As Page and Plant?” Robert said, “No. Ever.”
Any show you remember as less of a sure thing?
Silva: Pavarotti [in 2005]. It was a natural for the venue, but we didn’t typically promote the classical music concerts. And his health was endangered, so the deal was a little risky. The Philharmonic said if we were willing to accept that risk, they were happy to have the maestro onstage.
Hewitt: I believe that was his last performance in L.A. We were told his favorite thing was ice cream and his other favorite thing was caviar. So we got him a pound of Beluga, and a friend of mine who owned a restaurant, they made all these fabulous [ice cream] flavors for him. We put it all in a big freezer with a magnum of Dom Perignon. He was so excited. He was in town for a few days, and he carried the caviar and ice cream with him to different dinners until it was gone.
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