When the pandemic struck a year ago, sitting still wasn’t an option for Leonora Hill and her colleagues at Nederlander Concerts.
“When our industry came to a screeching halt, the current model of live events immediately became obsolete and I knew we had to do something different,” Hill said. “‘We have to do something’ was our motto.”
Nederlander’s commitment to continuing programming, albeit in formats previously unthinkable, provided a beacon of hope for the down-and-out live industry and indicated a way forward for the sector during trying times. And Hill, the Southern California promoter’s director of event operations and guest experience, was integral to the process of rethinking Nederlander’s business.
“We took risks that forced us out of our comfort zone,” she said.
One risk was Nederlander’s popular Block Party series, which streamed free on social media and featured emerging artists, local DJs, cooking classes, and a happy hour. And as the stringent lockdown regulations of spring 2020 loosened, Hill and Nederlander made their biggest move of the pandemic, introducing the Drive-In OC series in mid-June.
“When the stay-at-home orders began to lift, we launched the Drive-In OC series at City National Grove of Anaheim,” Hill said. “For the Drive-In OC series, (facilities director) Luis Diosdado and I created a new ‘venue map’ for socially distanced stalls in our parking lot. Our stellar guest services team welcomed being flexible and fluid in our execution to make Drive-In OC a safe success.”
The series was an immediate smash. Its first concerts, a sold-out three-night July run by Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, grossed $170,900 and indicated the popularity Drive-In OC would enjoy going forward. Other highlights included Kaskade, who grossed $485,906 across six shows in October, and Gareth Emery, who raked in $303,750 across four December gigs. All told, the series comprised 44 drive-in events in 2020, with 85% sellthrough across them, and has gotten a solid start in 2021 with shows featuring Tribal Seeds, Claude VonStroke and Quinn XCII.
With the comeback beginning, Hill is looking at ways to apply the lessons learned in 2020 to both Nederlander and the concerts it presents.
“I see (the industry) returning with gratitude and a different perspective on public health and safety that will enhance the experience,” she said, alluding to the new measures promoters and venues are already implementing to ensure the safety of fans, talent, and staff.
Internally, Hill cites Nederlander’s DEI Working Group, created “to build an action plan” to combat inequality, and says she’s partnered with Vocational Innovations, a group that specializes in working with adults with developmental disabilities, to establish an internship program.
— Eric Renner Brown