Golden Boys – AEG Live and Goldenvoice making
noise in California
Author: Dave Brooks
Date: March 01,2007
What started out as a punk rock
promoter looking to create an outlet for Southern California bands
has grown into a booking powerhouse, and a major source of growth
for music giant AEG Live.     
           
Goldenvoice Concerts out of Los Angeles, Calif., has grown to be
one of AEG Live’s biggest revenue producers in Southern
California, organizing the popular Coachella music festival in
Southern California’s Indio and creating the first rock
festival of its kind in downtown Los Angeles, the LA Weekly Detour.
      
           
Under the guidance of Goldenvoice President Paul Tollette, the
company is continuing to grow its festival business throughout the
U.S., signing on for the 2005 New Orleans Jazz Festival, and
recently penning a contract to assist with bookings at the
Bumbershoot music festival, which takes place every Labor Day in
Seattle.    
           
“For us, it’s a great honor to work with Goldenvoice
and we really admire what Paul’s done in Southern California
with Coachella,” said Heather Smith, a producer for
Bumbershoot. “I think he’s got a real sense of what
bands draw people, not just in his own market, but
everywhere.”    
           
That was the case during last year’s New Orleans Jazz
Festival when Tollette helped secure surf rock singer Jack Johnson
to an event that is usually chocked full of jazz greats and
upcoming musicians.
       
           
“There are a lot of constants in the festival business and
once you’ve worked in the industry for a while, you start to
learn what works and what doesn’t,” Tollette said.
“We’re able to help festivals in a lot of instances
because of the talent we can offer. I’ve been in this
industry for a long time, and in a lot of cases, can maybe direct
someone to something they hadn’t thought of
before.”           
           
For his inaugural concert in downtown Los Angeles, where he was
able to shut down multiple city streets with the help of the City
of Los Angeles, Tollette brought in Los Angeles native Beck, just
wrapping up a national tour, to promote his new album.
       
           
“When you’re working in crowded metropolitan areas like
that, crowd control is important and I think a lot of that has too
do with the talent you bring in,” Tollette said. “You
book the right bands and you’ll get the right
people.”          
           
Goldenvoice will continue to be active in booking talent for other
AEG venues, including recently signed The Joint at the Hard Rock
Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
           
“Paul is a legend in the live music business and has a real
knack for getting the right talent into the right building,”
said AEG President and CEO Randy Phillips. “It’s one of
his gifts and we really look to him to guide us through some of our
bookings.”        
           
In addition, Indian Wells, Palm Springs, Calif., is on the verge of
finalizing an exclusive promotion agreement with AEG
Live/Goldenvoice, according to Steve Simon, Pacific Life Open
tournament director and CEO of Indian Wells Tennis
Garden.         
           
The venue opened in 2000 and can seat 10,000 for a concert. It is
the only play in town, “there is nothing else in the Valley
where you can do anything over 3,000 seats,” Simon said, and
has done everything from concerts (the Eagles, Tom Petty, Dwight
Yoakam, RBD, The Who) to opera (Andrea Bocelli). Simon said the
non-tennis business just started picking up two years ago and has
been averaging six or seven shows a year
since.       
           
With Goldenvoice as the exclusive promoter, Simon is hoping the
venue can put together fall and spring series of four concerts
each. Each series would feature a variety of shows, he said.
           
Simon said Indian Wells reached out to Goldenvoice and is
“very pleased” with the partnership. 
           
Goldenvoice is primary booker/promoter for some small venues in
Southern California like the Orpheum Theater, the El Rey Theatre
and the Henry Fonda, all in Los Angeles, while major bookings have
gone to its parent company AEG, which operates/books the Staples
Center and books shows at the Forum, both in Los Angeles. Live
Nation is the other big player in town, booking the Universal
Amphitheater at Universal CityWalk, as well as the Verizon Wireless
Amphitheater in Irvine. Live Nation owns the House of Blues chain,
which runs clubs in Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Diego.
Nederlander, one of the last independent promoters in Southern
California, books the popular Greek Theatre in Southern California
among other venues. 
           
“The music market in Southern California definitely has
changed in the past 10 years, but your relationships with people
don’t really change and that is what has really kept us
going,” Tollette said.   
           
Goldenvoice was started in 1981 by Rick Van Santen and Gary Tovar,
small Orange County promoters hoping to provide a venue for
emerging punk bands at the time like Social Distortion, and, later,
No Doubt. After several years in Orange County, Van Saten moved the
office to the Palladium in Los Angeles, where the crew included Pat
Smear, of Nirvana and later the Foo Fighters, and Paul
Cutler.          
           
Tollette came on board in 1985. At the time, he was a chemical
engineering student at Cal Poly Pomona who was promoting his own
small punk and ska shows on the side. He had known Van Santen from
the Los Angeles punk scene and worked with him to market some
concerts, he said.
           
The pair hit it off, but it wasn’t long before Van Santen ran
into his own problems, the legal kind. After five years of working
together, Van Santen got arrested and eventually convicted of drug
trafficking charges, serving five-and-a-half years on a seven-year
sentence in federal prison. Tollette said it was that incident that
led Van Santen to sell the company to Tollette and Tovar.
   
           
At about the same time, the alternative rock music scene began to
develop and the pair saw demand for clubs like the 800-seat El Rey
Theater in Los Angeles exploding with headliners like Pearl Jam,
Nirvana and Stone Temple Pilots. 
           
Then in 1999, the pair launched their biggest venture yet, the
Coachella music festival. The event was based on the popular
European rock festival format, drawing talent like Beck, Rage
Against the Machine and Tool. Despite the hype surrounding the
event, Goldenvoice only moved a disappointing 40,000 tickets and
took a hit in the neighborhood of $800,000.   
           
“It was very difficult to figure out how we were going to
recover from that,” Tollette said. At first worried that
other promoters would use the opportunity to move in on
Tollette’s business, he said he was relieved that other
independent promoters actually loaned him money to help him pay
down his debts. Other artists, like Beck and Rage Against the
Machine, lowered their fees by $200,000.
           
           
In 2001, Goldenvoice was purchased by AEG for $7 million,
essentially becoming the entertainment giant’s Los Angeles
office, allowing the company to keep its staff intact. 2001 was
also the second attempt at Coachella, this time with the help of
Jane’s Addiction. The concert broke even, only to return
for the first time in the black in 2002 with headliners Bjork and
Oasis.          
           
Since then, Coachella has continued to grow as a musical force and
expanded from two dates to three. This year the festival will be
the site of a reunion concert for Rage Against the Machine, with
tickets selling out just a few weeks after going on
sale.      
           
The success of Coachella has inspired Tollette to launch the
Stagecoach Festival, a country music event on the same desert site
as Coachella. Headliners this year include Kenny Chesney, Lucinda
Williams, George Strait and Alan Jackson. 
           
“It would be a first of its kind for Southern
California,” said Tollette, “The area might not
seem like an obvious choice for country music, but we’ve
found there is a lot of enthusiasm for this type of
event.”
 

Interviewed for this story: Paul Tollette and Randy Philips, (323)
930-5700; Steve Simon, (760) 200-8412; Heather Smith, (206)
281-7788