Section: Arts

Booking shows and shuttling stars: inside the Horn

The Lumineers. Macklemore. Yung Humma. The Cunninlynguists. This might seem like a hodge-podge of musicians, but these artists all have a common thread: the Horn Gallery. Garage-rock indie bands, Grammy-winning groups and Pop 40 artists have performed at the Horn Gallery. But how does the Horn fill its lineup? What sort of business process must occur before the fun begins?

Charlie Collison ’15, Horn senior advisor, and Rebecca Saltzman ’15, a co-manager along with Lewis Turley ’17, know the routine cold. They have both worked with the Horn since their first year at Kenyon. They learned all aspects of running the space, from building maintenance to accommodating artists. “We usually make dinner for the bands. … We’ll make tons of chili and give it to everyone,” Saltzman said. “And they love it,” Collison added. “And they eat restaurant food all the time.

Of course, the Horn is not exactly cheap. It takes money to fund myriad musical performances. Saltzman discussed how funds from the Business and Finance Committee usually clock in between $24,000 and $28,000. Next to Social Board, the Horn Gallery has the highest budget, primarily because it is an events space.

The money goes toward paying artists and providing food and lodging. The Horn must weigh an artist’s popularity on campus with his or her cost to perform. Collison described how a great band might be available, but would cost $5,000 dollars — about one fifth of the Horn’s budget, and if only 10 or 20 students come, it might not be worth it.

Rather than hire an agent to book shows, the leaders and managers of the Horn book shows themselves. From contacting agents to picking up artists from the airport, the students take full responsibility for the Horn’s schedule and operation, sometimes going through the Student Activities Office (SAO) to finalize deals. The Horn tries to book all its acts by the beginning of the semester, though things can fall through. It can take anywhere from two weeks to six months to close a contract.

Valerie Lightner ’15 brings an outside perspective to the Horn’s booking process. Lightner, a Cleveland native, has done semi-professional work booking bands for large and small venues since her freshman year of high school, and had plenty of experience under her belt once she got to Kenyon.

She worked with the Horn only her first year at Kenyon. Having established her name in the booking game, Lightner took issue with the Horn’s scheduling etiquette. She did not like that while drawing up contracts for a band, she would have to turn the reins over to the SAO. “I couldn’t sign personal contracts, they [the SAO] had to sign personal contracts,” Lightner said. “Good business practice is for you to be the person to speak from the beginning until the end but unfortunately, you would then have to switch over to these other people so I would just have send off all this work to this other person who didn’t necessarily know what was happening or what protocol is.” However, Collison described how the Horn handles conflicts fluidly despite encountering obstacles with booking. “Oftentimes things will fall through and someone will not be able to book a date or something like that and because we try to do things as democratically as possible,” he said. “It’s a very slow process which means that from time to time we’ll get boxed out of dates because we are not as efficient as a concert venue that people are paying tickets at. … We have to gauge whether people will like it or not.”

Collison also asserted that the Horn’s collaboration with the SAO has been largely successful. “Both Annie [Vleck, a past adviser] and Kim [Blank] … have been very capable people, especially with the documents and stuff like that,” he said. “Maybe you don’t get to see the thing the whole way through … There’s no way to work around it. But Kim and Annie had and have been very helpful.”

The Horn has also had interesting encounters with artists. Saltzman mentioned getting to take a nap with one of her favorite punk musicians, Jonathan Richman. Collison recalled picking up a band from the airport and getting lost in an Ohio field on the way back. On a darker note, he also recalled getting to open for DJ Rashad, a producer and electronic musician who fathered a genre called the Chicago Footwork Scene; five months after his performance at the Horn, DJ Rashad died of a heroin overdose, which vaulted him to posthumous fame.

The Horn provides a space for people to share a love of live music rather than educate people about the booking business. Collison noted his absolute love for the Horn’s presence, and that its priority of student entertainment will always trump making profit. Lightner articulated the business point of view. “I do understand [live performance] is an art form, but you do have to think of it in terms of a business,” she said.

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