Louis Messina is one of the nation's most successful concert promoters, and his storied career reflects the evolution of the live music industry over four decades. A young upstart from New Orleans, he partnered in the mid 70s with Allen Becker to build PACE Concerts, a regional powerhouse promoter for more than 20 years.
In the late '90s, PACE was swept up in the wave of promoter consolidation and acquisition by the company that would become Live Nation Entertainment. But Messina chafed in that corporate setting so in August 2001, he went independent once more and founded the Messina Group. Two years later, he partnered with AEG Live.
Today, TMG's business is focused primarily on promoting just three performers. But what performers they are: George Strait, Kenny Chesney and Taylor Swift, three of the hottest-selling live acts on the road today.
Along with this Billboard.biz exclusive "Lessons From Louie" below, we're pleased to offer our Billboard Stars tribute to Messina and the 10th anniversary of the Messina Group, published in the Aug 13 issue of Billboard, free of charge:
10 Lessons from Louie:
If at first you don't succeed, duck! Then try again.
Louis Messina did not make a memorable start as a concert promoter. The date of his first major show was Nov. 3, 1972, the city was New Orleans and the artist was B.B. King, who was a no-show. (He was delayed by weather enroute to the concert). A riot ensued. Messina might have quit right there. But within three years, he had partnered with Allen Becker on a mega-show to open the Louisiana Superdome for 80,000 fans with the Charlie Daniels Band, the Marshall Tucker Band, Wet Willie and the Allman Brothers.
Manage business expectations. When necessary, be vague.
After the Superdome date, Messina moved to Houston to start a music division for PACE, which Allen Becker had founded in 1966 as a producer of motor sports and exhibits. Messina recalls telling Becker: "`Remember, this is our first year, so we may lose some money.' About halfway through that year, Allen calls me into his office and says, `Louie, I forgot to ask you one question. You told me we might lose money the first year, but I forgot to ask you - how much?'" (In fact, adds Messina, PACE Concerts broke even that first year).
Be approachable, even if you're a big shot.
"The first time I met Louie, I was 17 and the opening act on George Strait's tour," recalls Taylor Swift. "One night, I met this jovial, friendly guy named Louie Messina, who I knew was the tour promoter. What struck me as so strange and wonderful about him was that Louie seemed to have not a care in the world. He didn't come off like he had anything to stress about or anywhere to be, talking of his optimistic high hopes and genuine love for live shows. That's why everybody loves having Louie around. He's your friend who is always a blast to have out with and talk about music."
Stop playing with the pigs.
When Kenny Chesney sought to become a headlining act, says Messina, "I gave one bit of advice and it's advice I give to everybody, but the first time was to Kenny. I said, `You need to go out there and sell tickets with [ITAL] your [END ITAL] name on them. Not playing the country fairs and not having pig contests next to you and shit like that. You need to grind it out. You need to go play 1,500-seaters, 2,000, whatever it is. But your name needs to be on the ticket."
Hire fun, smart people.
"He has a knack for hiring great people who have also become friends of ours," says George Strait of Messina's team of employees at the Messina Group. "He and his staff made it fun for me again. The attention to detail is second to none. They leave no stone left unturned, and believe me, it can get pretty hectic sometimes in the middle of a tour with the many requests coming in at the last minute."
Find business partners who know when to leave you alone.
"When we started AEG Live ten years ago," says AEG/Live president/CEO Randy Philips, "the original plan was to invest in great entrepreneurial executives, support them with finance and infrastructure, and then get out of their way. Louie is a strong independent spirit who shouldn't be corralled into an executive suite."
Be ready to redefine yourself.
"For an old dog like Louie to blossom again is special," says John Meglen, who previously partnered with Messina at PACE Touring (an entity created to promote tours including the reunited Fleetwood Mac in 1997), and now co-president of Concerts West/AEG Live. "We all knew him as `rock 'n' roll Louie' at PACE Concerts and all that. And now he's `country Louie.'
Amid change, recognize what's constant.
"The music. The artists. The connection between the fans the artists. Nothing will every change that, what live entertainment does to our society," says Messina. "Live concerts are like going to church. Sometimes it's a spiritual experience. Seeing people singing every word to every song, being part of the experience. That hasn't changed. The artists are the artists and the fans are the fans and when the two are together, it's magic."
Follow your gut.
Messina is "such a smart promoter, says John Meglen at Concerts West/AEG Live. "If people can learn anything from Louie Messina, it's when you have good instincts like he does, you follow them."
And like Elvis sang, "Follow That Dream."
"When Kenny texts me after a show, `Wow, what a great night.' He's living a dream," says Messina. " Taylor, first night [at Gillette Stadium] in Foxboro, [Mass.]. it's pouring down rain, she embraced the rain, and not one person left. Even George Strait-here's a guy doing it for 30 years, and he walks out on that stage and it's just magical. And I get to be part of living in a George Strait world, or Kenny world, Taylor world. If their dreams come true, my dreams come true."