Spotlight: Brooklyn Bowl's Talent Booker Lucas Sacks on Landing Guns N' Roses, Lauryn Hill & More for 'Out-of-the-Box' NYC Shows
"Watching a sold-out show where the fans are freaking out and the band’s feeding off that energy, that feeling is unreal.”
When Lucas Sacks joined a covers band as a teenager in New Jersey, he had no aspirations of being the lead singer. Though he played guitar in the group, he was quickly drawn to a different aspect of show business: Booking the band’s live gigs.
“We would play at a local venue and get $0 unless we sold 75 [tickets],” he remembers. “I was like, ‘how do we put ourselves in a better position so we’re not being taken advantage of?’ That’s when I realized, that’s why booking agents exist.”
He’s since parlayed that hobby into a career. As the lead talent buyer at storied Williamsburg bowling alley-turned-music venue Brooklyn Bowl, Sacks books and oversees more than 500 concerts and music-related events every year. Since he joined the venue in 2012, that has meant everything from squeezing two grand pianos onstage for a rowdy Guns N’ Roses’ performance in 2013, convincing Stevie Nicks to crash a New Year’s Eve party ringing in 2015, hosting Lauryn Hill -- twice -- and, in May, getting rising rapper Noname to hold a jam-packed Governors Ball after-party.
Other names that have passed through the neon-lit stage include Paul Simon, Kanye West, Adele, Snoop Dogg, John Mayer, Elvis Costello, Skrillex, Public Enemy, M.I.A., Fall Out Boy, Bruno Mars and more. Pollstar ranked the 600-capacity venue, which also has a branch in Las Vegas, New York City’s busiest club venue of the year for 2017 -- and the seventh busiest club venue in the world, with more than 165,000 tickets sold that year. And as Sacks celebrates his 30th birthday this month, the Bowl will mark its 10th anniversary with a six-night-stand from funk-jazz trio Soulive, July 11-13 and 18-20.
It’s a full-circle moment for Sacks, who interned for Soulive’s management company Royal Family Records the summer before his senior year at Syracuse University’s music industry-centric Bandier Program. He connected with Soulive’s manager on campus, where Sacks led a student organization focused on concert promotion.
“It was unpaid, and it was just me with some volunteers doing 18-hour [days] for five days in a row,” he says of the internship, nursing a cup of coffee in the Bowl’s green room on a recent Friday morning. “But I felt like my job was really important, and I made an impact.”
The work paid off. Soulive are regular performers at the Bowl (where they’ve booked more gigs than any other act), and the connection helped Sacks secure an entry-level role at the venue years later. Sacks also interned for Times Square’s iconic, since-closed B.B. King Blues Club & Grill as a college freshman, where his domain included the Highline Ballroom, Blue Note Jazz Club and All Points West Music Festival, all owned by the same company. That summer was no breeze, either. Each morning of the three-day Jersey City festival, Sacks would kick off an hour-long drive to the event around 5 a.m., then “work all day and all night” setting up trailers and shuttling artists between stages on golf carts.
But Sacks quickly got used to the daily grind and even looked forward to the adrenaline rush: “I slept for like two or three hours [a night],” he says. “I loved it.”
The other appeal of booking, Sacks adds, is the close relationships he develops with bands and their managers as they try to think of “out-of-the-box” ways to promote the music, from quarterly concert series to brand sponsorship deals and even having bands hit the bowling lanes with fans post-show. A favorite trick for Sacks is to Frankenstein together super-groups, like pairing singer-songwriter Jackie Greene with Dead & Company’s Jeff Chimenti and others for a Grateful Dead appreciation night in 2017.
Every week, he corresponds with managers and agents for anywhere between 15 and 100 musical acts, booking out shows up to a full year in advance.
“I love being able to talk [to bands] about the creative aspects of what they’re doing, how a new record is different from the last one and how they get their live sounds,” Sacks explains. “We have to do our best to set them up for success at the venue.”
After joining the Bowl as an assistant talent buyer, Sacks says his first big get was the Guns N’ Roses show in June 2013, which also marked a major turning point for the venue itself. The band was headlining Governors Ball that summer and their contract allowed them to play one other gig while in town.
Having performed club shows at venues like Hiro Ballroom back in the day, the band thought announcing a last-minute show at the Bowl would be “a cool way to give back to the fans,” Sacks says. And amid tough competition from the myriad venues in New York, he also thinks the Bowl’s varied offerings -- it’s also a bar, restaurant and 16-lane bowling alley -- appeal to musicians who are looking for something unique. “When we got the call,” he adds, “we were like, ‘Oh shit, we have to make this work.’”
To pull off a stadium Guns N’ Roses set in the Bowl, Sacks had to wrangle approval from the Governors Ball founders, host multiple production walkthroughs and build out the stage to accommodate all the band’s gear. “There were all these red flags,” Sacks remembers. “I thought we weren’t going to be able to do that size show.” But tickets sold out instantly and the morning of the show date, Sacks arrived at work to find hordes of concert-goers camped outside the venue, many of whom had driven hours from neighboring states.
He’s had his fair share of disappointments, too, but now knows how to handle them: For last-minute cancellations, for instance, he’s now developed a go-to action plan; and when he gets turned down by bands altogether, after years he no longer takes it personally. The weirdest thing he’s had to deal with? One band’s request for a blow-up sex doll on its rider (and no, the Bowl did not oblige).
And while the day of our interview is technically a “summer Friday” day off for Sacks, he remarks with a laugh that he hasn’t been able to skip out early for years. Downstairs, you can hear the venue crew gearing up for load-in, with three bands and a DJ on tap to take the stage by the end of the night.
When the show begins, you can catch him -- as always -- standing in the back by the soundboard, taking it all in.
“People ask me why do I do this because it sounds so stressful and time-consuming,” he says. “But watching a sold-out show where the fans are freaking out and the band’s feeding off that energy, that feeling is unreal.”
When you're coming up try to find a mentor and soak as much in as possible. So much is on-the-job training and relationship-based advancement, so learning the ropes quickly is important. It helps to have some guidance to help with early growth.
What's changed is the general booking timeline. As bands push to tour more and longer, advance planning getting ahead on acts on the rise needs to be done faster, and booking has started further out every year overall.
I've learned to accept the losses (financially or not getting a show) when they happen and use them as building blocks for honing the craft.
The best advice I've received is don't burn any bridges. You never know where someone will end up or who they know.
Dealing with musicians is part of what keeps me going. Getting to bounce ideas off the bands or build something together that they are just as excited about as I am is a great feeling.
It's good to have patience. We always plan for everything to go a certain way, but things change and being able to adapt on the fly without being too stressed is important. Making logical, but quick decisions to get the job done is key.
Spotlight is a Billboard.biz series that aims to highlight those in the music business making innovative or creative moves, or who are succeeding in behind-the-scenes or under-the-radar roles. For submissions for the series, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.