Lucky Strike Expands Live Music Offerings with New Albany Venue: Exclusive

Tamea Agle
Lucky Strike Live in Los Angeles.

The 16-location bowling chain experiments with bookings in hopes of building a national touring network.

Even at Los Angeles tourist staple Hollywood & Highland, it’s rare to see a line around the block for bowling alley Lucky Strike on a Wednesday night. But on May 11, that was the scene outside the 13-year-old establishment as hundreds waited to hear Jackson Browne perform a 30-minute set heavy on classics (among them: hits “Running On Empty” and “Somebody’s Baby”).

Lucky Strike first introduced its Soundcheck Live music series in June 2014, using its Hollywood location (capacity: 800) to test the combination of bowlers and bands with such events as Monster Energy Dimebash, a benefit for the late Dimebag Darryl of Pantera, featuring Dave Grohl and Zakk Wylde. Now, plans are in place to incorporate live music into as many as 10 locations in the next year, including New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco and Seattle. First up: the early June opening of Albany’s Lucky Strike Social, which will feature two stages -- one, a 900-person concert hall; the other a platform among the lanes. “There’s been trial and error and a lot of learning in a year’s time, but we’re delighted with what it has evolved into,” Lucky Strike Entertainment founder and CEO Steven Foster tells Billboard.

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“We’ll have the ability to route bands, whether it’s regional or bigger national acts, through our locations as part of a Lucky Strike tour, if you will,” adds head of marketing and live entertainment Barry Pointer. Eventually offering live music in all 16 locations, he adds, is “definitely on our list of things to accomplish.”

The Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based company enters an already robust sector of live entertainment with established players like Brooklyn Bowl, which opened the first of its 3 venues in 2009, and Rock and Bowl in New Orleans -- venues that have made its diverse music bookings a calling card. It’s a vision Foster shares. “Lucky Strike, in its heart and soul and DNA, has never been, in our minds, about bowling,” he says.

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At the same time, when it comes to the largest participatory sport in the world -- known for being a stable, cash-based business thanks to the 71 million people who bowl in the U.S. -- music could be seen as a risk. Fans can be fickle, bands can be difficult and there’s a seasonality to touring acts that could prove challenging. The strategy, says Pointer, a guitarist/songwriter, who moved from Kansas City to L.A. to oversee live music at the Hollywood spot, is to have two talent bookers, “one that’s well connected at the national level and the other focused on local and regional acts,” Pointer says of the Albany venue, which will be ticketed. Among the acts already booked are Charlie Puth, country singer Kip Moore and alternative band Nothing But Thieves.

Lucky Strike as a popular choice for corporate events and private parties also helps mitigate the risk, to which Pointer notes that the company has long had a relationship with labels, participating in an event with Black Keys in Seattle and showcases in New York and L.A. Says Foster: “We’re not a gigantic company, we’re an intimate mom and pop shop that loves the grassroots nature of what we do. One step at a time and the right stuff will come.”