In its 10-year history, the Billboard Touring Conference has become known for the quality and creativity of its case studies and keynote sessions. Memorable speakers from past conferences include Gene Simmons, Perry Farrell, the teams from Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block, the AEG Live team behind Michael Jackson’s ill-fated “This Is It” concerts (and the triumphant film that followed), Live Aid’s Kevin Wall, Live Nation global touring chairman Arthur Fogel, U2 manager Paul McGuinness and last year’s keynote Q&A, Irving Azoff.
Rather than giving a notable power player a platform to serve his or her own agenda and filibuster for an hour, the conference keynote presentations and case studies come in the form of Q&As, strategic drill-downs and powerful examinations-often offering time for text-to-screen questions from the audience.
Even with this history of compelling presentations, this year’s conference taking place Nov. 13-14 in New York will offer a slate of prime content that may well top them all, with an artist-development case study of Florida Georgia Line, a historical artist-development case study of the Grateful Dead and a featured keynote Q&A with Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters, who most recently fronted the globally successful The Wall Live tour.
Rarely does an industry gathering have the opportunity to catch a comet in flight, but that’s the case with rocking country duo Florida Georgia Line — Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard — arguably the biggest artist-development story of the past year.
A radio and retail smash out of the gate on its debut Republic album, Here’s to the Good Times (which includes “Cruise,” the biggest Billboard Hot Country Songs hit in 50 years), Florida George Line won over passionate fans as the group opened shows for Taylor Swift and Luke Bryan before embarking on its own headlining tour this fall.
That tour includes a three-night stand at AEG Live’s Best Buy Theater. In a synergist turn of events, the first of those Best Buy shows on Nov. 13 is billed as the Billboard Touring Conference 10th Anniversary Concert, a benefit for Musicians On Call. (A nonprofit organization formed in 1999, Musicians On Call brings live and recorded music to the bedsides of patients in health-care facilities. According to its mission statement, the nonprofit uses music to promote and complement the healing process for patients, families and caregivers.)
During the conference itself, on Nov. 14, in what’s sure to be a “basking in the glow” moment, the Florida Georgia Line team will discuss the steps that led to the act’s development, breaking down how the duo will maximize momentum, build on its already huge following and keep the career arc rocketing upward. Topics discussed will be touring strategies, social engagement and life on the road as one of the hottest acts in music.
Moderated by Ray Waddell, Billboard’s executive director of content and programming for touring and live entertainment, the session will feature Hubbard and Kelley; Seth England, GM of Florida George Line’s management firm, Big Loud Shirt; Republic Nashville president Jimmy Harnen; Buddy Lee Attractions president Kevin Neal; and Debra Rathwell, New York-based senior VP for AEG Live.
THE DEAD IS VERY MUCH ALIVE
In perhaps the most memorable programming move in the conference’s history, the Keynote Case Study on Nov. 14 will be “Golden Road: Lessons Learned From the Dead,” an examination of the Grateful Dead’s lasting impact on live music.
While it’s doubtful the band realized it at the time, the Dead made contributions to the touring industry that are still felt today, inspiring a new generation of fan-centric touring in a wide range of genres, driven by the opportunities afforded in the digital age.
Community, communication, fan accessibility, direct-to-fan ticketing, touring outside of album cycles, immersive experiences, varied set lists and live recordings of concerts — the Dead was the first to implement such practices in a broad way. Decades later, these tactics have evolved and are now being used by next-generation artists in ways even the Dead could never have imagined.
The impact and opportunities of the Dead’s long, strange trip will be addressed by an informed panel that will approach the business of the band from different angles. Moderated by Paradigm agent Jonathan Levine, the panel will feature the legendary Rock Scully, manager of the Dead from 1965 to 1985; AM Only agent Lee Anderson; the Windish Agency’s Sam Hunt; promoter Gregg Perloff, president of Another Planet Entertainment; and, in a truly imaginative pairing, guitarist Warren Haynes (Allman Brothers Band, Gov’t Mule) and DJ/artist/producer Skrillex.
Levine promises the Dead session “will be a unique panel like no other. With a dynamic and unique cross-section of panelists, we’re going to dig deep and explore the indelible impact the Grateful Dead’s approach to music and life has had on nearly every aspect of the music business. What a long, strange trip it’s going to be.”
AMONG THE KEENEST MINDS
For decades, Roger Waters has been known for engaging fans and pushing the aural and visual boundaries of the live experience. Waters’ most recent tour, the critically acclaimed The Wall Live, which captured top tour honors at the 2012 Billboard Touring Awards, is no exception: It concluded this year as the third-highest-grossing tour ever and the biggest run by a solo artist in history.
An engaging conversationalist, Waters rarely gives interviews and has never publicly addressed an audience of touring professionals. Interviewed by Billboard’s Ray Waddell, Waters will provide a rare glimpse into one of the keenest minds in music.
“Roger Waters is one of the most compelling subjects I’ve ever interviewed,” Waddell says. “His impact on music and the live experience is undeniable, but his interests and opinions transcend the music industry. This is guaranteed to be a fascinating session. We’ll keep the loonies on the path and see you on the dark side of the moon.”