“My Whole Life is a Fucking Show”: Scene Dissection, featuring Promoter Eddie Gobbo

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Welcome to the first installment of a series exploring what makes a heavy music scene tick. I will be interviewing the people in Chicago who take on tasks beyond playing in a band: promoters, visual artists, audio engineers, writers, etc. We’ll learn about what it takes to build a thriving music scene and what motivates people to devote their time, effort, and expense when financial rewards and even appreciation are scarce. First up, I’ll be talking with my old friend Eddie Gobbo about his work as a promoter.

If you spend any time in the metal blogosphere Eddie is likely a familiar presence. His noise rock band Jar’d Loose put out two well-received albums, and he writes regular columns for both Metalsucks (on professional wrestling) and Deciblog (on football). He is currently readying a new recording project, but I wanted to discuss probably his biggest contribution to Chicago’s music scene: his tireless work booking and promoting some of the best shows in town. Eddie and I have been sharing bills and putting gigs together since we were both teenagers performing at the barn in Woodstock, Illinois where my high school band practiced. As anyone who frequently attends concerts in Chicago could tell you, he is an energetic, loquacious, and committed music scene lifer, so I was certain he would be an excellent starting point for this series of interviews. I sat down with him on a rainy night outside the Heartland Café in my neighborhood of Rogers Park as Today is the Day and Abigail Williams geared up to wreck the Red Line Tap next door. We discussed his early days booking shows in a classroom at DePaul University, how promotion has changed over the years, the state of the Chicago heavy music scene, and some of his least favorite dick moves bands have pulled.

Jason Kolkey: How did you get started promoting shows?

Eddie Gobbo: I booked my first show when I was eighteen years old. It was at DePaul [University]. This was in the early 2000s; there was a massive shortage of clubs in the city. The Fireside Bowl had just closed down. Bands literally couldn’t find a place to come through and play a show. There was a kid I knew named Mark, who was a friend of mine. He was a junior or senior when I was  a freshman. He would do hardcore shows at DePaul. I went to one of his shows, and it blew my mind. I loved it. I remember Hewhocorrupts played, and this band called Damage Deposit played, which actually morphed into In Defence. I remember saying to Mark, probably around Christmas of that year, “Hey, I need to get my band to play here,” which I think at the time was The Muzzler

Laughs. Nope.

Maybe it might have been The Great Showdown or something?

It was The Great Showdown.

All right, sure. So I said to him, “I need to get on one of your shows,” and he said, “Well, that’s cool, dude, but I only book about amount of shows a year, and I got about two left in me, and they’re already pretty much booked, so that’s it.” I realized either I had to wait till next year, or essentially run a show myself. I was like, “Well, I’m a student here. You have to be a student to rent out this room. Why don’t I just do it?” I booked a room. I emailed about four bands that I really dug and I wanted to do a show with. There’s a million venues now with a million people wanting to do shows. There wasn’t a lot of that back then, so I think that everyone pretty much when they got offered a show was like, “Yeah, if we’re down.”

The show went fine. I remember the headliner was a band that I had gone seen a lot at the Fireside Bowl: Lord Blasphemer. My old band Psycho Scapegoat played with them, and I always loved them. It was a great night. A bunch of kids that came out. All my friends at college came out too, but it was kind of their only metal show of the year, or maybe ever. A moment happened where I remember the singer of Lord Blasphemer, who is just a normal dude, but at the time I’m eighteen years old; he’s probably in his thirties or whatever. I’m thinking this guy’s cool as shit. He said onstage, “Thanks to Eddie. This is awesome.” And that kind of was like a light switch getting turned on for me.

From there, word sort of got around that I was doing shows, and friends that I had were coming up to me going, “Hey, I’d love my band to play.” And then other people came up to me, which was something really foreign to me at that time, and were like, “Dude, there’s this touring band coming through; would you want to hook them up, And they were really, really good touring bands. At least, they were touring bands that deserved a Chicago show. From then on, I remember I did some shows over the summer there and by the time the next year rolled in I was full force with it. I was doing a show a month for sure. At one point, at my worst, in October I did five shows in one month, which is basically every weekend.

I got a good system down, cuz it was totally DIY, the exact opposite of how I do any show since then that I’ve booked: you bring in your own PA, you clear out your own seats, your run your own door. You’re responsible for your own security. So if some dude is getting out of control, you basically – and it happened a few times – you get a couple of your friends and say, “You gotta fuckin’ leave, or you gotta calm down.” I was the end-all be-all point man. There was no one watching my back. It was baptism by fire, but one thing I learned early on was that when you take out…I don’t know how to put this, because there was alcohol people would sneak in. But when you take readily available alcohol at the bar out of the mix, and then you take the fact that you’re not in a dark room and it’s not super late at night, you’re less likely to run into problems. I soon found out that the other end of it is definitely true when I started working shows at clubs right after that, where I realized problems are very easy to find once you add those things in.

Tell me about your single best experience running a show.

My single best experience with a show I ever had was…it wasn’t the best experience, but I turned a corner on one particular show, which I’ll never forget. It was right when the venue Reggie’s opened up, and I ran a show for The Dwarves on Halloween. I was working for MP Shows at the time. I was a very low-tier employee; I was just starting out. There was a big fest out in Florida that all the punk rocker kids in the city would go to, called Fest. It was always over Halloween weekend, and literally they had no one to run this show. It was a trial by fire show, because I knew it was going to be packed. [The Dwarves] were…I love those guys as a band; not the easiest dudes to deal with, cuz they’re old and crotchety. They also didn’t have gear, so I had to rent them specific gear that they wanted. And it was on Halloween, so you up the liquor consumption and just people being asses. It was just fucking crazy. I’ll never forget when I came home from that show I felt like I just gave birth. I for sure popped my cherry that night.

What is the most important thing bands and promoters can do to get people through the door?

It probably starts with the club a little bit. You will know right when you walk through the door of any club if the staff and the club want you to be there. I really am a firm believer in that. If they’re accommodating, if they’re down with whatever’s going on, and they’re welcoming, you will get that vibe right off the bat, and then it’s like you’re walking into someone’s house as opposed to almost being an intruder in it.

As far as the bands getting their friends or fans to show, you know, the number one thing a band can do to shoot themselves in the foot is playing too often and compromising your draw doing such. Just try and get your friends to come out first and build from there. If you’re a five piece band, there’s no reason why everyone in the band shouldn’t be able to draw two people out to a show on any given night.

What’s one thing bands do that pisses you off?

The majority of shows I book I will literally say in every email right before I’m about to confirm, “Are there any shows around that time you’re playing, especially in the area, and if not, can you just keep it that way?” And they immediately say, “No there isn’t, and yes we will.” And then I’m a hawk. I check my feeds all the time, and I check club listings religiously, because the key is this: I want to see the next band that’s popping, and in order to do that I need to keep my ear to the ground, so I’m not some dude who just sits and says, “All right, I got my shit booked. Fuck everyone else’s.” No, I see what’s going on. And there’s always some excuse. It’s always, “Well, you know, we’re doing a favor for someone.” Well, I can’t analyze favors or whatever, but at the same time, long story short is they’re getting greedy with it. They’re in a situation where they’re like, this show might have a shitload of people at it. We’re trying to get fans from both sides. And I understand they’re trying to build their name, but once a word gets tarnished with me from a band it’s hard to get it back to that standing. But there’s some bands who have kept the same rapport since day one with me, cuz they stand by their word and it’s fucking great. So that would be the number-one thing they do: they play too much and do that whole thing.

Or another thing is showing up…I don’t want to say showing up late, but showing up with their heads up their asses. You can show up late and be organized: we’re getting it in, we’re fucking double-timing it, and it’s fine. But if you show up and it’s like, “What’s going on?”…

Actually, if I take this all back, the number-one thing which is really becoming a problem would be the band that has too many cooks in the kitchen. You gotta have, in theory, a point man for each band that you’re in. Or some people have multiple ones, but you have to at least be on the same page with shit. So literally I’m in a situation where a band might email and be like, “All right, what’s the details for whatever show?” I’ll give it ‘em, and then the next day someone from the same band will email me, “So what’s going on?” And it’s like, dude, you’re obviously not communicating, and that annoys me. I actually sent a pretty nasty email to someone recently and said, “Listen, I’m not talking to you guys until you decide at a band practice who you want to talk to me. When you find that out, email me and say this is gonna be the guy, and then we’ll discuss shit.” And they just didn’t fuckin’ get that. They have yet to email me back with that. They eventually will, I’m sure. I don’t wanna talk to multiple people; I don’t have time to reiterate the same shit about the same mundane details. So that would be my number-one pet peeve at this juncture.

All right, we’ve both been doing this for a little bit.

Absolutely.

So how has the fact that everyone’s using Facebook and social media changed your role?

From a promoting standpoint, it has made it easier. It’s very easy to get the word out and shit. Back in the day, I remember when we were coming up a lot of stuff would fall through cracks if you didn’t have your ear to the ground. It would be like, “That band’s playing tonight?” It was very word-of-mouth, very flier-based, which I miss. Back in the day, if you didn’t have a fucking handbill for your show, your show was going to hurt. The majority of my friends coming up, we had fliers on our walls. It was kind of makeshift wallpaper. You either put it up to remember it or as a badge of honor that you went to a show.

I had it.

So I miss that aspect of it, because the fliers come secondary, and because of it the other thing I think fucking sucks is you’re in a situation where it’s very easy to be in a band based around social media these days. If you have the Facebook likes, if you have the ability to spread it around, you’re going to be able to leapfrog people that have been putting way more grassroots work in before you have. So before, man, it was sort of a pecking order. You start at the bottom and work your way up. And if your band progressively gets better, you’re going to succeed over time. Now it’s not necessarily the case. Bands will leapfrog each other all the time because of social media or whatnot. Just the way it fucking works. The funny thing is a band’s popularity is deceiving. So-and-so band can post something on their Twitter or Facebook and get a bunch of likes, retweets, what-have-you, but you don’t know who’s fucking liking that shit. It could be their girlfriends, their co-workers who don’t care about music at all.

So I miss the old days, but it does make it a lot easier, because with the click of a mouse or keyboard I can spread word to hundreds of people that a show’s going on. So maybe in my older age, now that I’m in my thirties, it works out better that way. Cuz if not, I’d be doing the old-school thing, which I did, standing outside every show in the cold and all that shit, passing out fliers.

So along with that, you’ve been doing this here [in Chicago] for a long time. Is there anything that’s special or unique about this scene that makes you want to keep being involved in it?

I think we have the most organized and respectful heavy music scene in the United States. I’ve seen a lot of ‘em. If you go to Brooklyn, they have the great bands coming through and they have the great clubs, but there’s an attitude about it, and if you don’t look or act a certain way then it becomes, “I’m just gonna go sit at the bar.” These days especially, man, when a touring band comes through Chicago it takes a lot for kids to be like, “You know what? I’m just not feeling it.”

You’ll get that Midwestern hospitality in some cities. For example, Pittsburgh is a great one for that. That city in particular is great because it is the gateway to the Midwest but also touches the East Coast, and they recognize the East Coast occasionally has a more stuck up mentality in certain areas and they want to get away from that a little bit. You’ll find though in smaller markets, clubs don’t sound as good or the organization isn’t there. So we have the best of both worlds here. And the thing is, if a club here has their head up their ass and they don’t accommodate bands or promoters to get a show rolling that would be organized and fun, then that venue will be short-lived. They’ll get thrown under the bus right away.

Okay, last thing. This is your opportunity to talk about any projects you’ve got coming up that you’re excited about.

To wrap up our talk about promoting, being in my thirties, I don’t want to think I’m on my victory lap with it, because I’m not. I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon, and I thought at one point I would’ve.  I thought when I was eighteen and I was hungry to do this that when I was in my thirties there’d be an eighteen-year-old that’s also hungry to do it. I haven’t seen it yet. I see kids who have the idea, and they wanna be the cool kid for two seconds, but they lack the certain skills that either I’ve picked up over the years or I’ve taught myself in my own way. I don’t see anyone who could take the reins and do what I do. The people who I feel are on my level from a promotion standpoint are all people that are older than me. And actually that’s a huge feather in my cap, because I think I’m the youngest person doing this shit that does it right. Like I learned a lot from Shane Merrill; he’s about ten years older than me. He has ten years experience on me, and he does outstanding shows, and he’s a good friend. I think he’s a fucking great promoter. It’s just frustrating though, because, again, there isn’t a twenty-some-year-old nipping at my heels. I’d welcome that.

I think another problem any up-and-coming promoter has is they feel they need to be totally vested in a band in order to do their show. I like to think if there’s a market for them here and fans are going to dig them, I don’t necessarily need to be the big fan of them, because I’m more representing the scene and what they want. If you have that mentality as a promoter, you’re going to fucking succeed. If you don’t, you’re going to get tore up in two ways: you’re going to find yourself leaving great shows on the table and not doing your job as a promoter and ambassador of the scene. And the second thing is when you do get a good band coming through, you’re going to be so much a fan of that band and so stoked that you’re going to run the show improperly. Meaning you’re going to give that band too much money, you’re not going to run it in an organized fashion, you’re going to be front row when you should be at the door, and at the same time you’re just doing it to stroke your ego and say, “I booked so-and-so band way back in the day.” There’s no legs with that. There’s no staying power.

I think the best tip I can give anyone who wants to do promotion is be a fan of every band that you book, no matter what, in some way: I like this riff, or I’m the biggest fan of them and all their records. And at the other end of it, don’t be too much of a fan to them. Business is business. You have to be able to separate that, cuz if not you’re going to have some band…I mean, I’ve worked with bands that I fucking worship that turned out to be, at least in that evening that I worked with them, total assholes. And I could either do two things, which is go cry in my pillow afterward, or separate that and be like, “Well, I have a business interest in this too; let’s try to make this work.” At the same time, because of that, you can still remain a fan of the band, even if they’re dicks.

From a personal standpoint, I have a new project coming out.  Over the last five years, I’ve been really into more garage-y type stuff, and that was a huge influence that I wanted to embrace with that. All my bands since day one have been pretty metallic, and we’ve aimed to be crisp. This project is also crisp and metallic, but at the same time has that organic rock ‘n’ roll feel that I really wanted to embrace that I haven’t been able to, frankly, in my whole music career. It’ll pop around the New Year. And then it’s shows from that.

I’m excited to get back onstage, but at the same time I’m not that excited, because my whole life is basically a fucking show. I never have separation anxiety. Doing what I do keeps me fulfilled one way or another.

(Photo by John Mourlas)

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  • JJD Misses Witch Ripper

    Finally Eddie has come to the ToH! I love your other articles and I’m excited to see how this one turns out.

  • Pittsburgh is an awesome place to play shows. Lots of great venues and crowds there. I can’t remember the name of the last Bar/club we played at there, but it was fucking rad. There was horror movie memorabilia every where and the overall vibe of the place was just really killer. Fun time.

    “That city in particular is great because it is the gateway to the Midwest but also touches the East Coast…”

    • Ah, Smiling Moose is what it was called.
      http://www.smiling-moose.com/images/SM_CocktailMenu.jpg

      • RustyShackleford

        I’ll take one of everything…and a beer!

    • HessianHunter

      Also has the cheapest bars of any large city I’ve ever played. $2 PBR and $3 craft taps are just standard. Tons of cool ass hippie/crusty types doing subsistence farming on cheap plots of land, too. A+ town, Pittsburgh.

      • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

        PBR should be free like water, with a complimentary dunce cap

  • Guacamole Jim

    Very interesting. I was intrigued by the influence of social media, and what he’s saying about bands appearing popular because of likes or retweets, but not actually having much of a fan base that’s supporting their music. The internet age has really changed the scene a lot.

    I met Daniel Adair once in an airport, and we started chatting. He told me that the internet, because of music downloading, has actually affected their tours, because they no longer know in which areas Nickelback is loved. Sometimes they go to a place, and barely sell half the venue; sometimes they sell out and coulda booked a bigger place. They don’t know. I suppose the internet, if you’re staying with your ear to the ground, as you’ve said, would really help with that. It’s like a constant stream of updates, and you can see when bands actually have a good support base, and when they’re just paying for likes or don’t really have much draw.

    All that being said, fascinating article and a great interview. I enjoyed this a lot.

    • As a man that spends literally all day on the internet – online promotion is a tool, it doesn’t do it all for you. Online audiences are easily distracted and it takes quite a bit to make it work.

      • Guacamole Jim

        I guess the same would be true without the internet, though internet culture always feels (at least to me) like it’s pushing for quick gratification, then onto the next thing. Vines are a perfect example, as are basically all YouTube vloggers with their quick cut videos and zany wit (kill me). Maybe though the internet can be a very helpful tool, it can also gut you if you don’t keep your audience entertained.

      • RustyShackleford

        Also hard to judge who is really engaged. I like/share/join some of the stuff my buddies are putting on because otherwise they get ticked. I usually don’t make it to the show because I never wanted to go in the first place haha

    • Jason Kolkey

      Yeah, the Internet has definitely changed the game in a lot of ways that go beyond the simple facts of downloading, legal and otherwise. Something that I think Eddie gets at here that’s important is that the question of networking and being actively involved in the local scene. There are some people, like Eddie himself, who are very serious about doing the legwork and being at shows, etc., and they may or may not see rewards from that. On the other hand, there are some bands who, because they are either just not very social or outright arrogant, skip all that. Sometimes they get lucky and hit on the right sound at the right time, build up a following online, and blow up in popularity, which of course leaves a lot of the old school guys huffing in resentment. That’s, I think, where a lot of the backlash against “hipster” metal tends to com from.

  • RustyShackleford

    Great interview! Promotion clearly takes a very certain skill set…one that I don’t have haha. Never read any of Eddie’s stuff before but he seems cool. Yep.

  • Vote for Jeb

    This is a great interview. Cool to see the industry from a fresh perspective.

  • Waynecro

    Definitely a point of view I never considered back when I was playing in bands. Kudos to good promoters, man. I would never have the patience to do that job.

  • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

    You can feel winters call here already, and witness the skys visage. Pray for snow, mortals. Summer is at its end

    • You say that but I’m still sweating my dick off.

      • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

        Getting into the low 50s at night alrdy

    • Jason Kolkey

      Oh, good. That means I won’t have to deal with goddamn Cubs fans on the El much longer.

  • Guppusmaximus

    Someone should be promoting this amazing shit:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBN9i_NIbxQ

  • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

    Over 60 likes at the Beard Lovers FB page

  • Óðinn