Paul Manna got his start booking wedding bands for $50 a week plus 15 percent to 20 percent commission.
It was a way into music, which he knew he wanted, but it wasn't quite right.
"My heart wasn't in booking wedding bands," said Manna, who, at 47, still remembers vividly the thrill of his first concert when he was 15 — Ted Nugent at the Civic Center in Baltimore.
Since he started 24-7 Entertainment in 1997, he's been working to provide that excitement for audiences, booking about 100 shows a year in the Baltimore area.
Lately he's busy with finishing touches on the second Shindig Music Festival, scheduled for Sept. 27 at Carroll Park, with a lineup featuring Jane's Addiction, Rise Against, Gogol Bordello and Halestorm. Last year, the daylong event drew more than 10,000 people to the park. This year, Manna said, adjustments have been made to ensure shorter lines getting into the festival, and, just as important, there will be more bathrooms.
How would you describe the atmosphere that you wanted at the first Shindig Festival?
It was basically exactly what I envisioned. Very Baltimore feel. From the vendors to the food to the drink. I wanted to include as many Baltimore staples as possible. And I think that was very much appreciated by the fans. We had crab cakes. I didn't have any Budweiser or Miller Lite products. I wanted to go with Natty Boh and PBR [Pabst Blue Ribbon] for … a low cost. Ticket prices and beer and food prices were extremely reasonable. You go to a ballgame or a concert around here, you pay way too much for a beer and food. This was very much a fair deal all around.
Why Carroll Park?
I could have gone to you typical venue, like a Pimlico, for example. But I think it's a sterile environment out there. And it's not quite as far into the city as I would like my festival to be. Historic Pigtown is an area that some people know about and, surprisingly, some people don't. But they have a beautiful park there, Carroll Park. … In recent years the largest event they've had there was the German Festival. Last year, we brought more people to Carroll Park than ever gathered there at one given time. And that was with no incidents — none. No arrests. That may sound funny, but when you put that many people together, there's usually an arrest or something. … I got an email from the city the following week congratulating me on a successful event and a safe event. That's important to me.
Do you have a story about a booking that was particularly memorable?
Booking Justin Bieber at the Maryland State Fair [in 2010] was certainly an interesting time. … The same agent who represents Justin Bieber also represents the Jonas Brothers. And I used to book them, I booked them a couple times at Recher Theatre before they got widely known.
Then they blew up worldwide. The agent called me and said, "Hey listen, the Jonas Brothers are going to be playing Baltimore. I just wanted to let you know the Jonas Brothers are going to be playing Baltimore, but it's a Live Nation tour, and therefore you're unable to promote this specific show. But I owe you one." It happens in this business. A lot of my business is built on relationships with agents.
So, three years later, he called me and said, "Hey, I have a good one for you." And it was Justin Bieber for the State Fair. Which ended up being the most successful date they've had in their 130-year history. It was very good timing. It was right when he just started to break big. That's the definition of a good agent — remembering history.
How have changes in the music business mattered for what you do?
[Bands] are making the majority of their money from touring. And that's the way it is with every artist. It was not the case 20 years ago. They made record sales. That would be by far the biggest change within the last 10-15 years. [Consumers] buy a single now, everything is single-oriented. Not many people are buying records. Why do you need to buy a full record when you can pay 99 cents for one song that you like? So touring is an artist's primary way, their primary income stream.
On the festival level, band guarantees [the band's fee regardless of the crowd] now are outrageously high. There are so many festivals throughout the country and world now, more festivals than ever before. And the promoters are paying the money. So it's tough, it's changed a lot. Whereas before, even five years ago, a band would play for less money just for the exposure in that particular city.
What do you remember about your first concert?