Q&A With Brad Wells
Bill Bevins interviews the concert promoter.
The concert promoter on bringing big names to Richmond – and the reopening of Hopewell’s historic
— BY BILL BEVINS —
For 20 years, promoter Brad Wells of James River Entertainment and Sea of Sound Productions has helped produce thousands of concerts in the mid-Atlantic region.
With business partner Laurin Willis (whom I interviewed for BOOMER’s June-July 2012 issue), Wells has produced the Innsbrook After Hours concert series, Pocahontas Live in Chester and Virginia Crossroads Live in Crewe, and has helped bring big-name artists to The National in Richmond. Together they’ve brought the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Willie Nelson, Darius Rucker, ZZ TOP, Justin Moore, the Yardbirds and many others to town.
Wells and I talked in mid-January at the advance reopening of the newly restored 1928 Beacon Theatre in Hopewell, a movie theater and vaudeville show palace that has sat empty since 1981. Leon Russell performed to a full house that night; a full opening is planned in February.
Here are excerpts:
Q. WE’RE BACKSTAGE AT THE BEAUTIFUL, REFURBISHED, BRAND-NEW, ALMOST, BEACON THEATRE IN HOPEWELL WITH BRAD WELLS, WHO HAS NOW GOT A SERIES OF CONCERTS LINED UP. THANKS FOR DOING THIS.
A. Oh, thank you.
Q. MY FIRST QUESTION IS – HOW DOES A PERSON BECOME A PROMOTER? I DON’T SEE THAT LISTED [AS A MAJOR] AT VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH UNIVERSITY.
A. It’s funny you say that because I’ve actually thought about approaching VCU and saying, “Hey, you know, can we add something to the music program, where we teach concert promotion?” Because it really is, it’s something that does need some instruction. But, ironically, I was in radio right out of college, and I just sort of – it fell in my lap. I started getting calls from agents and record companies saying, you know, “There’s really not much traffic in Richmond.” I started doing shows at the Flood Zone; I did a lot of gospel stuff, contemporary Christian – that’s sort of how I cut my teeth – and it just sort of snowballed from there.
Q. SO YOU HAVE THE NATIONAL THAT YOU ARE BOOKING AND OBVIOUSLY HAS BEEN A HUGE SUCCESS, AND THERE’S SO MANY GREAT MUSICIANS IN RICHMOND. NOW YOU’RE ADDING THE BEACON THEATRE. [AND] POCAHONTAS [STATE] PARK – THAT IS A FANTASTIC VENUE.
A. Isn’t it? It’s just so nestled back in there, you have to kind of find it. But it is – once you get there –
it’s a great experience for a concert. Five thousand people out there for ZZ TOP, and Lynyrd Skynyrd out in Crewe. That was just kind of part of the mission for the organization we were working with, which is called the Virginia Museum of Radio Entertainment. And it’s kind of a neat organization. If you go to vmre.org, you can find out more abut them.
Q. YEARS AGO, PEOPLE COMPLAINED: NO BIG ACTS, NO GOOD ACTS, COME TO RICHMOND. AND [NOW] YOU’RE SPREADING THEM ALL OVER, IN PLACES FROM CREWE TO POCAHONTAS TO HOPEWELL. ARE YOU WORKING SEVEN DAYS A WEEK?
A. I’m always working. That’s being your own boss, so to speak. It’s just the way it is. My cell phone blows up all hours of the day and night, and it’s cool. … It’s been a fun run, and these things fall in your lap and you just want to take advantage of the opportunity and be creative. It’s a creative outlet, and I’m a frustrated musician – that’s the bottom line.
Q. DISC JOCKEYS ARE FRUSTRATED MUSICIANS. AND YOU GET TO MEET THE REAL GUYS, THE REAL PERFORMERS. TO THE FANS, THEY’RE STARS. TO EVERYBODY ELSE, THIS IS THEIR WORKPLACE.
A. And you kind of come to that. I don’t know that I was really ever very star-struck. But you just [say], “Hey, how’s it going, Leon [Russell]?” you know. “I’m just glad you’re here. Thanks for gracing us with your presence at this venue and just, you know, play your soul out.”
Q. IS THERE SOMEBODY ON YOUR LIST THAT YOU WANT TO BRING TO RICHMOND THAT YOU HAVEN’T SNAGGED YET?
A. Oh, geez. Well, Paul McCartney is a guy I’ve actually never seen, and I never will be able to bring him, I don’t think. But I shouldn’t say that, but that’s a guy I want to see, I haven’t seen him. Whether I could be a part of putting him on a stage, it would be awesome.
Q. CONSIDERING WHAT YOU’VE ACCOMPLISHED, I’LL LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING SIR PAUL IN RICHMOND.
A. Right on.
Q. THANKS FOR BEING A PART OF THE BEACON THEATRE. AND TELL US WHAT SHOWS ARE COMING UP.
A. Coming up: The official grand opening weekend will be February 20, which is a Thursday, and that’s going to have Delbert McClinton. Everybody loves him, and there’s a good buzz about that. The 21st is Vanilla Ice, which has just gone through the roof. It’s ridiculous, but cool. And we are probably going to have a couple more things that weekend. We’ll see. Then we have Christian Bush, who’s the other half of Sugarland [with Jennifer Nettles], on March 27. He’s got a great solo tour going on. And then we have The Temptations April 12, which is a Saturday.
Q. ALL OF THIS AT THE BEACON?
A. All this is at The Beacon. Pocahontas will roll out later, but we’re working on that, and that’s more spring and summer stuff. Anyway, I think it’s a good start, and none of these artists are batting an eye at coming to Hopewell and getting on the stage at The Beacon. So I’m going to keep trying.
For more on the Beacon Theatre: thebeacontheatreva.com