The Long Read: Q&A with 191 Touring's Brock Jones

07/20/2017 by Taylor Mims

If Brock Jones could change one thing about the music industry, it would be ridding it of the people who aren’t true music fans.

“If you hate this job or you don’t love it, why are you here?” Jones told Amplify. “We’re all working really hard to split up a big pie, but if you don’t understand how great this gig is – get lost.”

Jones, who grew up in Idaho, found music to be his only escape in a small fly fishing town where friends were few and far between. He spent all of his time sending mix tapes through the mail with friends who had spent the summer in his tourist  community and returned home to bigger cities. The isolation cemented Jones’ relationship with music and, from the age of 13, he knew it was the only business he wanted to be in.

To this day, Jones will be the first to admit that there are problems with the live music industry, but he can’t imagine himself in any other field.

“I can’t remember the last time I had five days off in a row,” he said. “It’s self-imposed. I go crazy. By day three I am checking flight schedules.”

Jones has spent the last 30 years working in the music industry and earlier transitioned from his position at Comcast Spectactor’s Spectra Presents to starting his own independent company, 191 Touring. Amplify sat down with Jones to talk about the new business, his early years in the industry, and his unwavering love for The Clash.

What’s going on with 191 Touring?

I left Comcast Spectacor on May 12 and I started 191 Touring on May 13.

Why did you feel it was an appropriate time to leave Comcast Spectacor?

Comcast Spectacor had made a fundamental decision to focus on their core business, which is venue management and food and beverage providers. It was mutual. I saw that they were not focused on the touring side and touring isn’t a business you can kind of be in. You either have to be fully committed or not. In my mind, I was thinking they probably didn’t want to keep going down that path and we started talking about it and found that we were in the same mindset. It is no coincidence that my roll off was at the same time as the sale of Paciolan.

Did some business just roll over to 191?

The conversations that were already happening, I removed Comcast and put 191 in. So they weren’t stuck with a project eight or nine months later that they weren’t fully committed to because the conversation had already started.

I took the staff with me. The Nashville staff just rolled over with me. They were fully committed to the touring side. They weren’t Comcast people who happened to be in touring. They were touring people who happened to get a check from Comcast.

What does your crew currently look like?

We’re based in Nashville and I currently have three full-time staff, which will expand shortly. There are two who do marketing and buying and one who makes everybody’s world run.

So, you got to hit the ground running with clients you already had?

We had already started a conversation with Brad Garrett at Police Productions about co-promoting the next two legs of the Justin Moore tour, which now I am co-promoting with Brad. Comcast was able to step away and I was able to step in.

Were you at all concerned starting an independent promotion company in today’s industry?

No. I’ve been in the business since I was 17. I think 90 percent of my day is filled with excitement and I can’t believe how great everything is. Then 10 percent of my day is filled with absolute terror, because you know it is on you now. You definitely do not have a net.

You’re willing to put yourself on the line like that?

I’ve never done anything else. I have no transferable skills. I’ve never had a real job. I’ve been doing this for over 30 years. I do not know what else I would do if I didn’t do this.

So there’s no need to ask you what you’d be doing if you weren’t in music.

Before I went to Comcast, I ran Bridgestone (Arena) and booked all the shows there in Nashville. When I was leaving, I was having an exit interview and the Vice President of HR was picking my brain because I did the majority of the hiring on the venue side. They wanted to know what I looked for, what kind of individuals I tried to find.

We were talking about interview processes and I told them I always ask one question and depending how they answered it, I knew whether or not we should hire them. The question was ‘If you weren’t doing this, what would you be do?’ If somebody legitimately had an answer, I wouldn’t hire them. This job eats you alive. You have to live it. If you wake up in the morning and you can think, conceivably, you want to do something else, you’re done. If it is not your passion, you’ve got to get out because you’re going to be eaten up and spit out and being that vile, nasty person who bitches and moans about everything.

I had an event coordinator who had the best line. He said he traded his social life in for a backstage pass. That’s pretty accurate.

You’re obviously very passionate about the job. What got you into the gig?

I grew up in a really small town in Idaho. It was a tourist town. All of my friends were people I’d met mostly in the summers. I had zero interaction with people who actually lived near me. I ended up graduating high school early and a couple of my buddies were ski patrolmen in Jackson Hole and they got me a gig working in a bar there. This is back when you didn’t really have to be 21 to work in bars in Wyoming. The guy who booked the music there and I were the only ones who weren’t working for a discounted ski pass. We just talked music the entire time and he taught me how to book bands and clubs. A couple months later, he left and the owner asked me to finish up the year.

It was great because Jackson Hole was a really small town with a lot of money. The DuPonts live there. The Eisenhowers live there. You’re booking an 800-seat club, but you’re putting acts in there that have no business playing 800-seat clubs. It’s 1987 and I’m booking Elvis Costello, The Attractions, Burning Spear and Thomas Dolby into a club that seats 800 people. It was ridiculous.

Were you booking the kind of bands you listened to?

I was a total punk guy. For my thirteenth birthday, two of my buddies took me to Red Rocks for a show. I’d never been to a concert before in my life. It was Aug. 9, 1982 and we went and saw The Clash. The world opened up for me. I had always been a Clash guy, even as a kid. I played Sandinista so much I actually burned out both sides of both tapes. I’m watching Joe Strummer and I’m realizing, I don’t care what the hell I’m going to do, I’m going to be in this business. Music is the only thing I’ve felt connected to.

When I grew up there was no internet and radio in Idaho was basically…you’d rather stick an icepick in your head. My friends who all lived other places would send me tapes. I had a buddy in San Diego who got me into the LA punk scene and the rockabilly scene. He would send me mixtapes with X, The Blasters, Beat Farmers, Red Rooster, Minutemen, Black Flag. The two guys who took me to The Clash were into ska. They sent me mixtapes with The Specials and The Untouchables.

Where did you go after Jackson Hole?

When I went to college after Jackson Hole and I scored the university gig booking for the students at Idaho State University. It was so awesome because back then they dumped a bunch of cash into the program. I had a $5,000 budget and I didn’t have to make a dime. They didn’t know shit about music. My advisor was so clueless. They had no idea what stuff cost. They had no idea what I was doing. They were just stoked because I was bringing these bands onto campus that they’d never heard of before.

I’d bring these bands in and I would overpay the shit out of them to book them on campus and then I would book them on two dates around campus and sell them to the clubs there. I would get this massive deal on the two dates I did from the agent because I overpaid them for the college date and I’d make like $20,000 on the side. I’m hoping the statute of limitations has run out because they are going to fry me if they read this. That’s what people do now. It’s just called block booking.

How did you figure all this out? Did you have any mentors?

When I was starting out, I really didn’t. On campus, I was a loose cannon. There was nobody watching what I was doing and the club in Jackson Hole, you just couldn’t mess it up. After the college thing I started my own company and I was doing club dates out west. It was all punk stuff and it was all over Nevada, California, Arizona, Utah. There’s no mentor in that system. I was on my own in the beginning.

When I got a little older, I had some great mentors. I was in my late 20s thinking that I knew everything and I remember I was in Nashville and it was the first time I met John Huie. If you know John, he is a rather imposing human being. He is large. First of all, the fact that the guy who was the co-head of CAA was taking the time to talk to me was great. But then how he was patient with me even though that’s not his nature. In his very down to earth way, he explained to me how little I knew, but did it in a way that didn’t belittle me. He did it in a way that was really positive. To this day, he is one of the closest friends I have in the business because of the way he fostered me in the beginning. I didn’t even know I needed it until it was happening.

There was another part of my career where I was in Virginia Beach and I was incredibly fortunate for five years to get to work with Bobby Melatti. He is a gruff guy. He doesn’t give a shit about anything. No filter. None. He taught me everything. He’s the one who really taught me how to work in this business at a higher level.

My last show with him in Virginia was for Josh Groban. I try to push his voice out of my brain. All the Grobanites deliver all this stuff for his dressing room and somebody had done a Build-a-Bear for him and you squeezed his paw and it said “Virginia loves you” or some bullshit like that. The next morning I am coming in to clean my office out and that bear is sitting on my chair. There is a sticky note on the paw that says “squeeze me.” Bobby Melatti has this deep, raspy, Harvey Fierstein-ish voice. I squeeze the paw and it was Bobby’s voice saying “Brock, you’re still a fucking bastard.”

You’re clearly not the biggest fan of every act you work with.

Most of the stuff I do and most of the stuff that we all do, we’re not fans of. If there was a musical god, JD McPherson would be selling arenas. Imelda May would be a household name. Muse would be as big in the United States as they are everywhere else in the world. But there is no musical god and we book stuff that pays for the mortgage.

Is there any act right now that you’re really into?

I like a a lot of the stuff that Future Islands is doing. The new single Portugal. The Man put out is just amazing. I am a stone cold believer that Muse is the best live act touring today. They have somehow been the one band who can take technology and production and match it with artistic skill and neither of them overshadow the other. They compliment each other. It’s a unique experience to watch. They find a way to accentuate their music. They’re not hiding their music.

Have you had a chance to work with Muse?

I’ve been able to do one show. Darin Lashinsky and I did one show together with Muse and it was back when they were the support act on U2’s tour. U2 had two full sets that leapfrogged each other, but the dates were far enough apart that they would have days off in between. Muse had a day off and Darin basically chased them down, hounded them. I still don’t know all the things he had to say, but we got them in Nashville and it was spectacular. I’ll never forget it.

If you could attend any concert in the history of concerts, which one would you go to?

The 101ers in London.

Oh, yeah. Joe Strummer’s first band.

Done. I am a massive Clash guy. Where I grew up, I felt so isolated and it wasn’t just because there weren’t a lot of people. I’m this Catholic kid growing up in this Mormon area where I had nothing in common with anyone I knew. I was an only child. I didn’t know anybody. The first time I heard “Lost in the Supermarket” it was like “holy shit, there’s more people out there like me!’ I know some people say they are the only band that matters in a joking way, but they really are.

Everyone has that one band that brought them into the industry. The Clash was clearly yours.

Definitely. People in our business who don’t love music piss me off. Why? Why are you here? If you can’t stand at the mix position when the lights go down, even if it’s band you hate, and the hair on your arms doesn’t stand when the crowd goes nuts there is something wrong with you. There are people in our business who don’t get it and they’re typically the ones that make the job harder.

That’s what (Marc) Geiger was talking about when he said what happened in British Columbia (Pemberton Music Festival) was going to have a negative effect on everything else. It has. Now you have fanbases who don’t trust a ticket. When that happens, you are fucked. A lot of the time, that comes from people who are not in this business for the right reasons.

Do you foresee any issues in the coming years for the live music industry?

I think the issue is that with the implosion of labels, artists have to tour to make money. The only revenue stream left for artists are touring and publishing. On one hand, it’s fantastic that all of these artists are out there. On the other hand, the map isn’t growing. It’s the same cities. I’m going into markets that are probably low B, C markets, tertiary markets where in the past, asking for avails was a joke. It was more like ‘How many days do you want?’ Now, those same markets I am getting third holds on Tuesdays. It is because there are so many acts out there touring. But a lot of those markets don’t have the economics to support multiple dates. We are glutting markets that cannot support it, even in the majors. You’re seeing this diminished return. We all have to be very cognizant of what markets can bear.

Does that apply to every genre?

In the country world, it really sucks because, for the vast majority of artists, there is no European tour, there is no Pacific Rim tour next. It is the same plays. It is the U.S. and maybe Canada. You have to be cognizant of where you’re going and overlapping radio platforms. You really have to know traffic when you go into these worlds. Christian is even worse. It’s just the states and just parts of the states.

Is there anything about the business that you wish you could change?

That’s hard for me to answer because I am extremely fortunate. I’ve spent a significant part of my career in Nashville and I’ve been able to develop quite a few relationships on the management side and the artist side and the agency side. Nashville is a different world, in that everybody is there to make money and do business, but for the vast majority people there truly don’t want to hurt somebody else. I have had multiple conversations with managers and agents who have gone out of their way and said “Brock, don’t do this show. I don’t think it makes sense.” That just doesn’t happen other places. It’s hard for me to answer that question because I have so many positive relationships with the people I work with.

I’m not Mary Poppins. There are problems in our business, but I don’t want to be the 117 guy to stand up and bitch about the secondary market. I just don’t give a shit. There are parts of our business that our going to exist that we just have to deal with.

Danna Clayton