Promoter Mike Kelley: "Numbers Is Houston's CBGB"
Wu-Tang Clan's GZA and Ghostface Killah at Numbers, December 2010
Numbers' credentials as a concert venue are undeniable - everyone from Siouxsie and the Banshees to Green Day to Type O Negative has played there. It's hard to argue, though, that the past decade hasn't been a rough one for the old girl. An aging sound system turned many shows into crapshoots, and the club began to focus more on its dance nights.
Lately, however, Numbers has been enjoying something of a renaissance. The Wu-Tang Clan reunion show was, by all accounts, kick-ass and packed. Anything Box made for a surprise near-sold out celebration of all things synthpop, and Numbers racked up its first-ever live concert DVD location thanks to the legendary Faith and the Muse.
The future looks even brighter, as the next couple of months are poised to bring Peter Murphy (rapidly approaching a sellout), Clan of Xymox, Dipset, EPMD, Three 6 Mafia and Men Without Hats. The man behind most of these shows - and Numbers towering new sound system - is Mike Kelley of Onstage Events. Kelley was behind some of Meridian's finest moments in recent years, but has now moved his home base to Numbers, and it couldn't be sweeter.
Rocks Off: What methodology are you following for booking all these acts? Most of them, like Peter Murphy and Xymox, don't even seem to be on tour. Are you just picking names and calling them out of the blue?
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Mike Kelley: Actually lots of the artists I bring in are not on tour. There really is no methodology per se; I just go after the bands/artists that I feel will be either well-suited for the club or that I have a personal interest in seeing. Some of them, like Clan of Xymox, Men Without Hats, Flock of Seagulls, Three 6 Mafia, Digable Planets, EPMD, etc. I'm actually just flying in for a one-off show, solely for the sake of creating an interesting event.
For the most part, I have working relationships with their agents and/or managers, and have done a lot of shows with them over the years. I have been in this business for 21 years this March.
RO: How do you feel Numbers has changed since you started booking for them?
MK: Well, to clarify, I don't actually "book for Numbers." While it's true that I handle all of the booking for the venue, my company, Onstage Events, is my own. I do shows at other venues in Houston when it makes sense, and other promoters occasionally do shows at Numbers.
Numbers is technically my "home" venue and the place I prefer for most shows, but I have been known to do shows at places like Rudyard's, Walter's, and other venues if the show is better suited for them.
RO: What made you want to start booking in the first place?
MK: As I mentioned, I have been in this business for 21 years now, most of that as an agent on "the other side of the fence," as they say. In my years as an agent, I had the pleasure of working with artists like Green Day, Cake, George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, NOFX, Fastball, Rickie Lee Jones, Ice-T, Kittie, and hundreds more.
Over the past six years I have owned or co-owned venues like Javajazz, The Junction and the now-defunct Meridian - an experience I can thankfully put behind me. It was a natural progression for me from agent to promoter, and I can happily say I'm glad I made it. I am toying with the idea of opening a satellite office for a certain larger boutique agency I cannot name here, but which represents some very respectable big-name artists.
RO: Do you feel the acts you've brought have better secured Numbers' continued existence? There were some worries last year it would close.
MK: Despite what you may have heard anywhere, Numbers' existence is secure, and it's not because of me. The venue is an institution, a landmark if you will. Houston would not be Houston without it, plain and simple.
The staff and management there are first-rate people, and there is almost no turnover, which says a lot about a place - unlike Meridian, which changed management and staff like a model changes clothes. People like Rudi Bunch, DJ Wes, and Robot have been there longer than most can remember and keep that place running like the well-oiled machine it is. Not to mention they are all just amazing people to work with.
As far as the music goes, I'm trying to keep it diverse as possible with a steady mix of Classic Numbers acts (Xymox, Peter Murphy, etc.) as well as hip-hop (Three 6 Mafia, Dipset, EPMD, Wu Tang Clan), metal (Cannibal Corpse, D.R.I., Nevermore, etc.), emo (Forever The Sickest Kids, The Scene Aesthetic) and even country (David Allan Coe).
Faith and the Muse filmed their Shoumei DVD at Numbers last year.
RO: What kind of acts would you like to see at Numbers?
MK: Oh I have my dream shows, we all do. If I ever got the chance to promote a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds show, a Sisters of Mercy show or a Tom Waits I'd be able to walk away from this business a very happy man. Realistically, though, I plan to continue to diversify the venue with shows from all genres, the way the venue was in the '80s.
I'm lucky in that Numbers has a very diverse patronage kind of already built in. They created it, and I'm gonna do my best to entertain it.
RO: What does a local band have to do to get booked? What's your main criteria?
MK: I have to first know that they are going to promote their own show as heavily as I'm going to promote it. Just adding it to your Facebook events page and expecting people to show up ain't gonna fly. I generally try to get out and see locals as often as I can, and I also try to add at least 1-2 locals to every show I do since they are the lifeblood of the Houston live music scene.
I also try to do a lot of all-local-band shows when it makes sense. Be persistent, but don't annoy. Send links to your music - Facebook, etc., nd do not ever send big MP3 files to my email, as they will never be opened. Let me know where you are playing in town and play every show you play as if it's a full house.
Nothing turns me off more than seeing a band play to an empty house and complains nonstop about it from the stage. You want people to come see you, then get them there.
RO: What's the most important part of booking a successful show?
Promotion, plain and simple. Know your market and spam them to death. Seriously though Im out there probably five nights a week putting flyers on cars at shows and in the malls, the skateshops, headshops, record stores, and online. Facebook and Twitter are a promoter's best friend.
Also, getting locals on the show that I know are going to help make the show a success by promoting it like it was their first or last show. Of course, advertising in the local music rags when its affordable is always good and sometimes radio if it's "that kind of show," though I don't often book "that kind of show," as radio doesn't really appeal to me.
RO: You had Faith and the Muse film a live DVD at Numbers. Is that the kind of thing you'd like to attract more of?
MK: That was actually right before I started doing stuff at Numbers but I do think it was a great idea. As I mentioned, Numbers is an institution in this city. It's our own CBGB. I'm just trying to get more people to see it for what it is, a great place to see shows and to perform at.