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Issue`: February 2009
Photo of
Photo By Photo by Laura Roberts
Terry Harper



Come inside, the show's about to start,

Guaranteed to blow your head apart,

Rest assured you'll get your money's worth,

The greatest show in Heaven, Hell or Earth.

-- Greg Lake, "Karn Evil 9"

Pay a visit to Terry Harper's web site and you'll see, below his introductory banner, posters for the shows he is currently promoting, both current and upcoming. Hyperlinked text containing the show's information precedes each poster. Scrolling down through the page seems vaguely familiar in a collective subconscious kind of way. We've seen this before: garish broadsides pasted up on brick walls or around pillars advertising shows for the Benefit of Mr. Kite or the Violinist Sigerson and the songbird Miss Jenny Lund; heavy cardboard posters in rainbow sherbet colors stuck in record shop windows, with narrow block type collaring your attention and demanding you come to the next Alan Freed Cavalcade of Stars; psychedelic curlicues assaulting your eyes before you stroll into the head shop, hipping you to the next show by The Doors and Jefferson Airplane, man.

Not much has changed in the history of promoting music acts. The only difference now is that you can see who's going to be playing where from the comfort of wherever your computer is. And we no longer have barkers, those boozed-up guys in straw boaters and cigars stuck in their faces, waving their canes toward the entrance of a tent wherein you fill your eyes with such wonders, friend, like the purple dragon from a lost valley in China, the world's tallest midget, and, soon, the Gypsy Queen in a glaze of Vaseline will perform on guillotine. What a scene, what a scene.

Terry Harper

But we do have guys like Terry Harper.

No, he doesn't go around town with a broad brush and a bucket full of wheat paste looking for the first available blank brick wall for his posters. Nor does he stand outside Headliners Music Hall or Phoenix Hill Tavern in a red-and-white striped jacket and a Roi-Tan clenched in his teeth pleading with the crowd at the door to step inside, step inside.

He is a promoter, young, handy with all the indispensable tools (e-mail, text messaging, cell phone calls, the Internet) that are the 21stcentury equivalent of pasting up posters and barking at the rubes to check out the show (all this while also playing drums for the 2.0 version of metal band Flaw). At the same time he's point man when dealing with band management, venue owners, radio stations, and tour sponsors. So he's in a visible position that can draw fire when something goes wrong.

And it does. Oh, boy, does it ever.

"It's time-consuming," Harper said. "I work 24/7. It becomes your life. But I do love it. I'm thankful that I'm good at it. And I do owe everything to Bill Barringer."

The name Bill Barringer is familiar to those involved in Louisville music. As head of Spotlight Promotions, he and his little talent-buying agency could easily make your act famous if you got tagged to be in one of their shows. Spotlight brought the big names to town, booked the biggest shows. If your band couldn't get booked into a venue, chances are Spotlight's shows were in your way. For some, that meant hard feelings and frustration. On the other hand, you could be treated like star material if Spotlight took an interest in you and got you on a bill.

And that's what Harper was trying to do at first when he came to Barringer's attention.

"I was in Tornequade at first," Harper said, "calling him almost every day, asking him to throw us on any bill he had. He actually brought me on. It was kind of a fluke, really. He was getting older and didn't know much about the newer rock bands. People were coming up to me at shows [we booked] and didn't' even know I was a drummer. One day he came to me and asked, ‘are you the drummer that books shows or are you the promoter that's in a band?'

Terry Harper

"I said I'm definitely the drummer that books shows. That's my passion. I want to play. I'd actually like to settle down and do this full time when I'm older."

That passion does give him an advantage over other promoters. He knows what it is like to work both sides of the stage, plus the connections he's made in the metal band community has brought him new bands to work with and regional and national attention.

Harper continued. "One way or another, Spotlight at the time was pretty much at the end of its run. Bill was ready to do something else. So at that time I made good friends with all the right people. But, of course, he had taught me everything I needed to know. Before all of this I was pretty much a happy-go-lucky, gullible guy. But doing this I have to be pretty cutthroat, obviously. I hate being like that sometimes, but Bill was the one who taught me to be pretty strict. And it made me a successful person."

How successful? Last year Harper promoted 141 shows, from Armor For Sleep on January 17, to Project Born on December 20. In between there was Five Finger Death Punch, The Unseen, Black Stone Cherry, David Allan Coe, GWAR, Jimmie Van Zandt, and Snot. Only three or four of those shows, by Harper's count, were local.

Getting into the metal-hardcore booking business might be alluring, but it does take a jaw-dropping amount of skill to bring about nearly 150 shows during a year.

"Over the past few years," he said, "it's become the cool thing to start booking shows. A lot of people start trying to do it, but it takes a special kind of person. You're not only gambling with your money, you obviously have to have good communications skills and people skills and patience, and really balance the show load. I can't take allthe slam-dunk shows. I have to take all the smaller bands and develop them, even if it means nobody's going to be at the show. A lot of promoters don't get that. They think that they book a show and the show grosses X amount of dollars, and they don't realize the actual expenses and all the politics that go into it. Especially the politics. That's the part that really still gets me to this day."

He's currently dealing with those politics in a show he's booked at Expo 5 in May headlined by the Grammy-nominated metal band Lamb of God, part of a tour sponsored by No Fear energy drink. The politics involve specifications the band has in its rider, the part of a booking contract that specifies such stuff as how the band wants to be promoted, what it wants to eat, how many bowls of condoms it wants in its dressing room: generally, the things that are important to its survival on the road.

"One of the things in the rider," Harper said, "is that they don't want any of the local radio stations to have anything to do with it. Isn't that a handicap for me and a handicap for the band? They don't want any radio presence, they don't want any live remotes, they just don't want the station to do anything for it. A lot of those other promoters wouldn't get stuff like that. When a sponsor pays a certain amount of money to sponsor the whole tour, their name's going to be over everything and they don't want anything else to be conflicting with it."

Sometimes a show is in jeopardy because a band's music is played on two competing stations. There will come a point where a show will be cancelled if the stations can't agree on what they'll do for the show in the proposals they submit to the band's management. Managers may prefer one station's proposal over another. And the station that loses might sometimes go so far as to pull the band's music out of rotation.

"It's all this stuff that has nothingto do with people coming and enjoying the show," Harper said.

Perhaps there's no better illustration of what Terry Harper states than to tell the story of the biggest concert he has ever promoted. Which also became one of the biggest headaches and biggest money losers for him, all because he had to deal with some of the biggest pains in the ass.

Vince Flanders is a web design expert and teacher, most famous for his book and companion site Web Pages That Suck, and the follow-up title Son of Web Pages That Suck. His contention? That you can learn goodweb design by studying and not emulatingthe aspects of badweb design. So any aspiring music promoters can learn a similar lesson from what Terry Harper underwent when he developed a metal band show that took place at Waverly Hills Sanatorium on August 11, 2007.

However, in Harper's case, the things that sucked were not things that he could control.

The city of Louisville prides itself on being most famous for the Kentucky Derby and the Hillerich & Bradsby plant, among other things. Arguably, though, Louisville is best known around the world for a massive 80-year-old building on a hill that overlooks Dixie Highway in the Pleasure Ridge Park neighborhood of South Louisville.

The Waverly Hills Sanatorium has a reputation as being one of the most haunted places in the world. Ghosts from its past as a tuberculosis hospital and a geriatric hospital are said to roam the hallways. It has been featured in countless television shows on the paranormal, and is even featured in a horror movie. The property's current owners, Charlie and Tina Mattingly, wanted to have a concert on the property in the huge parking lot in the back of the building. A name they had heard was the one they called: Terry Harper. It was February, 2007.

"They called me and said they wanted to throw a massive show up there," he said. "It was an idea they'd had for a long time. Of course, in their minds they had it that no matter who they got, no matter the caliber of the artist, this band would come and magically play for free. They would travel there, pay all their own expenses, and just play for free."

Obviously, no band will ever come to another city and play for free, no matter how famously haunted the venue is.

"They had an idea of the bands they wanted to book: My Morning Jacket, REO Speedwagon, Styx, Boston, Kansas. I told them, ‘Don't get me wrong but, one, they wouldn't play for free and, two, if you want to throw something that would make sense at a place that's haunted, maybe a little edgier of a band might be a little more appealing to the crowd.'"

And for some reason, Kevin Cronin belting out "I Can't Fight This Feeling Anymore" wouldn't necessarily work when just a few feet behind the stage there was a building whose interior walls are covered with jagged graffiti spelling out the names of metal bands (and the ghost of some departed TB patient would probably stand at a window and make a gag gesture).

Then there was the date the owners wanted, sometime during the Kentucky Derby Festival. Harper said they would be competing with free events. Plus bands might take advantage of the event's timing and charge triple their normal booking fee. So a date in August was chosen, and the lineup was to include GWAR, Lamb of God, Job for a Cowboy, The Number Twelve Looks Like You, Hatebreed, and others who were part of the Sounds of the Underground tour that year. The date at Waverly was to be the last one for that tour.

Almost immediately after the show was announced, the problems started.

"[Tina] thought that everyone in the crowd was gonna come up there with a butcher's knife. Charlie just wanted to throw a big-ass show. He honestly just wanted to break even. In the midst of all of this, he had to go through the [city government] to get the permit for it. I told him that his responsibilities were to take care of the parking, take care of the shuttling, take care of their own security for their building, and take care of the vending. Since I've been booking shows, I've had nothing ever to do with beer or water or food. To me, that's a whole headache itself. Sometimes, that's what makes or breaks you on a show. Especially for one like this. And I told him that if he played his cards right, he would have 4000 metal heads drinking a lot of beer."

Harper kept the Mattinglys updated as ticket sales climbed. Soon the show was sold out. 4000 metal fans would be converging on Waverly Hills on August 11.

Day of show, the first of many troubles: parking had just been secured two daysbefore at the Southwest Campus of the Jefferson Community Technical School about a mile away. Harper had asked Charlie to secure it much earlier. The school had balked when asked.

"They said no," Harper said. "They didn't want to do it at all. We had promised security, garbage cleanup, everything would be spic-and-span. And they still said no. We had to pay them a stupid amount of money. Of course, that was outside the budgeted expenses."

Plus it didn't help that it was also one of the hottest days of that year. People were passing out.

"You're supposed to have one ambulance and two emergency medical technicians per one-thousand people. I had three budgeted. By the end of the day, I had to have eight of them. People passing out was overbearing. It was to the point where the three ambulances were in and out, in and out. The EMT's told me they had to have more people up there. And I'm not gonna go against their word. I know it's the [venue owner's] money, but do they want someone to die? So we went over budget on that."

But the worst part? Just one vendor to sell beer and bottled water to 4000 people.

"If you wanted bottled water, there wasn't anything less than a two-hour wait. People were buying other peoples' bottled water, once they got it, for 10 or 11 dollars.

"So what do you think happens? They run out of bottled water."

There were other fiascoes. Harper had to run down to an RV dealership on Dixie Highway to rent campers for tour management staff after they were kicked out of one of the side buildings, and the campers were still too small. Noise complaints were coming in from as far west as Terry Road, nearly two miles from where the show was going on. Metro Councilman Doug Hawkins, who represents that district, called Charlie Mattingly and bawled him out over the noise.

The show lost money. Harper received 300 death threats via e-mail from disaffected fans (or maybe those just angry because they couldn't get tickets) and he was kicked off the Waverly Hills property after the show.

"When I went home that night," he said, "I just wanted to be in a coma for three days. But the cool thing about that show? There were no fights. There were no serious injuries, no broken bones. And there was not one arrest made. I feel really proud of that. As intense and hostile as it was, nothing bad happened."

Despite the 300 that sent death threats, anyone else who saw the show said it was the greatest thing they'd ever seen. According to Harper, word-of-mouth news about it spread nationwide. Metal fans still talk about it.

"I went through hell with that show. But if I can pull off that show, I can do anything."

So are you still thinking about making that massive career change, taking on the heritage of the sideshow barker and the guy who slaps up posters with wheat paste? Take these three words (and more) from Terry Harper:

"Don't do it. There might be shows where I do well and make a decent amount of money. But, of course, the amount of stress and time and the gamble you put up for the shows is definitely sometimes not worth it. Dealing with the headaches, believe me, you'd want more for your troubles.

"But even if I do well, I do so many shows that deposits go in and out. It's not like I live in a luxurious house. To me, as long as I can pay my bills and eat food, I'm fine."

Help him pay bills and eat food by going to www.terryharper.com


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