March 24, 2020

Zach Edwards - AC Entertainment

Zach Edwards - AC Entertainment

Zach Edwards, Director of Ticketing and Crowd Services at AC Entertainment joins host Lawrence Peryer to share his thoughts and insight on the New Normal.

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Zach Edwards, Director of Ticketing and Crowd Services at AC Entertainment joins host Lawrence Peryer to share his thoughts and insight on the New Normal.

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Lawrence Peryer:        Thank you for making time. I know it’s hectic right now. I guess the most important question I have is how are you and your loved ones doing?

Zach Edwards:            We’re doing fine. My wife and I are both working from home so we’re on top of each other right now. So it’s been different. But no, we’re doing well. My brother and his fiancée are just down the road.  They’re doing well, too. But yeah, everybody’s good.

The majority of my family right now is kind of in the middle of nowhere Tennessee. So they have completely social distanced themselves from everybody. But we’re all just kind of taking this a day at a time.

LP:                              And where are you? Where are you located?

ZE:                              So I’m based out of Nashville.

LP:                              Ok. And how is it there?

ZE:                              It’s – we just got a 14-day lockdown. So you can still do essential services and things like that. You can do take out and things like that. But they’ve shut down any sort of gathering spot at this point. It’s not state-wide yet. But our mayor put that directive out, I guess it was yesterday.

LP:                              And night life is shut down?

ZE:                              Oh, yeah. Night life is done. Nashville got hammered for a day or two there when a video went out of there being a Broadway bar downtown that was shoulder to shoulder, packed with people. And so the social media team pretty much turned on them pretty quickly and then it all came crashing down for them.

LP:                              So Nashville was socially shamed?

ZE:                              Yeah, basically. They were Twitter-shamed for having shows and having a bunch of people there. But the reality is that’s all – nobody who lives in Nashville goes down there. It’s kind of like the Strip in Vegas. I’m sure that people that live in Las Vegas only go there if they have to or if they have friends in town.

LP:                              And so how has this impacted your work routine?

ZE:                              It’s a little different. You know, normally you’ve got a set date that you’re working on and everything is piling on towards this date. And so now it’s been a complete shift in your focus into okay, we need to either make this date work or we need to understand the situation and say we just need to pull the plug on this one.

So it’s been a lot of really tough conversations of you know, we definitely want to do this event but at the same time, the ability to move this or the practicality in moving this just isn’t there. And if we can move it, we obviously will. We – at the end of the day, this is still a business but our business is made up of making a bunch of patrons really happy.

So if we can continue to do that and still be able to have salaries and benefits and things like that, that’s the ultimate goal right now.

LP:                              Yeah. And for a typical event – if there is a typical event – what’s your vendor footprint like? How many companies do you contract with or how many people does that mean? What’s the social business impact?

ZE:                              If we’re looking at some of our boutique festivals which is somewhere in the range of ten to 12,000 people, there’s probably somewhere in the realm of 100 different production departments that are built in that festival.

Not all of those are going to be external. But each one of those is probably going to have some form of independent contractor or side business that they’re reaching out to in order to accomplish their goals.

So even if we’re not having a festival and people aren’t coming to enjoy that, there’s still a big economic impact that comes with a $100,000 million dollar production coming in and then not coming in anymore.

LP:                              Yeah. And I don’t know if it’s too soon to say or how you might characterize it, but how are you all feeling about what the impact is going to be on your business?

ZE:                              Nobody knows. You know, there’s no end date. We’re all kind of – we’re just working to delay if we’re being totally honest. So as much as you would like to say that May 1st we’re all going to be back. We’re going to be back in gear, booking shows, getting ready for the next event, we don’t know that.

And so it’s just a matter of every day, showing up, going through your checklist and kind of pressing on without focusing too much on the ambiguity of the situation.

LP:                              Yeah. Is there anything that you’ve been pleasantly surprised about in this situation or has there been any sort of positive outcome or positive result of either – you know, from the community or from your colleagues? What are you seeing that you feel good about every day?

ZE:                              You know, we had a call today with our president, Ted Heinig and he said something that kind of resonated with a lot of us. But, you know, as you’ve looked across the entire industry with the taskforce at Live Nation and AEG and some of the other agencies have put together, it really has kind of shown you that we all realize that this is kind of an existential threat to the industry.

And so we’re all working together. We’re all just attempting to find a way out of this hallway, whatever that needs to be. So there’s been a lot of partnerships that they may be competitors but the reality is that if one of these falls, we’re all going to have a huge problem so we all kind of need to be in this together. Between Live Nation and AEG, I would guess that’s probably 70 percent of the shows booked in the United States.

So that’s a huge portion of the industry that is now instead of competing against each other and trying to find ways to do things better and more cost efficient and increase revenues and all that, there comes a time in a business they’re also working together on a lot of things and coming eye to eye on things and realizing that okay, we may have competed on this in the past but it’s clear that in order for us to all move forward, we have to move forward on this one together.

So that’s really been a big thing for me. No one is – you know no one is – you know with us rescheduling Bonnaroo, the AC and the C3 presents team has worked just phenomenally together. It’s been open communication. It’s been just both teams realizing that this is a project basically bigger than any of our jobs and that if we’re going to do this, we have to do this as a team.

And so there’s been – the ego has kind of gone out the door if there was any there before and it’s just two teams working together to make something happen. And I know C3 is dealing with their own massive moves on their end with the shaky festivals and some of their other ones.

So it’s just been really – if there’s anything that comes out of it, it’s just really encouraging to see people that may not work together in a normal business scenario, realizing that for the better of the industry we’ve got to do this together.

LP:                              Yeah. Yeah, I think that that’s a pretty common theme that I’ve observed and that I’m picking up as I start to talk to people. That theme resonates I think in the personal and the professional. You know? Whether it’s people doing everything they can to continue to spend money getting take-out from the local restaurant that they want to see still be here when we get to the other side.

People employing dog walkers. Like anything they can to spend money in their local community. Even when faced with the uncertainty of am I going to be laid off I in two weeks? I don’t hear – I hear people with legitimate anxiety but I don’t hear people going into a bunker mentality because of it. And that’s a pretty powerful thing to witness.

ZE:                              Yeah, I think the community aspect of it – you know, for a lot of our festivals, that’s been our driving force is trying to create this community in this – a community within a community even.

And so to have that feeling on kind of the back of house side as well as the front of house is really something that’s special that when we come out of this, God willing, we’re going to have a hell of a party and it’s going to be a celebration.

But right now, everybody’s just trying to do their part and stay at home and stay away from people and kind of suck it up for as long as we need to so that we can get on the other side of this faster.

LP:                              Yeah. Do you have any first-hand or maybe even social media observations? Have you – do you have the temperature of the patrons at this point? Do you know what either sort of fans in general the sentiment is or what the fans around your events are expressing about their willingness to hold out? Are you getting any feedback form the patron community?

ZE:                              Yeah. I mean social media – one, everybody is trapped in their homes. So they’ve got nothing but time on social media right now. And so we’ve gotten a pretty good gauge of how people feel about some of our cancellations and some of the movement and it’s all been really positive honestly.

                                    People understand that look, we can do this and we can throw this event but this is doing nothing but just endangering everybody around you and the people – two and three people down the chain that you don’t even know.

So they all understand that while, or course, we want to put on a Bonnaroo or a High Water or Big Ears or something like that, the reality is that right now it’s just not socially responsible to do something like that.

And in a company where our sole focus is trying to bring people together, we kind of need to be leading the charge on no, no, no, even we don’t want this right now. Because first and foremost at all of our events, we just want our patrons to be safe and they can’t do that right now.

LP:                              Yeah. Yeah, and I think – I’d be curious to know you’re take on this, but it seems to me, especially for a big sort of American institution of an event like a Bonnaroo, and even some of the lesser nationally known brands but still that have their own passionate following, if I wanted to go to this event in May or June and it can’t happen because of extraordinary circumstance, I kind of trust that it’s still going to be a really good time if it gets back up on its feet in September or October.

It was less about that long weekend on the calendar and more about this is an appointment I keep with this community every year and if it has to move for  few months, I’m still going to be there.

ZE:                              Yeah, and it certainly feels like that with Bonnaroo. I mean Bonnaroo is – I’ve said this on another podcast as well and I told them that Bonnaroo is basically we come in and we build the structure. But the festival and the community of Bonnaroo is all those people just showing up.

We’re basically just trying to build the framework for this other entity to come in and get their own. So we’ve kind of seen that even through this that, for the most part, they’ve brought us in and have realized that we’re also part of this community and that we’re all kind of hurting right now and we’re just trying to do what’s best for the festival and what ‘s for them.

LP:                              Yeah. And to that point, how are your colleagues and how is your organization adapting ok to this sort of dispersed worker model?

ZE:                              Yeah. We’re all doing fairly well with it. You know, a lot of our show reps have made – tend to work on the road anyway so they’re familiar with it. Our festivals’ teams are familiar honestly with going into brand new places. But for the most part, we’ve all just kind of gotten into our own home office scenarios whether it be on your couch or in your actual office or whatever it may be.

But it’s been entertaining to kind of watch – we’ve got a survival guide that we got put together where it’s all of us recommending books and podcasts and movies and activities and work-outs. So it kind of keeps it fresh. You know, you’re not kind of going through your own checklist.

So we’re all looking out for each other. We’re all making sure that we’re doing ok. People check in fairly regularly. Is everybody doing fine? Has anybody gotten stir crazy? That type thing.

We’ve always said, at least for our festival team for sure, that it’s definitely a family because you spend so much time with these people. And it still resonates now that we’re checking in. Has anybody lost their mind yet? Is everybody good? That type of thing.

LP:                              So it helps in a business like the one we share in that we’re all three-quarters on the way to crazy anyway. So right, we’re probably better equipped to deal with this than your average office worker.

ZE:                              Right. Most of the time we’re just running a traveling circus if we’re being honest. We’re just happy to be part of the circus. So if we have to work from home for a little while, it’s just kind of like – I mean this is a really nice festival site for me. This is – that’s just what it is in my mind and as long as I approach it that way it will all go fine.

LP:                              Much better plumbing.

ZE:                              Much better plumbing, yes. I don’t have porta-potties or anything like that.  I have my own bedroom. It’s nice.

LP:                              Reasonably good catering I would imagine.

ZE:                              Right. Exactly. Yeah, at least I get to choose it for the most part.

LP:                              Is there anything in this new normal that you think stands a chance of making it through when things recover? In other words, has there been something like a positive that you would take, that you would like to think maybe leads to some new values?

An example I’ll give you is I had a friend of mine over the weekend say to me, “I haven’t had this many nights home in a row having dinner with my family in years.” A lot of us live on airplanes. We don’t see our kids as much as we like to or we pass by our spouses a couple times a week and we’re working toward that next long weekend when we can get away with them or whatever.

We all have those different anecdotes, sort of blurred lines between our personal and professional lives. Do you think that any of this – work from home or telecommuting or even the shifts in how our companies all interact with each other. Do you think there’s anything that can become part of a new model that might sustain beyond just this period?

ZE:                              Yeah, I think so. I mean I think the biggest thing you hope comes out of this is that people start to slide a little bit more into the work life balance mode.

I think one of the big things that I’ve seen, especially with my family at least, is that we all are very much more connected right now than maybe we had been in the past when we’d all been running our own little lives. So we’re constantly in contact. Hey, how’s everybody doing? Is everybody good.

But I also see that some of the workaholics in our company, myself included, area finding better ways to kind of channel that energy. Instead of checking my email 100 times a day, I’m reading a book.

So it’s little things like that. If you’re going to try and put some really good habit in, now is a perfect time to do that. You know, if you’re in one of those cities that’s been locked down for two weeks, I think two weeks is about how long they say it takes for you to build a routine.

What better time than now to get some sort of benefit out of being sequestered for this long? What better time to create a new habit that maybe you didn’t feel you had time for in the old normal, if you want to call it that.

LP:                              Yeah. That’s really – I really appreciate that insight. Do you have anything that you’re doing personally – you mentioned picking up a book instead of picking up the email?

But more sort of formal, ritualistically, is there anything that you have found that you need to do or that you want to do that sort of – I’ve talked to people who they make sure they go for the 45 minute walk when they used to take a lunch break. Or they’re going to yoga class or they’re taking an online fitness class. Do you any sort of survival tricks that you’ve felt the need to implement or that you’ve enjoyed implementing?

ZE:                              You know, I think it’s a little different if you’ve got – if you’re co-habitating with someone. You know, if I was by myself in my home – this may be different but – because I live with my wife, we’ve both kind of come to the determination that it’s good for us to be away from each other for a bit. To have our individual time because, you know, previously we were spending eight to 10 hours away because we were at work.

                                    So going from that, as your old normal to your new normal of you are right next to this person at every minute of every day, can be a little aggressive and a little abrasive when you first start it.

So we’ve both kind of come to terms with I’ll go watch a movie in the other room and she’ll go read a book in our bedroom. So we’ll kind of split off for a little bit so we can be ourselves for a moment. So you sequester yourself and your sequesterer.

But it’s been really helpful because there have been some moments when you work right next to someone that you’re used to having a little space on. Well this is just how I work.

I took a phone call the other day and I think I did eight laps around our island and she just watched me do the lap. I was like, “I’m sorry, this is just how I talk on t he phone. I have to stand up and walk around.”

So we haven’t completely annoyed each other but we’re trying to get in front of that beforehand.

LP:                              You’re not cannibals yet?

ZE:                              No, we’re not cannibals yet. No. We still have good food and good supplies so we haven’t resulted in that quite yet.

LP:                              That’s great. This has all been really helpful and I personally find it very inspirational to talk to people who are reflecting such positivity in the face of what’s a challenging situation. So thank you for that.

ZE:                              Yeah.

LP:                              I’m going to look forward to staying in touch with you over the next few weeks to see if you’re resilience goes the way I think it’s going to given the kind of person you are.

ZE:                              I mean I think my thought process behind the whole thing is that once you start going into the abyss, you never quite get a hold of it. So just try and stay – as long as you can stay surface level and not get too low, then you can save yourself. But once you jump, it’s all the way down.

LP:                              Yeah, I think that’s right. I think that’s right. Well thank you.

ZE:                              Yeah, thank you for the opportunity.  I appreciate it.

Zach EdwardsProfile Photo

Zach Edwards

Music & Entertainment Market Expert

Experienced event operations professional, with expertise on revenue-producing operations of all capacities, as well as security and emergency response in the sports, music, and entertainment industries.