Concert kryptonite

Square Peg’s Dan Steinberg opts for sense over sexy.
  • Square Peg’s Dan Steinberg opts for sense over sexy.

Why have venues such as USD’s Jenny Craig Pavilion and UCSD’s RIMAC become concert kryptonite while others, such as Spreckels Theatre and Oceanside’s Pier Plaza Amphitheater, have moved up as in-demand concert spots?

Weight-loss mogul Jenny Craig bequeathed funds to build a 4500-capacity sports-and-concert facility on the campus of USD. Since opening in 2000, it has hosted concerts by O.A.R., the Roots, Common, and the Ataris. But the concerts stopped coming to Jenny Craig Pavilion after the FM 94/9–sponsored My Morning Jacket show in 2011.

Meanwhile, RIMAC, UCSD’s 4700-capacity multipurpose facility, has hosted headliners such as Beck, the Strokes, the Pixies, the Black Keys, the Shins, Prince, and Rise Against.

RIMAC’s concert business has also dried up. The October 10 Phoenix show is the only RIMAC music event scheduled this year. National concert promoter Nederlander has terminated its three-year agreement to bring concert headliners to RIMAC.

FM 94/9 used RIMAC and Jenny Craig Pavilion for many of its self-produced shows since 2001 but has switched to another venue, Oceanside’s seaside amphitheater. The station booked two shows there this year, including a seven-band show headlined by Cage the Elephant September 21.

RIMAC and Jenny Craig Pavilion have their challenges. Both are considered to be comparatively expensive venues, according to promoters contacted for this article. Plus, alcohol cannot not be served when students are attending school.

“We know there are difficulties presenting events [at UCSD] when school is in session,” says Marty Wollesen, director of UCSD’s University Events Office.

Plus, both RIMAC and Jenny Craig Pavilion are out of the loop of the venues used by the two major concert companies that have exclusive arrangements in San Diego. Live Nation owns or controls Sleep Train Amphitheatre, the House of Blues nightclub, and SDSU’s Open Air Theatre and Viejas (formerly Cox) Arena. AEG controls the Sports Arena as well as Humphreys and Del Mar Thoroughbred’s concert series. Both AEG and Live Nation contract with major national tours, and both have major financial commitments to put shows in their respective venues.

But there are a few remaining independent venues that are not part of the AEG or Live Nation camps, including the downtown Spreckels and Balboa theaters, both of which have a capacity of about 1400. Those two venues are increasingly being used by Seattle-based Square Peg Concerts, which books concerts throughout the U.S. Square Peg is using Spreckels for an upcoming show by comic John Oliver and the Balboa for folk traditionalists the Irish Rovers and rock guitarist Joe Satriani.

Square Peg’s Dan Steinberg says the key to competing against the well-entrenched big dogs is by investing in artists that make sense versus acts that may be sexier.

“I come from the land of punk rock, just like everyone else. Those acts are great fun, but our acts are part of what works on a national scheme.” He says his company veers toward the NPR crowd. Steinberg says promoters who are in it just to produce the big shows will not succeed.

“My job is to make money. Other people are all about trying to promote their own Aerosmith show. We want to find our own niche.” Other past Square Peg San Diego shows include Gillian Welch, Arlo Guthrie, Manhattan Transfer, and Merle Haggard. “We’ve never had a losing quarter.”

Joe Satriani appears August 29 at Spreckels Theatre.

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