Belly Up and Music Box joining forces for booking & marketing

When The Music Box opened last fall the downtown San DIego site that previously housed Anthology, the multi-million-dollar venue was directly competing with the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach for performers and audiences. Now, 13, months later, the two live music clubs are joining forces in a joint marketing and talent-booking partnership that officially begins Jan. 1.

As a result, the number of live performances at The Music Box should increase, giving area music fans a greater array of shows and top acts from which to choose.

“It broadens the scope of the music we’re able to present, because the two venues are very different,” said Chris Goldsmith, the Belly Up’s longtime music consultant and newly named president of Belly Up Entertainment.

“There has been some overlap for sure,” continued Goldsmith, who has produced Grammy Award-winning albums by Ben Harper, the Blind Boys of Alabama and Charlie Muselwhite. “But there are a lot of musical acts we haven’t been able to present at the Belly Up — such as EDM and certain kinds of hip-hop and R&B — that do better at The Music Box.”

The Belly Up has a capacity of 600, while The Music Box — which has three floors and covers 13,000 square feet — can accommodate 705 people per show. The Belly Up has a national reputation, as befits a club that in the past two years alone has hosted performances by the Rolling Stones, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jimmy Buffett, Lady Gaga and part-time Del Mar resident Burt Bacharach. 

The Music Box occupies the former site of Anthology, the plush music venue that opened in 2007 and then closed abruptly at the end of 2012. Anthology, which was in foreclosure, sat vacant until last year, after being acquired “for more than $1.5 million” by the San Diego company 1337 India Street LLC.    

Damon Barone, a managing partner of The Music Box, regards the partnership with the Belly Up as a win-win.

“Over the past few months, we have jointly booked a number of shows with them, and that progressed to a conversation,” Barone said.

“With the Belly Up’s decades of booking shows here in San Diego, they have a lot of access to talent. The past year was a building period for us. And while we met our expectations with The Music Box over the past year, we realized we could go even farther by teaming up with the Belly Up on marketing and booking.”

The multiyear deal between the two venues will see the Belly Up and The Music Box share in revenues.

“We have no ownership stake in The Music Box,” the Belly Up’s Goldsmith noted. “But we have a responsibility to The Music Box to produce a certain number of shows and (bring in) a certain amount of revenue every month.

“We’re putting our skin in the game by saying that we know there’s enough of a market in San Diego to sustain the club, and we’re wiling to commit to that business plan. So we’re taking the risk of booking artists, paying artist fees, and doing the marketing. Both of us will benefit.”

Barone hopes to see The Music Box present between 25 and 30 shows a month. The venue currently has 15 evenings of music confirmed for November and 11 more between tonight and Oct. 31, including an Oct. 26 date by the South African-bred rock band Kongos that was booked by the Belly Up.. 

“We’re really excited to move forward with this venture and get a lot of great acts,” Barone said. “I’d like to see us be booked every day, every week and month. That would put us on a par with the Belly Up”

The potential for growth is undeniable, said Tim Mays, San Diego’s longest established independent concert promoter. He has presented concerts at the Belly Up, The Music Box and nearly every other notable venue in the region. 

“There will definitely be more shows in the marketplace here,” said Mays, a co-owner of The Casbah, San Diego’s oldest indie-rock club. 

“The Music Box is a good place to see a show, so I think the partnership with the Belly Up will help put it on the map for a wider variety of shows. Plus, The Music Box is a little bigger than the Belly Up and it offers the option of doing 18-and-up shows, which is a selling point for a lot of bands.”

The new partnership will not see any cuts to Music Box’s staff, which numbers around 50, Barone said.

General manager Joe Rinaldi, who had also been booking shows at The Music Box and overseeing the venue’s marketing will continue in his management position.

“Joe has been an invaluable resource with a real depth of experience,” Goldsmith noted. “The fact he was running the booking, marketing and management, as a one-man show, for over a year is a testament to his abilities”

The Belly Up has two talent buyers who work with Goldsmith, Chad Waldorf and Pete McDevitt.  Will a new talent buyer be brought on board to help with The Music Box?

“We feel that, between the three of us and Joe, we’ll have enough man power to book without hiring another talent buyer,” Goldsmith said. “But we’ll remain open to all possibilities. Because, beyond just the club, there’s other stuff The Music Box ownership brings to the table, like the ability to do four outdoor shows a year on the street in front of the club.”

Goldsmith and Barone envision certain acts performing one night at the Belly Up and the next at The Music Box, or vice versa. For the most part, though, the two venues will continue to maintain their separate identities, the better to maximize their potential for drawing different audiences.

“We didn’t open The Music Box with a specific type of music or age group in mind, “ Barone said.

“But compared to what Anthology targeted, we are skewing quite a bit younger. Out best shows and audiences tend to be in the 25 to 35 age range. We want to have people to experience something they will, we hope, want to experience more of in the future.”

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