Monday, April 2, 2007
With a job description that runs the gamut from negotiating complex contracts to supplying Marilyn Manson with kitty litter, and a schedule that keeps her on the road for more than four months each year, Becker still finds time to bake carrot cakes for David Sedaris and cook midnight suppers for The Shins.
Street Level joins Becker on the Harbor Lights patio for a conversation about guns and music, the virtues of baked goods, and jerks like Weezer.
- Hear a complete podcast version of this interview (right-click and save)
- Hear bonus Weezer stories spun by Rob Pope (right-click and save)
lawrence.com: What is a rider?
Becker: The rider is what the bands request to be given to them at the show. We'll either cater food for them or give them money to go eat somewhere. And then you have to fill their dressing room requirements: the guy from Ministry needed a "Kiss The Cook" apron and six McDonald's Happy Meal toys; Marilyn Manson needed kitty litter and Depends. One of my favorite things on riders is "exotic mood modifiers." But the standard tends to be beer, water and towels, and you get some money to eat.
You're a woman doing business in a male-dominated field. How do you navigate?
Becker: I've always been one of the guys. But I'm also an outspoken feminist. I actively look for women if they're interested in the opportunity to work in this industry. I think the only way we're going to get women involved in this industry is if they prove they're equally as good as men in every job that they do. Look at publicists in this industry-the most powerful publicists tend to be women. Lot of female booking agents. I'll love the day in this society when women make the same amount of money as men. But you know what? I make carrot cakes for David Sedaris, and I make a lot of brownies for bands-there's still a female in me. If I don't have baked goods at a Death Cab for Cutie show, I'm in trouble.
How many people work for you now?
Becker: I have people in every city, and then a slew of kids that work for me in Lawrence, too-between five and 15 people across the Midwest. We're doing all right-we have a good holiday party every year. All the independent promoters in town-Downplay, Aphrodisiac, Hunt Industries, Mammoth and myself-we all pool our resources and have a big party at The Granada. We all get along and play fair together.
As a festival promoter yourself, what did you think of Wakarusa last year? Many people perceived rather heavy police interference.
Becker: I wasn't there and I wasn't the person who made the decisions. Something happened and action had to be taken. I don't necessarily think it was the right action, and I think it was pretty scary. How do you react to a situation to solve a problem? Did you find the best possible solution? But I think the festival has enough positive vibes going for it-it's still a hugely successful festival.
You have to have security when you're dealing with such large amounts of people.
Becker: Security is a very difficult job. I have a great deal of respect for people who know how to safely defuse a difficult situation. You try to find the kind of security that fits the show. Certain shows, where the crowd's going to be a little more aggressive, you might have security that knows how to deal with stage-divers or people in the pit. Those people are just dancing; they're not fighting each other. You make sure your security understands those things.
With security, tech people and all the expenses of putting on a show, is there any money left for you?
Becker: That's the joke. When people come to work for me, I think they think I'm Scrooge McDuck, rolling in a bank vault of cash. Most of us don't do this just for the money. I sincerely love what I do. Some days it's stressful, but I can wake up in the morning, turn my computer on and work at home. I can answer my phone while I'm gardening, or talk to agents while riding my bike on the levee-I think I'm pretty lucky.
I make enough to get by, and hopefully continue to invest in music.
Will we see another Bleeding Kansas Festival?
Becker: So much of the festival world nowadays is sponsorship. Sponsorship's a whole new game for this DIY promoter-girl who likes to garden while she does work. Sponsorship is a whole new level I'm learning about-there's a whole lot of money there. And having that money gives us the ability to get larger bands. I knew this question was going to be asked. :We may take a breather this year and give ourselves time to be properly organized next year.
Not this year?
Becker: Not this year, to give us some time for the following year.
Obviously, the idea of entertainment licenses [in downtown Lawrence] distresses you. Most people get their news about any incidents downtown through the local media. Do you think there's fair representation?
Becker: I pay for my paper-for my yearly subscription-and have for a very long time. But these continued headlines about all this bad information, all these bad things: I know people do it for ratings in television. But also 365 days a year there's a Pulse section that has something every single day about local music, live music, or some event going on. Why don't we ever talk about the fact that there are consistently great events in downtown Lawrence? There could be concerts at Liberty Hall, The Bottleneck, the Jackpot, The Granada-all in one day. All selling out, bringing 2500 people to our community-easily-and all spending money. I think there are so many good things happening that don't make it to the front page. Perhaps it doesn't give you the ratings or the readership that you think you need by trying to highlight a culturally touchy situation: human beings and guns. But we have a concealed weapons law in the state of Kansas now. Mike Amyx, our mayor, tried to change that law by having very strict gun penalties in the city-but, because of the State, we can't do that. Why keep penalizing music and entertainment? Why can't we have more police? I'd love to have more police, and to have the police chief teach us how to protect ourselves and keep the people safe.
But when does it come down to personal responsibility?
Becker: Why does a girl who wears flip-flops to a concert, who chooses to stage dive and hurts her toe-why do I have to be held accountable for it? :Because it's alcohol-related or entertainment-related, we [promoters] are somehow held accountable for all of that.
Give us a funny band story.
Becker: There's the Weezer story. But it's a 20-minute story of why two of the women working for me stopped working for me after Weezer, because they were so difficult. Ask the Get Up Kids about Weezer; ask the Pope brothers about Weezer. (Listen to Rob Pope tell some Weezer stories.)