DOC NYC 2018: The Show’s The Thing

Janis and Tina at Madison Square Garden, November 27, 1969 in The Show's The Thing. Photograph by Amalie R. Rothschild.

The Show’s The Thing: The Legendary Promoters of Rock pays tribute to the great concert promoters who helped pave the way for new territory in rock and roll music.

What we know today as the rock concert is not what it was during the 1950s and 1960s.  Things more or less started to change in the 1960s.  This was when Bill Graham and Frank Barsalona entered the picture.  Frank Barsalona, who later started Premiere Talent Agency in New York, was the guy who brought the British Invasion to the US.  Bill Graham was out in San Francisco where he was just starting to become innovative in the promotion and presentation of live music.  Put it this way: there would be no light shows, stadium concerts, etc. without Bill’s innovations.

When it came to the British Invasion or whoever it was, Frank was the guy who picked the promoters for the acts.  These were people who owned a monopoly on their territory.  Remember these names: Ron Delsener in NYC, The Belkin Brothers in Cleveland, Arny Granat in Chicago, Don Law in Boston and Larry Magid in Philly.  If you wanted to see someone play St. Louis, chances are that Irv Zuckerman would promote it.  You might not know them but these were the people who made the shows take place.  These were the rock promoters who predated what you know now as Live Nation.  If you’re unfamiliar with their stories, The Show’s The Thing has you covered quite well!

This documentary isn’t just limited to the promoters.  There’s artists such as Carlos Santana, Jon Bon Jovi, and Bob Geldof.  Geldof is the musican who came up with the idea for Live Aid.  It took Bill Graham, Larry Magid, and Harvey Goldsmith to make it happen.  We get some fascinating insight into how things came into shape but the personality of Bill Graham really falls into place.  Honestly, I never even heard of the guy before watching this documentary and this has me wanting to learn more!

It was the promoters who helped these rock bands evolve.  The bands grew to big for clubs so they turned to the arenas.  Arenas soon became to small so stadiums were the next level in the evolution for rock music.  The film isn’t without the clips of these performances, including David Bowie performing “Heroes” in the massive show that was Live Aid!

Jon Bon Jovi is among the few musicians who appear in an on-camera interview to discuss his career and rock promoters.  One can see in the interview just how much he appreciates the older era in live music.

“That’s one thing that I miss–is the contact with the great characters who in each market knew your value, knew what it took to sell a ticket, were with you when you were up and you could say I want and were with you when you were down and you could say I need, “says Jon Bon Jovi.  “The promoters were your friends.  The ones that are my friends today–nine out of ten–were there for the roller coaster ride.”

The New Jersey native started out in rock music in 1975 so he’s an authority in how concert promotion has changed.  He was there when the local guys were still the big names controlling each market.  He was there when SFX Entertainment started to take over.

When it comes to rock concerts, things have changed to say the least.  The big names aren’t really in the game any more.  This is because SFX Entertainment entered the picture back in 1995.  Clear Channel acquired SFX in 2000 for a few billion.  Clear Channel Entertainment would be spun off in 2005, acquiring the name as it is known today: Live Nation.  Essentially, all the regional companies were consolidated into one large company.  The rest as they say is history!

Bill Graham and Frank Barsalona might no longer be with us but their legacy lives on.  These two single-handedly brought in a new era.  Sadly, Bill Graham lost his life in a helicopter crash in October 1991.  He led a fascinating life that started with escaping the Nazis and landing in the Bronx in 1939.  As for Frank Barsalona, he died in 2012 at the age of 74.  If you want to discuss his legacy, it’s very telling that he is the only agent to enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a non-performer.

Aided by a rocking soundtrack and fascinating insight, rock music fans should certainly appreciate The Show’s The Thing: The Legendary Promoters of Rock.

DIRECTORS:  Molly Bernstein and Philip Dolin
FEATURING:  June Barsalona, Nicole Barsalona, Ron Delsener, Arny Granat, Don Law, Larry Magid, Danny Scher, Irv Zuckerman, Mike Belkin, Jules Belkin, Fran Belkin, Harvey Goldsmith, Bob Geldof, Peter Rudge, Jonny Podell, Tom Ross, Sheldon Schultz, Winston Simone, Stephen Starr, Joshua White, Jon Bon Jovi, Carlos Santana

The Show’s The Thing held its world premiere during DOC NYC 2018.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.