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Novato, California and Other points West, or What does a Promoter Do When a Show is Running Down Hill.

My wife and I have done tons of shows in the western US for over 20 years. We've been through many of the ebbs and flows that any of “real road artists” do including:

  • Both of us denying that we booked this room (Los Angeles, California)

  • Taking the short cut around the city (kind of like turning south at Federal Way, Washington and driving for 1 ½ hours to Seattle and seeing the sign that says, Welcome to Oregon. Wait, wasn't Seattle 20 minutes to the north?

  • Dealing with hurricane force winds, snow, and 90 degree weather – in the same city. Welcome to Spokane, Washington.

  • Flat tires on the trailer in front of the prison, by the sign that says: “Absolutely No Stopping” and “Don't Pick Up Hitch Hikers” - (Somewhere on the highway between Spokane, Washington and Tri-Cities, Washington).

  • Stuck on Anderson grade on I-5 in northern California when a semi starts sliding backwards toward the van on the icy roads.

  • Promoters that do show up where they took our money and claimed to have a show - (Washougal, Washington)

  • Shows that just can't get 500 artists to that sign up with ZAPP – Art Under the Elms in Lewiston, Idaho. This is an interesting one because this show can support about 100 vendors due to the local and tourist population. Unfortunately, going down this route has caused a lot of good artists to now bypass this event.

 

The possibilities are endless of the great things that make up our lives that puts us one step above used car salesmen, lawyers, and carnival workers. However, I just received an application packet from a California promoter that has come up with a new inventive way of salvaging a show that's going down hill – double the booth fee!

 

Eckerstrom Productions, San Rafael, California, promotes six shows in California. The Walnut Creek and Lafayette shows are pretty good, and the others...well let's go on. We've done the those two shows and Novato for a number of years. Like I said, Walnut Creek and Lafayette always made money, and Novato was hit and miss, but usually in the 2K range.

 

Novato is a nice community north of San Francisco and had been going through a resurgence prior to the recession. The show is on the other side of town and draws an interesting mixture of people from both the haves and have-nots. One issue the show has is that people can buy beverages from the corner market and drink them from a nondescript paper bag legally on the street. As you can imagine this lends to an interesting atmosphere.

 

Over the past few years the shows has drawn less and less people. In the past, these shows were around 180-200 plus a 10% commission (it's very common for California shows to be a set fee plus 10%), and it works for everyone because the risk is shared between artist and promoter. For the past two years most folks I know were paying less and less commissions because the crowds and sales were dropping incrementally. Last year was horrendous. This was my worst performing show, other than in Florida, and it was the same with many of my friends. Several people told me that they were embarresed by what they were paying.

 

This year, Eckerstom has developed a way to solve that pain. They raised the booth fee at this show to a $375 flat fee, and their San Anselmo show to a $395 flat fee. Now I don't have any issues with paying this for a booth, we pay a lot more at some shows, but I want a reasonable chance to make money. I can't speak to San Anselmo as I've never done it, but there isn't a chance that Novato is worth this – it would be a real challenge to make expenses there. This show was already on it's way to be a fine buy-n-sell show, and I believe that this move should solidify it as such.

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 Pretty exspensive for a flea market.

Hey, thanks for the shout out from Spokane, WA! ;0) As a pretty much lifetime resident I can vouch that Spokane is all you say it is, and yes, I love those DO NOT PICK UP HITCHHIKERS signs on the way south. I so envy you the well-timed flat tire.

I don't know if you have done Artfest here lately, but they made a similar change, from a $50 booth fee/20% commission to a $400 booth fee. Since the commission was higher, and since the show is not completely filled with crap, this arrangement actually works better most years.

Looks as though you have a few shows to cross off your list. Unfortunately that seems to be happening more and more. This summer at a "good" show with bad sales, I was telling another artist that I feel like some wild creature whose habitat is disappearing. Maybe those northern CA shows are trying to model themselves after their neighbor Sausalito, whose prices keep rocketing into the stratosphere as their quality and rankings slip toward the abyss.

Good luck out there!

We've done Artfest, the Custer shows, A Taste of the Couer d'Alenes, and that one day Spokane Community College Mothers's Day Weekend show.  We quit doing the Custer Shows several years back because of the granny craft, but Artfest and Couer d'Alene were always good.

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