SXSW Interview: Louis MessinaAustin Convention Center, Friday, March 14
"I feel like I'm playing to seats," quipped longtime concert kingpin Louis Messina at the start of Friday morning's sparsely attended interview with Austin writer Joe Nick Patoski. As co-founder of Pace Concerts, Messina brought big-time rock to Texas for more than two decades. He opened Houston's Summit in 1975 with the Who and attracted thousands of sunburn fetishists to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas for the Texxas Jam. After watching Pace get swallowed by SFX and, ultimately, Clear Channel, Messina now splits his time between promoting country superstars like George Strait and forging new business paths using old lessons. It wouldn't be the first time. In the 1980s, Pace pioneered the "summer shed" amphitheatre. "When I was doing the Texxas Jam," Messina recalled, "[Pace co-founder] Allen Becker and I were walking the grounds of the Cotton Bowl, and he said, 'Louis, unless we start owning the popcorn, peanuts, and beer, we're going to be dinosaurs.'" Another key epiphany in Messina's evolution came when he inadvertently referred to talent as "inventory" at a conference years ago. "Who's onstage is the driving factor," he says. "That's where Clear Channel dropped the ball." And don't assume summer festivals will continue to thrive. "Like everything else, they're going to fade out," Messina predicted. "Then it's back to clubs."