Each month we celebrate a local business or organization that supports 88Nine Radio Milwaukee. This month, we chat with Pabst Theater Group.
Hi, what is your name and title at Pabst Theater Group?
Gary Witt – President & CEO Pabst Theater Group
What is one song you can’t stop listening to and why?
There is a lot of interesting music coming from Chicagoans the last few years. It is all genre busting and might have a chance to drag jazz kicking and screaming into actually having a future. I really like Makaya McCraven’s last couple of albums, but it’s this Jeff Parker (ex-Tortoise guitarist) song, “Go Away,” that will not go away. And it features Makaya McCraven on drums. This song and the entire album are laced with jazz-funk, Afro-pop, R&B, droning electronica and early hip-hop. It is, as we are, a blend of everything.
What are you passionate about in regards to our community and what is Pabst Theater Group doing for the community?
Using our voice to make Milwaukee better. I’m not quite sure about how it happened, but somehow, the local concert promoters have a voice in Milwaukee. That’s what makes Milwaukee special: Move here. Work here. And… you can play a role in changing the city. Everything you do is putting fresh ink on the pages of our history. We are passionate about our now three-month-old effort called: “Pass the Mic.”
With “Pass the Mic,” our goal is to assist an African American non-profit (or possibly a for profit) group in Milwaukee exceed their existing grasp by connecting their messages via our network. Each group does a “take over” of our email database and our social media for an entire week, once per month. Our team assists and educates each group on their uses of marketing, gives the groups a chance to share info on what they are working on, the ability to possibly move some of our database to theirs and seek donors. Most importantly, we work together to maintain a long-term relationship with each group should they need marketing assistance in the future.
How did Pabst Theater Group get started and how can the community support your business?
My partner, Matt Beringer, and I have been promoting music in Milwaukee since August of 2002. First at The Pabst, and then adding The Riverside, Turner Hall Ballroom and The Back Room as well as outdoor and arena shows. Things have changed mightily in our city since 2002. In many ways it feels like our struggles and our successes are mirrored by those of our city. We have certainly been beneficiaries of our city’s growth and we have certainly been an accelerator to its growth. What was most critical for our ability to succeed in a business that had not existed at this level in the past was our focus on and our ability to develop our community. The Pabst Theater Group’s eMembers elevate us beyond just booking shows.
What are some highlights from 2020 and what’s in store for 2021?
Our business was one of the first to close due to COVID-19 on March 12th. We are likely to be the last industry to open once this is over. A highlight for 2020 for us was our response to COVID-19 and being there at the creation of NIVA (National Independent Venue Association). What started on Easter weekend with a few venues now has over 2,700 venues in all 50 states and we have the voice that we needed to be heard by our legislators in DC, via the assistance of Akin-Gump, the lobbying firm we were fortunate to hire.
We are now working on an effort to obtain funding for Wisconsin’s Independent Venues from our Governor. Did you know Wisconsin’s independent concert venues contribute a billion dollars a year to our state? We are asking Governor Evers to consider Wisconsin Live Entertainment Grants that other states like Montana (and over a dozen other markets have also committed to). All of the readers of this can assist in making this possible. Just go to our Change.org page. It will take just 20 seconds of your day and you just might help SAVE your city’s independent concert venues.
Why do you choose to support 88Nine?
From the very beginning, 88Nine has treated Milwaukee musicians differently than other cities. 88Nine plays Milwaukee music all day long. You can hear a Milwaukee artist right after Beyonce, Leon Bridges or Bright Eyes. This gives Milwaukee artists greater credibility and they are no longer just considered ‘local artists’ as they are in many other cities. Chicago, for example, plays Chicago artists on a show called Local Anesthetic on Sunday evenings, isolated from other national artists. And of course, the stories. Our city so desperately needs our stories to be told so that we can continue to come together and escape the separation, dislocation, isolation and desolation that was created for us by our past.
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