Left to right: Crystal Longo, Kae Burke, Lucas Sacks (photo illustration by Johansen Peralta)
Jun 21, 2022
‘Popping back up’: The state of Brooklyn’s indie live music and events scene
A candid conversation with the leadership at Brooklyn Bowl, Kings Theatre and House of Yes about nightlife trends in 2022
As we adjust to a new normal-ish world in which the coronavirus is mostly manageable but still very much with us (and will likely remain, spinning off occasional new variants) … nightlife is back. Mostly.
“Things are popping back up and out,” House of Yes co-founder and creative director Kae Burke told Brooklyn Magazine. But people are … flakier than before.
“People are buying last minute,” she added. “I’m the same way now because I don’t know if the show’s going to get canceled. I don’t know if the DJ is going to get Covid. I don’t think there’s a refund policy. Or maybe I just change my mind because my friend is like, “Yo, I’ve got this crazy rooftop party.’ Maybe I want to go to that instead.”
Burke was speaking on a panel about the current state of live shows and events at last week’s Brooklyn Magazine Festival. Billed as “Brooklyn Magazine Off the Page and on the Stage,” these were a series of fireside chats with leaders, innovators and creators in all aspects of Brooklyn life.
In a candid conversation, Burke joined me on stage with Lucas Sacks, the talent buyer at Brooklyn Bowl, and Kings Theatre’s general manager Crystal Longo. Together, the three represent some of the more influential independent venues in the borough.
We discussed what the pandemic has done to their industry at large — from ticket sales to the booking of guests to connecting with the neighborhoods where they’re based. And we talked about how concert-going behavior has changed, how each venue has had to pivot, and what new habits they believe will endure.
This episode of “Brooklyn Magazine: The Podcast” is a recording of that conversation. Check it out as they pull back the curtain to share about what goes on backstage and behind the scenes in 2022.
General manager, Kings Theatre
In the first post-vaccine year, Longo reports that attendance rates had significantly dropped, even after people had purchased tickets, but are now back on the upswing (even if they’re not at 100 percent of pre-pandemic rates).
“What we were seeing originally was a 30 percent drop-off with attendance. So, people would buy the tickets, then on show day we’d see a 30 percent drop off,” she said. “Now we’re probably at a 15 to 20 percent drop off still for shows. And it really depends on the demographic for each show. A lot of our Baby Boomer shows are not selling when originally they’ve been in this market before and they’ve sold out immediately.”
This has lead to an increased burden on the marketing teams, she said, especially as every venue has come back online and there is a saturation of live events for patrons to choose from.
There is at least one silver lining, though: Once people are inside the theater, they are ready to party.
“One good thing that came out of this time is that people are drinking like they’ve never drank before. It’s like after Prohibition right now,” she said. “Our bars are crushing.”
One of Longo’s priorities at Kings Theatre is productive engagement with the Flatbush community where the 93-year-old theater is based.
“Out of the pandemic, the most important thing is strength in numbers and that means all of us supporting businesses that are around us and remembering that Brooklyn was founded on the people who have been here for generations,” she said. “it’s our job to make sure those businesses stay intact.”
Talent buyer, Brooklyn Bowl
Sacks echoed Longo’s observations about marketing challenges and drop-off rates in attendance. He cited a show that had been booked the day the lockdown went into effect and was finally rescheduled just recently. Concertgoers who had been sitting on their tickets for the whole time were slow to show up.
“We just had Dead Kennedys perform, and the show was originally scheduled for March 15 of 2020,” he said. “[Two-and-a-half years later] we were able to do almost 900 tickets but still had 400 outstanding no-shows from ticket holders.”
Sacks believes that sort of unpredictability is just a new reality for the live concert space, having learned from the various variants last winter, “riding the waves of Delta and out of Delta. Into Omicron, out of Omicron.”
One upside for Brooklyn Bowl, he added, was learning a new skill set. “We significantly increased our live streaming during Covid, being able to bring bands in and utilize our 360 degree HD cameras,” he said. “We already had our own server and marketing platform and our own video team that were able to host these webcasts. We were able to do free; we were able to do paid; we were able to do charitable donation. So we were able to support different causes, raise money for things as well as just support the bands.”
Co-founder and creative director, House of Yes
Burke points out that one cause of the drop-off rates in attendance is likely due to a lot more competition. There is more nightlife to choose from than there has been for two years.
“Everyone’s ready to express and dance and connect and go out and do things and get off their computers and phones. It’s awesome,” she said. “The flip side to that is there’s actually a lot of saturation. A lot of people are providing events … So it’s not that there’s a line down the block. It’s a little line.”
She also echoed Sacks’ sentiment that a certain amount of volatility will remain in their space, especially as the colder months come creeping back. She also has a bit of advice for other bookers out there.
“Everyone is going to get really scared in winter. That’s just my prediction as a nightlife scientist,” she said. “Sometime in December people are like, ‘well I don’t want to get sick before Christmas, so I’m just going to stay home.’ So, I’m like, ‘hmm, maybe don’t book your biggest DJ on December 10’.”
As for House of Yes’ new pivot: The ultra urban experiential event company has recently purchased 120 acres of land in Sullivan County, “an old dilapidated busted, busted summer camp,” that they’re working on converting into a woodsy events space about two hours upstate from their Bushwick home base. Look for that, she said, some time in the next couple years.
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