Matt Gerding admits he and Scott Leslie have had a few surprises since reopening the Majestic Theatre seven weeks ago. For one thing, the Madison market for live music isn't always predictable. When they began booking concerts at the 600-person-capacity theater, Gerding and Leslie thought local audiences would spring for pop acts that have done well on commercial radio. But that hasn't always been the case.
"We've noticed that a lot of our more college-friendly shows have done better," Gerding explains after cautioning that it's still early days for the Majestic. "Certain other genres haven't done as well. There are a lot of factors. It depends on what else is around in town and whether the Badgers are playing that weekend. But we have struggled on some of the pop shows and a little bit with the country shows."
Gerding also says that a lack of interest from outside promoters has meant that he and Leslie promote more shows in-house than they'd originally planned for.
Veterans of the Madison live-music business aren't surprised that the Majestic's co-owners have gotten an education since the theater's grand opening. Steve Sperling, manager of the Barrymore Theatre, notes that entertainment options have been growing in the city over the last few years. "There's just an incredible number of things to do," he says.
Even though the Barrymore has enjoyed steady business this year, Sperling says a show at the Wisconsin Union Theater or an arena-size spectacle like Cirque du Soleil's appearance at the Alliant Energy Center can have a heavy impact on smaller club and theater shows. He figures that, like their competitors, the Majestic's co-owners are learning that a full calendar of events at other venues means selling tickets in their own space will be that much harder.
Cathy Dethmers of the High Noon Saloon says she's felt some pressure from the Majestic's opening. Some acts that have played her 400-person-capacity club in the past have moved over to the Majestic on their current tours, but she hasn't tried to measure the effect the theater's schedule has had on her audience.
In any case, attendance at High Noon shows has been down this fall. "I think the saturation point gets hit every fall and spring in Madison, simply because there are so many touring acts coming through, and only so much money that music fans can spend on live shows," Dethmers says. "I can only assume that we hit that point a bit faster with another active midsize venue in the market."
Gerding thinks that even in a tight market for live music, the Majestic can coexist with rooms like the Barrymore and the High Noon.
"I don't think we're fighting over the same shows," he says. "We've definitely struck a happy medium. A lot of the tours we've brought to town wouldn't have come here if we'd not pursued them."