Forty-year-old Frank Productions has a long history in Madison promoting concerts at the Coliseum and, more recently, the Kohl Center. At one time or another, the family-owned company has booked dates around the country ' and sometimes entire tours ' for everyone from Johnny Cash to Metallica to Bruce Springsteen to Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.
But in the past two years, Larry and Fred Frank (sons of founder Herb Frank) have begun bringing rock, pop, R&B and even squeal-inducing teeny-bopper acts to modest venues like the Majestic Theater and the tiny CafÃ Montmartre. Cult country favorite Junior Brown (Oct. 7) and Black Sabbath-inflected blues-rock duo the Black Keys (Nov. 27) are two of more than a dozen artists they've booked into the Majestic for the fall.
Why the new interest in their hometown? Fred Frank cites the big changes in touring. 'If you look at what's going on in our industry, large and small, it's all about intimacy ' how close you can get to the act,' he explains. 'The bigger act in a smaller room is a successful formula right now. Nobody wants to be at a 25,000-seat outdoor amphitheater on the back lawn watching video screens.'
'Or even at an arena,' adds Larry Frank.
The Franks have relied on Michigan-transplant Dave Maynard, formerly of Belkin Productions and entertainment giant Clear Channel, to put their small-is-beautiful strategy in place. He joined the company three years ago after tiring of the corporate approach to concert promotion. Maynard likes the idea of dealing with the kinds of young, upcoming acts he'd worked with earlier in his career.
'I think that it's an exciting time in a band's life when they're starting out and they haven't been jaded yet and everything's still fresh and new,' he says, his enthusiasm obvious even through the technological attenuation of a four-way conference call. 'It's all about the music!'
There is a business angle, too. Larry Frank notes that if Frank Productions establishes a good relationship with new acts early in their careers, it can pay off later in booking shows for bigger theaters and arenas.
Of course, other promoters have been dealing with clubs and small theaters for years. Might it now be a case of too many players wanting a piece of the same Madison pie? The Frank brothers and Maynard don't think so. 'There definitely is competition,' Maynard explains. 'But the market is growing, too, and the dates are expanding in the market. I think there's room for everyone. Our goal isn't to put anyone out of business.'
Tag Evers , who's promoted club and theater shows in Madison for many years, agrees that there's room in the market for more players: 'Competition is a good thing ' keeps everybody on their toes.'
That said, Maynard and the Frank brothers admit that the company had some frosty encounters. Some venues that had worked regularly with other promoters 'weren't excited about seeing us come in,' says Maynard.
'But we tended to change their mind once they started working with us,' he adds. 'We're fair and honest. We come in, and we're not there to beat them up. With the artists, we're there to help them, to be fair with them and make sure the show goes well.'
One favored Frank venue is the Club Majestic (known as the Majestic Theater for live concerts). 'Everyone who we've brought there has fallen love with it,' says Larry Frank, adding that the comfortable gap between the city's small clubs and larger theaters.
Unfortunately, after a recent spate of violent incidents inside and outside the club during hip-hop-oriented DJ nights, the Madison Police Department has imposed a new security plan that limits capacity to 200.
Noting that their shows have experienced none of these problems, Larry Frank says, 'It would be a shame if we're restricted to the 200 seats for live music. Probably 90% of what we've put in there would not be able to play then.' And the situation there could change even more, as the Majestic is currently for sale.
If the Majestic does become untenable as a venue, the Franks won't be starved for action. They have new shows booked for the Orpheum and the Coliseum. And they still handle tours for major artists like the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Still, Fred Frank says that the smaller local shows help round out Frank Productions' business. 'It's all about introducing new music to people in Madison, young and old,' he explains. ' I know that sounds corny, but every act came from this level.'