True Endeavors organizes concerts in Iowa City. The Orpheum's new owners have partnered with House of Blues Entertainment, part of the L.A.-based entertainment corporation Live Nation, for booking ventures. Now Majestic Live, the promotion and booking agency helmed by Majestic Theatre owners Matt Gerding and Scott Leslie, has officially expanded into another state. On July 9 the duo announced that they've purchased the Blue Note and Mojo's, two popular clubs in Gerding's hometown of Columbia, Missouri.
The business partners have collaborated with Twin Cities concert venue First Avenue for several events, including the Summer Set Music Festival in Somerset, Wisconsin, and showcases at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. But this is their first big purchase after buying the Majestic in 2007. Gerding and Leslie began negotiating with the Blue Note's longtime owner, Richard King, seven years ago, before setting their sites on Madison.
Gerding says he'll move to Columbia in August or September, but he plans to return to Madison "once or twice a month" for face time with Majestic staff -- and for concerts, of course. Leslie will continue to lead Majestic Live's talent-buying efforts, while Gerding will oversee marketing and promotion. The Majestic's eight other full-time staffers are responsible for other duties, such as ticketing and facilities management.
"The Majestic has a rock star staff. We really couldn't have done something like this without them," Gerding says.
Though Gerding can't bring the Majestic's staff to Missouri, he hopes to bring their some of their ideas to the Blue Note and Mojo's.
"I love Madison, and I love Columbia. I'm so proud of what we've done with the Majestic, and the two cities have a lot of similarities. They're both growing very rapidly, so there are lots of opportunities," Gerding says. "I think we'll be trying a lot of things at the Blue Note and Mojo's that have been successful at the Majestic, like ’80s vs. '90s dance parties, events like our Mad Med holiday soiree, and weddings. We're thinking about having movie nights, too. The Blue Note does Rocky Horror Picture Show in Columbia, so we're looking forward to being a part of that, especially since we have some experience doing Rocky Horror in Madison."
The similarities between the Blue Note and the Majestic don't end with a shared love of Dr. Frank-n-Furter. Gerding says he and Leslie are drawn to the Blue Note's vintage look and storied history.
"The Blue Note is an old, historic theater like the Majestic. It's also got a big arch and upper boxes. Scott and I are always attracted to that aesthetic, and we really want carry on the legacy of Richard King, who owned the venue for 34 years. He has built the live music scene in Columbia, and we want to pump some more life into it."
Of course, there are differences between the two cities that Gerding and Leslie will need to consider. Columbia is smaller than Madison, with a population of about 115,000. Mojo's, the Blue Note's sister venue, holds only 200 people whereas the Majestic holds about 600. But the most important difference may be the city's musical preferences.
"There's a much bigger market for country music in Columbia, so we'll have to expand our knowledge of that," Gerding says. "We'll use trial and error to see what kinds of events people there want to go to, then figure out the rest from there."
Gerding expects to be in Columbia for a year or so, to get the Blue Note and Mojo's "up and running" after the ownership transfer. He says he might return to Madison after that, though the decision depends on the future needs of the three venues and Majestic Live.
Though Gerding's eager to expand his business ventures, he's also looking forward to spending time with family in Columbia.
"My dad, my brother and my 91-year-old grandpa all live there, and I think they're going to be happy to have me back, at least for a little while," he says.