Dinner for the Vultures

A promoter's lesson on how not to win friends and influence people.

Howard Moore had a dream. He wanted to be a big-time promoter like Bill Graham, celebrating the Bay Area music scene with concerts and festivals while making a killing. Last December, the 23-year-old formed his own LLC, Howard Moore Entertainment. Everything looked rosy — until the music biz neophyte made the mistake of actually putting on a show, embarking on a fiasco of Fargo-esque proportions.

His intentions were apparently honorable: Make a bunch of money for his fledgling company while gathering the best NorCal bands, BMXers, and skaters at an action sports-and-music jamboree in a Treasure Island hangar. He called the August 3 event Vulture’s Row, and had ten up-and-coming bands from the East Bay and beyond competing for a $10,000 prize. As headliners, he brought in One Man Army, Skinlab, Death Angel, and Machine Head. Live105, Zero magazine, metal Web site Powerslave.com, and Santa Cruz Skateboards all signed on as sponsors.

For the audience at least, the show was a hit, especially for those who easily snuck past the lax security through the back, sides, and even the front door. Everyone showed up to play, and the bands got a great response from the crowd of more than two thousand people.

But behind the scenes it was a different story. Set times were screwy; there were no loaders to carry the heavy equipment; there was minimal food and water. It was as if the folks putting on the show had zero experience in orchestrating a concert of that size. Go figure.

But the serious problems started after the show, when the bands on the bill tried to cash their checks. Nearly all of the checks bounced or came back with a stop-payment. And contest winner Thought Crime discovered there was a stop-payment on its $10,000 prize. Uh-oh.

It wasn’t just the bands that got screwed: The show’s publicist, stage manager, sound company, and the medics hired for the event either never got paid or received only partial payment. And nobody knew where the promoter went. Howard Moore had apparently disappeared.

“I feel that the whole thing started out as a noble adventure,” says Joseph Houston, Machine Head’s manager. “We realized that the industry is kind of a David and Goliath-type thing, so to have someone come in and try and do something like this is something we’re all kind of rooting for.” But it became apparent early on that Moore really didn’t know what he was doing, and Houston and a lot of other bands began to use their experience and connections to help make the show work. The musicians worked really hard to promote the show. Billy Deformed, a member of competing band No Gun Go, spent two weeks gathering sponsors and creating street teams to flyer for the big event. Other bandmembers worked on assembling a panel of judges — one that Moore had promised would be full of label A&R guys, but ended up including just one industry type from Warner Bros., along with a guy from the mailroom at Universal, and Ace from the cable access show Reality Check.

The fact is, though, most of the bands had to hustle to promote the show, since part of the stipulation for being in the contest was that your band had to sell two hundred tickets — the dreaded concept known as “pay to play.” Basically, each band had to turn over $3,000 to be eligible to compete. As it turned out, very few of the bands actually sold that many tickets. Some bands, including the Sick and the Angry Amputees, refused to pay Moore anything. Others, like the East Bay’s EMB, ended up paying the massive fee, although they sold few tickets. “We had to make up the difference out of pocket,” says guitarist Paul MacClachan. “We thought we had a pretty good chance of winning and we were afraid that if we did win and we hadn’t paid him the money he’d say, ‘Well, you guys didn’t follow through on the contract.’ We signed the contract that we would honor the agreement, so we did.” Unfortunately for EMB, those acts that didn’t cough up the dough were still allowed to play; otherwise there wouldn’t have been enough bands to compete.

The musicians wanted answers, but Moore wasn’t returning phone calls or e-mails. Machine Head, Skinlab, and Death Angel were owed thousands. Initially, Houston and Machine Head were willing to give Moore some time. “We do a lot of touring, so it wasn’t killing us,” he says. “In fact, I really have to say, in my heart, I really genuinely felt that he was going to pay the band that won the competition. I genuinely felt that, OK, he’s got to pay them ten grand, so he’s shy some money, he’ll make good on it later. But then when I found out these guys didn’t get paid the ten grand, that probably bothered me and the Machine Head guys more than anything else.”

If Houston and company are being gracious, that’s not to say that there aren’t some other bands that have a whup-ass APB out on Moore. Yes, the dude is in deep, deep doodie.

Mysteriously enough, after he heard three weeks later that the press was on his trail, he began to return phone calls to some of the people, telling them that after the event he had to go camping to clear his head.

He also phoned Planet Clair to explain his side of the story. “I just … I just got in way over my head,” he says, his voice tinged with regret. Originally, Moore contends, he wanted to just have the battle of the bands, but then people pressured him into having bigger acts on the bill.

This doesn’t sit quite right, especially since several bands claim that they only joined the bill because he told them that Green Day, Rancid, or Social Distortion was going to be headlining. To be fair, Moore really did seem to try and get those bands, even showing up at the doorstep of a very pissed off Rancid frontman Lars Fredericksen. “It was a snowball effect, everything got bigger and bigger. Basically, what it comes down to was the show was just a huge, huge financial loss. I mean, I lost almost $60,000,” says Moore.

For the record, others claim Moore told them he’d lost $45,000. But never mind the amount; no band wants to hear a promoter crying poormouth, especially when he’s driving a brand-new black Mercedes. “Oh, I see …” Moore says incredulously when confronted with this theory. “‘He drives this Mercedes, so why doesn’t he have the money?’ Well, the company’s new and loses $60,000; what’s a leased Mercedes going to have to do with it?”

Moore doesn’t appear to be a scam artist. He truly thought the show could work, and even offered to pay many of the headliners way more than he should have. One Man Army is the only band that had its promised amount — $3,000 — paid in full. “As a joke, I put tube socks on the rider,” says singer Jack Dalrymple. “Nobody’s ever gonna give me tube socks! But there was a pair there.”

“I’m real good at reading people,” says Houston. “I did not get a read from this guy that he was some shady character that was going to screw everybody. Basically, I think he tried to set up an event of pretty big magnitude, even for someone who’s been in the business for a while, and I think he definitely bit off more than he could chew. But that’s not really anybody’s fault but his own. And it’s not proper business, even remotely, to leave everybody hanging like that.”

Moore, for his part, seems unwilling to accept his share of the blame. His only sin, he says, was letting the show get too big. After learning that his hired publicist, who hasn’t been paid, released a press statement about the whole thing, Moore lamented to Clair: “That’s shitty — my own publicist!”

It’s understandable that the promoter would be feeling his world caving in on him, but Moore needs to step up to the plate, take responsibility, and figure out how to start paying everyone back. For that, he says, he has a plan: He’ll put on another show.

“If I could do another show tomorrow,” he says, “and let all the money go straight to the bands, I would definitely do that. That’s what I’m going to try and do.”

Oh God, no. Nooo!

“So you are saying don’t do shows anymore?” he asks, dumbfounded.


“Truthfully?” he asks. “I shouldn’t do any shows anymore? Like no more shows? Man, that’s shitty. Because, I’m like 23 years old. I’m not like some old guy.”

That, my inexperienced urchin, is precisely the problem.

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