Sarah Staub’s day job as a real estate agent finds her reviewing and executing contracts on the regular. As the owner of Harrisburg-based Greenbelt Events – which serves as the exclusive talent buyer for The Abbey Bar at Appalachian Brewing Co. – Staub finds herself in similar territory, negotiating with booking agents and contracting bands to play The Abby Bar and more. For years, Staub worked alongside “Jersey” Mike Van Jura coordinating music at ABC and a handful of other regional festivals and events. But since Jersey Mike’s tragic passing in 2012, she has carried the mantle for Greenbelt Events in bringing a wide variety of musical talent to the Capital region.
You sell real estate for a living, right?
I sell for Century 21 Realty Services in Camp Hill. Both jobs actually have a lot of similarities when it comes to paperwork. Writing up band offers, negotiating the guarantee, and signing contracts have a lot of the same contractual procedures and marketing techniques that apply when buying or selling a house. Both jobs allow me to create my own schedule to some extent, so I can squeeze in a mid-week camping or kayaking trip here and there. My weekends are primarily spent at The Abbey Bar, or at music festivals during the summertime.
How long have you been booking shows?
How did you get your start?
I started booking shows when I was in college at Penn State. I really loved being around music and anything music industry-related (and I really didn’t want a job while in State College), so I would throw a few shows and help individual bands do their bookings for a small fee. It was enough for some extra spending money, and was great practice and helped me get my foot in the door and grow my industry connections and contacts.
What have been some highlights in that time?
A few of my personal favorites include The Wood Brothers, Rusted Root, Toubab Krewe, March Fourth Marching Band, MMW, Keller Williams, Cabinet, The Lumineers and partnering with several other large promoters on an Avett Brothers show – just to name a few. Back in the day, I used to have a lot of my favorite bands crash at my house after a show and was able to have some really fun jam sessions with them. But my neighbors were always curious as to what I was up to when they would see large tour buses parked on the street in front of my house.
Also, being able to help the local community with benefit concerts (which we do pretty often) holds a special place in my heart. We’ve had a few epic benefit concerts in honor of my late business partner Jersey Mike – raising money for his children and their future college educations – such as The Hold Steady and the upcoming J. Roddy Walston & The Business show on August 6th.
The Abbey Bar at Appalachian Brewing Co.; via abcbrew.com
What bands are on your wish list?
The Wailers, Moe. and Yonder Mountain String Band are all there, but are a little high for my price range or the amount of money I’m personally willing to risk on a show.
How much do you typically invest in a show?
Wow. I couldn’t even begin to quantify the thousands spent on bringing in music and buying talent. Good shows for my venue typically range in the $2,000-$5,000 dollar range. But some of the bigger bands that I hope to present in the future (at other larger venues) come with a $25,000-$50,000 price tag.
How much do your personal music tastes show through in your bookings?
My personal preference trends towards bluegrass, funk, and jam bands. I try to keep the calendar as diverse as possible, but end up leaning towards music that I know and love, or those that I know will hands-down sell some tickets in our market.
Care to recount any horror stories?
Canceling or rescheduling a show is always something I try to avoid at all costs. However, sometimes better and more lucrative opportunities arise for bands that don’t involve playing the tertiary market of Harrisburg, PA. One quasi-recent reschedule that comes to mind is Pokey LaFarge. Pokey got the offer to play on The Late Show with David Letterman on the same night I had him scheduled to play The Abbey Bar. Obviously, this was a no-brainer for the band, but I found it funny and slightly amusing that we had to reschedule because of David Letterman. It actually ended up helping our turnout in the long run, as many more people were familiar with his music by our reschedule date.
Most ridiculous thing you’ve experienced on a rider?
By far not the most ridiculous, but since it’s fresh in my mind: live ammunition. Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band always requests live ammo, most likely because he enjoys outdoor activities including fishing and target practice.
Mandolin Orange at The Abbey Bar on July 9, 2014; photo by Mike McMonagle
What’s your take on the current music scene in Central PA?
Harrisburg – and Central PA in general – is really starting to have a solid foothold in the nationally touring music scene. Lots of great new venues are stepping up to the plate and including live music in their weekly entertainment calendars. More venues and gigs encourage more people to attend and support art and music in our small city. Meanwhile, our strategic location between big cities such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, D.C., and New York makes Central PA an easy routing location for agents scheduling national tours.
Where do you see it going in the next 5-10 years?
It will continue to grow as we unify the region for its greater good. There has always been a pretty solid scene in the area if you ask me. You just gotta poke around.
Any advice for the local scene?
We need more local, live original bands coming out of the region that know how to market themselves, as well as know how to not overplay the area so they are able to bring out 50-75 people when asked to open a show or support a national act. And a tip for new promoters: Strike the rider in the contract and write “Per Advance”, that way you can discuss with the tour manager what items the band definitely needs and you’re not penalized if you don’t get them green M&M’s.
How ’bout a shameless plug for an upcoming show?
Super excited to have J. Roddy Walston & The Business back in the room on August 6th. We first had them for a residency about five years ago, and since then, their following has grown by leaps and bounds. It was a last-minute booking for a Thursday night route fill, but I’m just thrilled to have them back in the room.