Behind the Scenes: Larson Hicks of Stereopathic Presents

Since 2008, Larson Hicks has booked more than 90 shows in the Moscow-Pullman area. A sales- and businessman, Hicks pulls musicians from across the United States to play gigs through his company Stereopathic Presents. Here, he talks about his one-man show and the ever-changing Palouse music scene.

What’s your history with music?

click to enlarge Larson Hicks speaks on stage at a Yarn Owl and Helio Sequence concert in 2009.
Larson Hicks speaks on stage at a Yarn Owl and Helio Sequence concert in 2009.

I play guitar and sing and play drums ... I’ve always played music, been in bands, all growing up. I grew up in a really cool music community, El Paso, Texas, which is not really known for having a great music scene, except there was a really killer time when At the Drive-in was getting big. They ended up headlining Coachella, they broke up and formed Mars Volta. Those guys are all from El Paso and I saw them when I was there.

How did you turn your passion of music into a bookers gig? I was working in sales at this economics firm in town called EMSI, and was talking to one of my brothers about what we want to do when we grow up, and he was like, ‘Ya know, you should get into the music business.’ And so I thought that was a good idea. So, I contacted my other brother’s friend, who ended up selling a record label to Warner. I was like, ‘How do I get into the music business?’ And he was like, ‘One of the best ways is to start promoting concerts, because you meet everybody involved. You meet the band, you meet the managers, you meet their agents, you are in touch with their record label. And it’s a great way to network.’

What’s been your favorite show or shows? I’ve done about 90 shows, not counting the Birds on the Wire festival, which has about 35 bands. I always think that my best show I’ve ever seen was Vetiver. It was just craft music, talking about like craft

click to enlarge One of Larson Hicks' sons holds a schedule for Pullman's Birds on a Wire, a folk music festival that Hicks and his wife hosted and booked. Thirty-five bands played.
One of Larson Hicks' sons holds a schedule for Pullman's Birds on a Wire, a folk music festival that Hicks and his wife hosted and booked. Thirty-five bands played.

beer. Every player in that band is a top-notch musician, and it was just so classy and great. Built to Spill was very special. The first Helio Sequence show we did was really bizarre. It was just awesome. We sold out the NuArt Theater. We sold 475 tickets. It was totally bonkers. There was a line around the block.

How do you pick musicians? I’ve got good taste in music. There’s stuff that I don’t do that will sell tickets, though. I turned down The Lumineers twice, before they were big, because I really don’t like their music. That’s a show that would have sold tons of tickets and it would have been legendary, but I wasn’t interested in doing it, because I was just not excited about it. As for how I pick shows to do, I’d say 75 percent of the shows I do are shows that an agent calls me and says ‘Can we do a show?’ Every once in a while, a friend will email me and say, ‘So-and-so is out on tour. It looks like they’re going to be in the area. Maybe you could get ‘em.’ And I’ll send an email. I will periodically go and dig around the Internet and look for tours. I’m always buying routed dates. I’m buying shows on nights that they are already traveling through and they just have an open night.

Once you’ve booked the show, what do you do? Basically anything that I think is going to be less than 150 tickets, I’ll do at Mikey’s (Gyros), and anything that’s going to be more than that, it’s going to be between BellTower and the Kenworthy ... If it’s a band that I’ve not heard of, or even if it’s a band I’ve heard of, I’ll always try and do some work to try and find out and get a feel for what their draw is going to be in this town. You’re looking for total number of Facebook friends, Twitter followers, plays on Last FM, Spotify. You’re trying to pull together a picture of 'Is this a band that has a good following?' but similar to the bands we’ve had before. At the end of the day, you’re kind of going with your gut, but there’s a little bit of data and science to it.

What’s your dream show? I saw Wilco in Spokane and it was a super awful show. It was just so bad, but I know that Wilco’s awesome ... What happens to bands that seem to sell out or get lame when they get big, I think it’s more of a function of them having to work in a new kind of medium ... All of that to say that, I would love to see somebody like Wilco in a 500-cap or 300-cap room. When you’re hearing the music straight out of their amplifiers, straight off of the drumset and the headliner accidentally gets some spit on you every now and then, you actually feel the vibrations of the music in your gut, because it’s just right there. You see their face and all of their expressions, and they see yours, it’s like this reciprocal feedback loop that just becomes really awesome. I would love to experience that with Wilco.

Is it hard to book shows in a small town? I think that we have this really unique advantage of being the kind of town we are. In the western United States, the distance between tour stops is just crazy. They’re driving eight or nine hours, where shows in the east, they’re driving two or three. So, that’s an advantage that we have, because we’re in between Salt Lake City and Seattle. Those are the real primary markets. They might hit Boise. They usually don’t hit Spokane, if they’re cool. If they’re a band that I’m into, they’ll do a show here, rather than Spokane. It’s not because we’re bigger, but it’s because we have gratitude, which I don’t think a big city has. It’s a bunch of real people who don’t get to see cool music very often, and when they do, they’re just totally stoked about it. Whereas you go to a bigger city and everybody is kind of blasé.

How does booking a show in a bigger city differ from here?

click to enlarge This spring, Larson Hicks booked Blitzen Trapper and Sera Cahone as his first Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre gig.
This spring, Larson Hicks booked Blitzen Trapper and Sera Cahone as his first Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre gig.

If we’re talking like Seattle or Portland or San Francisco, you’ve got more of a bidding war between talent buyers. For a more rural secondary or tertiary market promoter, it’s really just about coming up with a business partnership with the band and its agents that works for everybody. Especially in a town like this, where they have to count on the promoter to make it happen, because ... why in the world would (they) ever play in Moscow, Idaho? They have to have a lot of faith that the promoter is going to do what he said he’s going to do. We’re talking more about tickets. That’s my primary business. Whereas most clubs, their primary business is selling beer. It doesn’t really matter who the band is. It’s really just about going to the bar and hitting on chicks. Our shows are about the music. I’ve had bands and agents tell us over and over, ‘We’re shocked ... It’s a vacation to come to Moscow ... In between songs, everybody’s quiet ... We talk and everyone listens and laughs at our jokes ... Everybody claps at the end of every song.’ Yeah, it’s because we’re grateful and we’re fans. We’re not just here for the scene.

Treffry can be reached at (208) 883-4640 or ltreffry@inland360.com. Follow her on Twitter at: @LindseyTreffry.

Stereopathic Presents will host Joe Pug 9:30 p.m. Oct. 21 at Mikey’s Gyros. Ticket information can be found at eventbrite.com.

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