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Originally published in Business People-Vermont in 2003.

Making Star Bucks

After 20 years of promoting Vermont concerts, Jay Strausser is seeking to focus his entrepreneurial skills on new endeavors.

by Jason Koornick

If a godfather of Vermont concerts were ever to be named, the title would surely go to Jay Strausser.

Since he graduated from the University of Vermont in 1980, the 44-year-old owner of All Points Booking has been responsible for bringing some of the country's top musical acts to Vermont stages. The names read like a Who's Who of the music industry: Red Hot Chili Peppers; Pearl Jam; Bruce Hornsby; Dave Matthews Band; Ray Charles; Our Lady Peace; Crosby, Stills & Nash; Aerosmith; David Grisman Quintet; Tragically Hip; Pat Metheny; and, of course, Phish.

As the owner of All Points Booking in Burlington, Jay Strausser has been at the center of the city's music scene for more than 20 years.

The biggest events for Strausser, though, took place during the summers of 1994 and 1995, when he promoted the Grateful Dead in Highgate Springs. More than 120,000 tickets were sold for the shows.

All Points Booking operates from a simple, three-room office above Nectar's on Main Street in Burlington, which Strausser shares with his employee, Tammy DeForge. He handles concert promotion while DeForge is responsible for event requests that come to All Points Booking. She books entertainment for weddings, resorts, private parties and other functions, and helps to manage daily office affairs. Strausser's wife, Lisa, balances the agency's books.

Tammy DeForge books bands and DJs for corporate and private parties, does some bookkeeping and sells bus charter tickets to customers who come in the door.

Strausser has experienced highs and lows during his two decades of concert promoting in Vermont. In these times of corporate consolidation in the music business, this former partner in Pure Pop Records is exploring new ventures in other industries. He calls concert promoting, "legalized gambling." Although the company is small, Strausser sets his sights high. "I've always had the entrepreneurial spirit," he claims.

Strausser grew up in Connecticut, where he discovered his passion for music. As an upperclassman, he was heavily involved with his Westport High School radio station. Strausser calls the radio station "a saving grace. I always had a love for music but was never talented enough to play," he says.

During his senior year in high school, Strausser worked for WPKN in Bridgeport. He picked up "whatever was available" and found himself working as overnight DJ. He would spin records from 2 to 7 a.m. then go directly to school. On the side, he worked security and handled backstage duties for a Bridgeport concert promoter. "I really saw what was going on," he says. Both experiences were invaluable and paved the way for the radio work he would do at UVM.

Strausser decided to attend UVM in 1976, even though he had other opportunities at colleges with good communications programs. "I looked at WRUV [the UVM radio station] and realized that I could walk in and get on the air very soon. The other programs were very intensive and it would take a few years before I was on the air," he says.

WRUV was a broadcasting force in the '70s, Strausser says. "The commercial radio stations didn't have the impact of WRUV. It was a great time to be in Burlington." As a freshman, Strausser had his own show that played a wide variety of music, including blues, jazz and rock.

The summer following his freshman year, Strausser fell in love with reggae music during a trip to England. He traveled around Birmingham, a city with a large population of West Indians. "I tasted the flavor of music in that city," he says.

Upon his return to UVM, Strausser launched his reggae show, "Trenchtown Rock," on WRUV. It was on the air for 13 years. Through the show, Strausser connected with reggae artists and record companies, building relationships that would advance his future career as concert promoter. He also worked closely with the university concert bureau and Hunt's, Burlington's premier live music venue at the time.

A pivotal opportunity came when reggae legend Bob Marley played at the university in 1979. Frank Cioffi, now president of Greater Burlington Industrial Corp., promoted the concert and asked Strausser for assistance.

"I walked into Bob's dressing room and asked him to do an interview on the radio station the next day," Strausser recalls fondly. "We were in the studio for an hour. We played music; a lot of people came into the studio. That started a relationship with Bob that developed over the following years. We had numerous conversations in 1979 and 1980."

Strausser calls the time he spent with Marley "a huge experience for me." He tells of spending the weekend with Marley and his band, the Wailers, in New York City when they were playing at Madison Square Garden. "I got to know everyone in the band," he says. "They were an influence on me, and I wanted to parlay that relationship into a job with the Wailers or their record company."

However, when he graduated from UVM in 1980, Strausser took a job working for John Crandall, the owner of Pure Pop Records, a used-record store on South Winooski Avenue in Burlington. On weekends and evenings, he worked at WNCS in Montpelier. "I would sell albums to John to get gas money to drive to Montpelier and work at WNCS," he says.

Strausser quickly assumed the responsibilities of running the record store. "I was making management decisions early on," he says. Soon after, he became a partner. Since he knew everyone in the area music community, it was natural that he begin promoting concerts from the record store as "Pure Pop Productions." For a limited time, Strausser was booking the bands at Hunt's.

Strausser learned a tough lesson from the first concert he promoted in 1981. He booked reggae legends Black Uhuru at Memorial Auditorium. "I decided that I was going to take the risk and we sold a lot of tickets," he recalls. "But the day before the show, the lead singer, Michael Rose, was denied entry into the country so the band came to Burlington without the singer. We tried to get him into the country through legal channels but that was hopeless."

Strausser declared that the show must go on and persuaded the band to perform without a lead singer. "Somehow we just did it. The lead guitarist sang off-key, but it became a legendary concert because it wasn't a Black Uhuru show. Miraculously, we didn't lose any money. That was a huge eye-opening experience for me," he says.

He has fond memories of the Queen City in the '80s. "After that, we got every significant reggae performer to come to Burlington. There were lots of bars, local bands and a vibrant nightlife," Strausser says. "It was exciting because it was about the music, and there was an opportunity there." The fact that the drinking age was 18 didn't hurt the music scene, either, he points out.

Strausser thinks Burlington continues to sustain a disproportionate amount of music and arts. "For the number of people that live here, the cultural offerings that exist are significant," he says.

In the early '80s, Strausser formed a partnership with Jimmy Swift, who now runs the annual Discover Jazz Festival in Burlington. "I was working with a band called The Decentz," says Strausser, "handling all their bookings. Jimmy Swift had started as AMS entertainment, and we operated out of Hunts."

Someone who worked with them suggested they change the name to APB, for All Points Booking, so the company's name had a meaning. "We said, 'That's a great name,'" says Strausser.

Throughout the '80s, the company promoted large concerts and worked as an agent for private parties. Meanwhile, Strausser's radio show, "Trenchtown Rock," occupied Friday nights on WRUV, and he continued his involvement with Pure Pop. He bought out Swift in 1993.

A significant development occurred in 1985 when he met Lisa Eaton after ending a seven-year relationship with another woman. They met when Strausser dropped by the Border nightclub. Lisa, manager of Sweetwaters, had agreed to help tend bar that night. They were married two years later and have two children, ages 13 and 8. "Lisa's the love of my life, and we've managed to juggle a lot of things together," says Strausser.

The Pure Pop partnership supported All Points Booking promotion efforts throughout the '80s and '90s, according to Strausser, who was paid a salary and had an ownership interest in the record store. "It gave me the flexibility to grow another business," he says.

In July 2002, Strausser sold his share of Pure Pop to Crandall in what he describes as "an amicable split. That record store is a very big piece of my heart and I hope it will continue to succeed," he says.

Strausser soon found another venture in the restaurant O with Lisa, who also manages the new establishment. Strausser plays the role of sommelier, creating O's wine list. He's still an active concert promoter, however, and says All Points Booking is involved in 15 to 30 shows per year. While Strausser holds concerts at the Flynn Center and Memorial Auditorium, he has used many Vermont venues, including Stowe Resort, the Champlain Valley Fairgrounds and the Highgate Springs airfield. He believes much has changed in Vermont and in the music industry since he began promoting concerts.

"A lot is different now. Just look at the huge number of radio stations. I call it 'narrowcasting'. We're in a culture right now where music has been devalued."

He also bemoans the lack of concert infrastructure in Vermont. "In my opinion, this town needs a civic center. Somehow there needs to be a mix of public and private money to build a venue that can hold five-to-seven thousand people. The biggest is Memorial Auditorium, and we're limited in what we can book there."

Through All Points Booking, Strausser and his wife, Lisa, encounter the cream of the music industry. They are seen here backstage at the Flynn Theatre with popular blues singer Keb 'Mo in 2000.

Even outdoor space is unavailable, he says. "The cost of putting on shows in a makeshift field is an obstacle. The only place with any significant infrastructure is at the fairgrounds and the ski areas. You better be confident that you can sell five [thousand] or six thousand tickets for those shows," he warns.

During the summers of 1992 to 1995, All Points Booking held world-class concerts at Stowe Resort and later at Sugarbush in Waitsfield. Bands included Phish, Santana, Jackson Browne, Allman Brothers Band and Bonnie Raitt. "Stowe was a fantastic place to see a show," Strausser says. The concerts were not popular with some in positions of power in Stowe, and it became impossible for Strausser to continue using the resort.

The Grateful Dead concerts at Highgate were Strausser's biggest challenge. "The pinnacle for us was promoting the Dead," Strausser says. "I don't think I'll have the opportunity to do something like that again."

All Points Booking worked in conjunction with Metropolitan Entertainment, another locally owned promotion company, to stage the events, which attracted almost 100,000 people to Highgate each year.

"They were looking to play a field show, and we started to lay the groundwork. Patrick Leahy loves the Grateful Dead, so he was an influence; and Governor Howard Dean recognized that it would be good for the state," Strausser says. "It consumed me entirely, but was tremendously rewarding." He says the shows were the most financially lucrative ones All Points Booking has ever done. Ultimately, local boards and organizations overwhelmed the ability to put on more shows there.

A number of factors make it difficult to bring national touring acts to Vermont, Strausser says. "The summer season is a short one, and there are many outdoor venues around the country that are all competing for a finite number of entertainers."

He works in a realm where artistic and business concerns meet and often collide. "For me, getting into it was all about the love of the music. It evolved into the business where I had to make money at it. Now I have no desire to promote shows which I can't sell tickets to," Strausser says. On the other side of the office, Tammy DeForge has been booking bands and DJs at corporate and private parties for seven years. She says most of her work is for weddings. Winters are the busiest time, because that's when people are preparing for summer events.

DeForge books an average of 100 weddings per year. She reports that "99 percent" of All Points' clients come through referrals. "Right from the beginning, Jay didn't do much advertising," she says.

Like a matchmaker, DeForge tries to find the perfect band for each event. She considers a client's budget, musical taste and other factors when booking an event. She also handles deposits, contracts and details. "People ask whose side I am on," she says. "I try to work with both sides to keep everyone happy."

DeForge grew up in Colchester. After living on the west coast in her 20s, she returned to Vermont and worked for her brother-in-law, who was in the booking business. One day he told her to book an event, and she hasn't looked back since. "I never imagined a job I liked so much or having a boss who is so cool," she says.

She doesn't consider herself a saleswoman because she takes her work so personally. "The most challenging part is when something goes wrong," she says. "Aside from the money that we could lose, it really upsets me."

She does booking work on a commission basis, but is also paid hourly to run the All Points office. "Working for commission definitely puts on pressure, but it is also motivating," she says. DeForge answers phones, does some bookkeeping and sells charter tickets to customers who come in the door. Bus charters are All Points' most recent venture. The agency sends sports fans and concertgoers on buses to major events in Montreal and Albany. They work closely with radio stations Champ 101.3 and Star 92.9.

Flynn Center programming manager Aimee Petrin calls Strausser "a real pro." She says they have worked together so many times, they could put on a show "with our eyes closed."

"This community is wonderful and unique in that each performing arts organization has its own niche," Petrin says. "If there is going to be a popular music show, it will most likely be put on by Jay. It is great to work with local promoters, because they know the hall. He has a stable roster of talented artists that he brings here. The quality and variety of performing arts raises Burlington's profile."

Contrary to popular belief, concert promoting is not all fun and games, Strausser says, yet when things go smoothly, there are few greater satisfactions than giving quality artists the opportunity to perform. He's still in it for the music. "It's a great night when we're working with an artist and I am passionate about their music and everything they are about."

Originally published in January 2003 Business People-Vermont

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