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2018 Doc NYC Fest: “The Show’s the Thing” Review

“The Show’s the Thing: The Legendary Promoters of Rock” is brand new documentary from directors Molly Bernstein and Philip Dolin (“Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay”). The film had its world premiere at the Ninth Annual Doc NYC Festival on November 15, 2018.  It follows the creation and rise of concert promoters, and how they helped usher in the Golden Age of Rock & Roll in America.

Santana at Tanglewood, August 18, 1970.

In 1964, a man named  Frank Barsalona founded a talent agency, Premier Talent Agency, and catered almost exclusively to representing rock and roll acts. PTA’s success coincided with the British Invasion and Barsalona’s agency signed a lot of the classic British acts as their agent in America.  The issue for Barsalona was how to get these bands gigs; how can you make them famous? Barsalona understood the power of a concert to attach a fan to a band – seeing a band live would make you a fan for life.

With the aim of organizing the country into a predictable system, Barsalona went about anointing chosen people to be his unofficially official promoter for a given location or territory. This practice was referred to as “One Promoter, One Town” and if you weren’t the guy, you didn’t get the best acts of the day.

With this backdrop established, Bernstein and Dolin nimbly tell the stories of these chosen promoters: their experiences, highs and lows, and eventual decline. Through these examinations, we also learn more about Barsalona the man and his life, as well as those rogues who tried to buck his “mafia” like grip on the country’s concert circuit.

“The Show’s the Thing” pulls back the curtain on a time in America’s history and culture that few ever think about.  I have been to innumerable concerts in my life, I have seen posters and I have heard the phrase “So and So Presents …” but i have never really considered how the art of concert promotion functions and the role it played in shaping my relationship with my favorite music artists.

View of the Woodstock festival from backstage, August 1969.

Using interviews with promoters that are still alive and lived through the time, including legends like  Larry Magid (the Philly promoter) and Ron Delsener (a household name in New York if you ever went to a concert in the 70s or 80s) and artists like Bob Geldof and Jon Bon Jovi, combined with archival concert footage and interviews, as well as classic concert posters, Bernstein and Dolin weave an engrossing narrative that had me tapping my foot from start to finish while shining a light on a topic that’s long lived behind the scenes.

The stories of promoters like Bill Graham (the Fillmore East and West) and Don Law (Boston), and how all  of these men, appointed by Barsalona, worked together and worked against each other to bring to fruition classic massive concerts like Woodstock and Live Aid are fascinating and act as a time capsule come to life.

The Allman Brothers at Fillmore East last concert, June 27, 1971

Taking us from the late 1960s through the 70s and 80s and into the 1990s corporate roll-up of promoters into the behemoth that would become Live Nation, “The Show’s the Thing: The Legendary Promoters of Rock” is a must watch for any music fan.

At 97 minutes, my only complaint with The Show’s the Thing is that it wasn’t an hour longer.

One of the entries in the “Sonic Cinema” section of this year’s Ninth Annual Doc NYC, “The Show’s the Thing: The Legendary Promoters of Rock” has its public world premiere on November 15, 2018 at 7:15p at the IFC Center (323 6th Ave.). “The Show’s the Thing” is directed by Molly Bernstein and Philip Dolin and has a run time of 97 minutes.

For more information on the documentaries in this year’s festival, head to Doc NYC’s website, http://www.docnyc.net/.

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