Throughout my conversation with Albany concert promoter Greg Bell [Guthrie Bell Productions], he would intermittently give me reminders: "Try to keep this in a positive view, would you? I don't want to start getting emails from people saying 'I read that interview and I don't want to work with you anymore.' I've never been known to keep my mouth shut when I should."
That's classic Greg Bell. If you've met him at one of his shows before, you know he likes to tell you what's on his mind and how he's feeling about the music scene. He's been doing it for a long time now. He's going to be celebrating his 20th anniversary as a promoter with a weekend of shows at Valentine's. April 6th will feature a reunited Conehead Buddha with the Sunny Side of the Street Band, and April 7th will feature Timbre Coup with Formula 5 and Hip Drop.
We shared laughs as we talked about the last 20 years -- how things have changed, his philosophy as a promoter, and some of his favorite and most influential experiences. Over the years he's been through the ups and downs of the Albany live music scene. He was part of cultivating the Albany jam band movement in the mid-90s when bands like moe., Moon Boot Lover, the Ominous Seapods, yolK, to name a few, began to thrive. And he's worked through the times when things were less inspired and ticket sales lagged, but he's always done his best to make the scene a vibrant one. There's a genuine excitement in his voice when he talks about the last two or three months and how there's been a burst of creative energy with up-and-coming local bands and a camaraderie in the scene to match it. In the best way possible, it reminds him of the old days.
It's a pretty honest approach that keeps Greg promoting shows: he loves live music, he has a passion for putting on shows with a good vibe for everyone to enjoy, and he's built a lot of strong friendships and lasting professional relationships. Remarkably, he's only missed a handful of his own shows over the 20 years due to either illness or a death. That says enough that his heart's in the right place. He makes sure he's having the same experience as people coming out to the shows.
"Make sure you make it look like I know what I'm talking about -- I don't want people bitching at me after this comes out," he says with a laugh. As we wrapped up our conversation and took a look back, he also reminded me he's always looking forward: "Well, next year is going to be Bellstock 20 [Greg's annual festival] and my 60th birthday, so make sure you don't miss that. You can do another article on me then."
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OK, let get right into it. You've been a promoter for 20 years. What are some of the weirdest things that have happened at one of your shows?
Tough one, I should have prepared for this. I wasn't expecting that question [laughs]. Hmm... my wife's yelling out the time I've introduced bands naked. I'm not sure anyone wants to hear about that. OK, it was my 40th birthday at Valentine's and one of the singers from Solomons RamaDa performed naked with just a wreath on his head in honor of the fact that back in the day I introduced Blotto completely naked on Blottoween one year. So, that was a little weird. The guy didn't have one of the better bodies to see on stage. He performed naked for me as my birthday present, so that was a little weird.
Let's see... at Antigone Rising's New Year's Eve show one year we had three lesbian fights. That was pretty weird. That doesn't happen often. I'm not sure how many of these we should print. I don't want to get sued [laughter].
What else? We had some weird stuff with moe. One year Al [Schnier] had carpal tunnel. One year Jim [Loughlin] got hit by a lighting rig at the Plaza during the show. One time their light guy collapsed outside of the show. It felt as if everything was cursed there for a while.
You must of snapped out of it with this last one?
Well, no. This time one of the guys from Floodwood [Al's side project that played after moe's show] almost cut off his thumb. We almost had to cancel. So... it continues.
But they just keep coming back for more.
Yeah, they do.
You have Conehead Buddha playing the 20th celebration party. This is their first show back after a long time, right?
They've played a few times over the years -- the Tsunami Benefit (2005), they played at my 50th birthday party. They've played on and off a few times over the past ten years, but it's been rare. It's been more like Lynch playing or side projects that Chris Fisher has been in. It's pretty cool that they're coming back together. Besides being a reunion of Conehead Buddha, it's also the return of Conehead Buddha. They're recording and planning on touring a bit again too.
I had been hearing the rumors that they were getting back together, so I called them up and told them they had to do this celebration for me. It took a little to talk them into it, but in the end they agreed to do it. That should be fun. I'm looking forward to getting back into Valentine's. It always has a good vibe. The Seapods' show [reunion show, December 2011] reminded me how much fun you can have at a Valentine's show. I'm trying to do more shows there on a regular basis. Going back to the basics, you know? Take it back to the beginning.