music morsels fiorenza August 2007

INDUSTRY PROFILE - Festival executive director Glenn Maxon
by Mark E. Waterbury

Mark Waterbury
Mark Waterbury

Maybe in a roundabout way, wrestling prepared Glenn Maxon for his future career. Born and raised in Eureka, California, Glenn grew up in a music-intensive family. His parents owned a local music store, his uncle was the head of the local music union, and everyone in the family played instruments. Glenn learned a multitude of instruments including keyboards, guitar, drums and every woodwind instrument.  He was also quite an athlete and became a national championship wrestler in his senior year in high school. While wrestling, he gained some keen experience that would be invaluable later in his career. “I was the one who helped get sponsors so our team could take cross country trips to compete in tournaments and events. I learned how to talk people into helping us out and I didn’t stop until I got enough to cover our trips and expenses. It was something I think I realized I had a knack for.” Glenn received a full athletic scholarship to California Polytechnic University. Ironically, because he was on the wrestling team, the school would not allow him to pursue a music degree as he wished to do. Instead, he chose to obtain a physical education degree which basically collected dust while he pursued a career as an insurance adjuster as well as dabbling in construction. “I basically walked away from music so I could become a jock,” Glenn recalls. “Then I found out I really didn’t want to be a jock. But it took me awhile to really get back to what I wanted to do.”

The force that brought Glenn back into music was once again rooted in family, but from a different source than during his upbringing. Glenn went through a divorce and was raising two daughters by himself for a number of years. When his daughters entered high school, both became involved in a show pop choir at the school, so Glenn saw this as an opportunity to return to an involvement in music himself. “I started promoting their shows which had a large dance troupe backed up by their own eighteen piece band. What really got me into it was in my eldest daughter’s senior year, they performed at the Montreaux Jazz Fest and secured a two year tour for the German reunification. I was the one who was instrumental in getting them there, and that made me want to get back into other aspects of music and entertainment.” Next, Glenn produced a concert called Enterprise Starship Variety Hour where he brought his marketing experiences to bear in promoting the show. Despite making an admitted mistake of renting too large a theater, the show was a very solid financial success. He also  started working in television production, primarily shooting theatrical and concert events for other entities. “The more I got involved with these events, the more I started getting back into the music aspects of them. I had some previous experience in working with non-profits and other agencies helping with the promotions for their events, which I basically learned as I went along. But with getting back into this and my daughters heading off to college, it was time for me to make a serious change.”

Glenn performed (what in wrestling terms could be called) a reversal in his career path. He closed his insurance adjustment business and obtained a bachelors degree in music business, along with a minor in business administration. In pursuit of his masters degree, he wrote a thesis on how to produce a financially successful music festival. To research this, he attended and did volunteer work for about sixteen festivals in one summer, often going to two a day. While he was attending college, he started another company working with non-profit organizations, and also promoting music, theater and other events. He produced a major national symposium on the state of the music industry from 2002 through 2004 that was very successful and brought in panelists from companies such as MP3, ASCAP, Napster and major record labels. “It was primarily my market experience that got me involved with most of the events I was working with. Once I got my promotions business off the ground, an opportunity came along that could get me a big step up and get me further down the line in my music business experience. It was working for someone else, but I felt it was important so I turned the reigns of my business over to some others and headed to Monterey.”

Monterey, California, as many music lovers know, is home to many prestigious music fests including the Monterey Bay Blues Festival which offered Glenn the job. His official title was office technician, but despite the rather ambiguous moniker, Glenn was one of the three people who ran the show. “In that capacity if I was to give myself a title, it would have been executive assistant to the director,” Glenn muses. “It was very much of a learning experience because they just finished working with a management company which had been working with them for fifteen years, and then told them the fest became too big for them to handle. Even though I went to college, putting everything together in an organized way so that it all works efficiently was a real challenge. When I got there, there were no media bases for anything. Not for talent, for vendors, for media or anything. The web site was not updated and they knew nothing of the technological aspects. So I brought in my previous knowledge of that, did research, and created all the databases for them.” Along with the databases, Glenn updated the web site and set it up so they could handle ticket and merch sales on line. He also managed their vendors to make sure they were all set up properly, handled all the contracting with the performers and the logistics involving their performances, and created a scholarship and grant program among many other tasks. 

After working with Monterey Bay Blues Festival for four and a half years, Glenn decided to move on for several reasons. Beyond the fact that he was getting “paid like a secretary” for all his work, Glenn’s father passed away and his mother was wheelchair bound. Perhaps it was one of those times where the planets align right, because at the same time he decided to head back home to Eureka, he received an offer from a local group who produced both a jazz and a blues fest in the northern California coastal community to become their executive director. “You don’t find concert promoter jobs in the paper every day. They had good festivals here, but did not really have a good business going. What they didn’t tell me up front is that they lost money for years on both festivals, and at their very first board meeting, they told me if they didn’t at least break even for the jazz festival which was only about three months down the road, they were closing things down. And I was like, remember me, the guy you hired who just left a good job to come here?” Glenn put his nose to the grindstone just as he had previously at Monterey and started working to right the ship. He looked through the books and made some small changes in the way the business was run, and it was enough so that the Redwood Coast Jazz Festival narrowly missed breaking even, which was good enough for the board to decide to go ahead and do the Blues By the Bay Fest four months down the road. “Blues was a bit different, because I had to tear that fest apart top to bottom. We had two stages and I dropped it two one because there was no sense in having two stages in a small park. They had only a handful of craft and beer booths the year before I came in, and the first year I did it, we ended up with over a hundred arts and crafts booths.” Along with a few other changes, Blues By the Bay made enough to offset the small loss for the Jazz Fest. Keeping the ball rolling, Glenn then made major changes to the jazz festival, primarily once again n the way the business aspects were run. The Jazz Fest in March of 2007 made the largest profit since its inception. Blues By the Bay in July of 2007 followed suit and was also the most successful blues fest they had done. One of the main aspects Glenn changed in the fests was juggling the music that they brought in. “The main demography for the jazz fest was the sixty-five and older crowd. So my first thought was I have to bring younger folks in. We started bringing in acts like Cherry Popping Daddys and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy who appealed more to younger fans. We also had several bands from area high schools and colleges perform the last couple years. Overall, I feel it dropped our demography to the thirty-five-to-fifty crowd, which is the one you covet at a fest.” Along with the new philosophy in booking the bands, Glenn continued using the knowledge he had gained way back in high school while he was on his wrestling team, by pushing his sponsorship committee to keep going until they found as many sponsors as they possibly could to make the fest a success. “The committee would go out to find the people and get them interested, but when it became time to close the sale, that is when I stepped in. This is a great organization putting on great festivals, and once you have people convinced of that, you need to let them know if they want it to stick around, they have to help us out.”

Currently, Glenn is trying to rest up for a bit because Blues By The Bay just finished a week ago. He won’t rest for long though, as he knows his work with making sure next year is even more successful is a near continuous process. Glenn thinks that he may want to own his own fest someday, and is also thinking of owning his own recording studio down the line because he also has an audio engineering degree and has produced some albums in the past. Right now, he has found what he truly loves to do, and even though it is a lot of work, he does not really look at it that way. “When it comes down to crunch, I am in here sometimes for seventeen or eighteen hours a day. If you don’t have a passion for it, it’s work. If you do have a passion, then you love doing everything involved with it. For me, what I love most and my biggest pride is introducing new acts that people have never heard of before to a crowd, and they just blow the roof off the place. Also, putting the pieces of the puzzle together and seeing it work smoothly is very satisfying to me. Yes, there are little meltdowns and problems behind the scenes, but the people who go to the fest don’t see that. To them, it went off perfectly and that is very important.”


Glenn Maxon’s advice for musicians:  Exposure, exposure, exposure...and professionalism. One thing I see that so many musicians do is not send out a professional looking press kit. Then I get kits in here where people burned a CD and hand wrote their name on it with a sharpie. I have come to the conclusion in most cases if they have their act together enough to get me a professional press kit, they have their act together professionally. If they don’t, then these guys may play good music, but chances are they don’t know what they are doing.”
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