Convention Center staff works to bring more music, comedy to Downtown Long Beach • Long Beach Business Journal

The lights dimmed in the cavernous theater as the band began to strum and bang their instruments. The monotonous mumble of the sold-out crowd erupted into raucous cheers as Bob Dylan walked onto the stage of the Terrace Theater and took his place behind the piano.

As the weathered voice of Dylan began to fill the room, the house lights were raised—not to their full luminosity but enough for the performer to see the faces among the crowd—and there they stayed. It’s an unusual request for an artist, but it’s one that Dylan specifically made, Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center Assistant Manager John Braun said.

Braun is in charge of booking the theater, as well as the Long Beach Arena, and is working harder than ever to bring in larger acts and events with more consistency.

“We were positioned well to pick up a lot of the tours going back out,” Braun said of the return to live entertainment in the wake of pandemic closures. “A lot of promoters didn’t know Long Beach. As we were coming out of COVID, they had more time to research.”

When events returned almost one year ago, Braun and the Convention Center bolted out of the gate, leaning hard on comedy. Since reopening, the Terrace Theater has hosted Bill Burr and John Mulaney, both of whom had a string of sold-out shows at the venue, along with Jerry Seinfeld and Tom Segura, to name a few.

Upcoming comedy events include Chelsea Handler, Nate Bargatze and Jo Koy, who has four back-to-back shows with the option for a fifth, Braun said.

While the theater is ideal for comedy performances, recent musical acts are selling well at the 3,000-capacity room, Braun said. Aside from the Dylan show, the venue recently hosted Primus—the show did not sell out, Braun said, but ticket sales were on par with the rest of the tour.

After having to postpone her show at the Terrace Theater, Sarah McLachlan is now slated for late September, and ticket sales are “doing well.”

“We’re definitely trying to bring more music,” Braun said. “It’s just something we’ve been missing. We’re trying whatever we can to get the music promoters to bring shows down here.”

The Terrace Theater, he said, does have limitations when it comes to music—namely, the lack of any pit area for standing room near the stage. The Arena, however, can be set up to accommodate artists that would prefer a more active show, he said.

Bob Dylan was an artist Braun said he worked to get for years. Others still elude him, despite his efforts thus far, he said, including George Lopez, Dave Chappelle, The Chicks (formerly Dixie Chicks), Jackson Browne, David Gray and others.

The push for more entertainment use of the Terrace Theater and Arena spawned from the city’s recent agreement with ASM Global, which operates the city-owned Convention Center. A key component of the agreement that was approved by the City Council on May 10 was that both venues be utilized more regularly for such events.

As part of the agreement, goals were set that would trigger performance-based incentives. For the first four years of the seven-year agreement (with one three-year extension option), the venues’ use should break down to 30% or more of available days for commercial/entertainment, 60% or less for convention and trade shows , and 10% or less for community events.

For years five through 10, that breakdown shifts to 50% or more for commercial/entertainment, 45% or less for convention and trade shows, and 5% or less for community events.

Braun said the venues are hovering around the 30% figure now and are continuing to expand their offerings. “Blue’s Clues & You!” Live on Stage,” which is an interactive Broadway-style show for kids, is coming to the Terrace in November. Braun also recently booked the World Ballet Series’ (formerly the Russian Ballet) “Swan Lake,” which is coming to the Terrace in September.

The Distinguished Speaker series, which in the past has hosted Diana Nyad, Jay Leno, Bob Woodward, George W. Bush and more, is returning this year, as well. Misty Copeland, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Adm. James Stavridis, Cristina Mittermeier, Bob Eubanks and Ken Burns will speak at the Terrace Theater from October through May.

Braun is also working on bringing Broadway shows to the Terrace. He is, however, more tight-lipped about that venture.

“I can’t say what shows we are trying to route through here,” he said, “but we’re working to get Broadway in here.”

To complement its expanding entertainment options, Braun and his staff are taking advantage of the Terrace Plaza in the front of the theater. The space received a facelift in 2018, its first renovation since its construction in the 1970s. The work included upgrading the dated fountain into a “mini Bellagio” fountain as well as permanent lighting and sound systems.

Ahead of events, food trucks are parked in the plaza and outdoor bars are set up for attendees to congregate and socialize over drinks and/or food. The amount of time the outdoor festivities are open depends on the event, he explained: Comedians don’t like people moving in and out during their sets, so outdoor concessions typically end early compared to musicians who are not as concerned with crowd movement.

The addition of outdoor bars also is good for revenue, Braun said. In alcohol alone, concessions throughout the venue can generate upward of $35,000 in a “very small window.”

The boost in shows has been lucrative, Braun said. He declined to provide any dollar amounts but noted that about 90% of recent events have been profitable.

One of the best ways to cultivate relationships with promoters of all types is to remain flexible, Braun said. Sometimes that means losing money on a show to make sure the promoter and performers get paid. Braun said he is becoming more flexible after the worst of the pandemic shutdowns, including working with promoters on pricing.

Like all venues, that flexibility also extends to the artists’ riders (a part of the contract that includes demands to facilitate the performance, such as Bob Dylan’s request that the house lights remain on).

“I’ve never gotten the, ‘Give me all green M&Ms,'” Braun said, noting he has heard of that and even more outlandish requests in his years in the business. He did share one of the weirder requests but declined to identify the performer, saying only that it was a comedian.

“One can of Budweiser”. Who can drink one 12 oz. beer? Braun said. “I need at least two.”

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