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The kids will show
If John Esquivel were to write a book on being a promoter, there would be an entire chapter titled, The Kids Will Show.
In five years of bringing bands to town, that's the thing he's learned.
Book a band in a garage, and kids will show up. Let them play in a friend's living room, or down at the local Boys and Girls Club. The kids don't care. If the band is good and you've got some hype, you'll get a crowd.
Take a national, touring band — Ceremony, let's say — and set them up on a weekday night at Chinatown Youth Center, a tiny box of a place, in the bad part of town, with a PA and a stage and not much else. Then, watch them freak out when 150 kids pack the place, screaming along to every song.
“It's about consistency,” says Esquivel, the Fresno surrogate for Numbskull Productions and guy-in-charge at Religious Appeal. “On paper, the CYC should not work at all,” he says. But three of his last shows there have sold out.
Not so many years ago, Esquivel was one of those show-going kids himself. That's how he met and started working with Eddie Numbskull back in 2004. It's where he got the idea to start booking his own shows, just some small-scale stuff. The name was an inside joke, a nod to his catholic-schooling. The bands he booked, they had “religious appeal,” even when they didn't. But it wasn't until this last year, when he began to steadily book gigs at the CYC, and occasionally at the Starline, that Religious Appeal started getting nods from the mainstream.
In a lot of ways, Esquivel is still that 15-year-old kid. Only now he's fielding calls from the bands. He's booked close to four shows a month for the last year and has yet to seek out a band. That's the way it works. You treat one band right. If they have a good show, they'll pass your number along to another band, who in turn suggests your name to someone else. Then one day, you get a call from the bass player of a band you've loved since High School, and how cool is that?
“It's like, Holy crap, am I 15 again,” Esquivel says.
This is not to say that being a promoter in Fresno is easy. We've got our problems. Venues can be an issue. Esquivel has seen Fresno lose out on some great shows, because no venue would be willing to host them. Most of those shows ended up in Visalia, he says. And while some see that as a bad thing for us — and in a way, it is — Esquivel says, good for Visalia. If someone thinks they can do a better job, get better bands, he wants them to. Getting mad about it is only going to leave him old and bitter and jaded.
His advice: if you want to book and show, just call up the band, whoever it is. Be ready to sell yourself.
Then, make sure the band has fun.
Other than that, he says being a promoter is the weirdest math equation ever. He still hasn't quite got it.
“I thought he knew the game,” he says. But working with Numbskull he realized there is a business side to this concert business. Getting kids to come out is not always enough. Bands want signed contracts and guarantees.
And even if he is the one who gets recognized on the street by someone who heard about the last Religious Appeal show, or saw a video of kids jumping off the PA into the massive crowd, you can't let it be all about you.
“Religious Appeal is kind of like the kids that come out and the bands that come through and the chemistry of it all.”