‘A Unique Space’

July 2, 2014
BY Marc Shapiro | Photo by David Stuck
Toby Blumenthal discusses booking the Meyerhoff’s non-symphony shows, collaborations with popular musicians

070414_meyerhoffLong before he was booking A-list comedians and musicians at one of Baltimore’s premier venues, Toby Blumenthal could be spotted passing out flyers for upcoming concerts in Northern Virginia.

But for Blumenthal, then a high school student, these weren’t just flyers. He knew that an agent who booked a tour for an artist connected with a promoter, who then found the proper date and venue to hold the show. When those pieces came together and tickets went on sale, people like Blumenthal would hit the streets on behalf of the promoters.

“I was handing out flyers and getting them around town and I really dug deep into who was presenting those concerts that I was handing out flyers for,” Blumenthal, 35, said.

He would later work for that promoter, forge relationships with agents and other promoters and work his way into booking major events at large venues.

Blumenthal is the director of rentals and presentations at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, the home of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, a position he’s held for seven years.

“My core responsibility is handling the use of this building and really focusing on reducing the number of dark days,” he said. “The orchestra plans their schedule a year-and-a-half in advance and then I’m handed the calendar, and basically my job is to fill those dates.”

Blumenthal brings about 50 to 60 events a year to the venue, including concerts, comedy shows, private events such as The Associated’s casino night, corporate functions, galas and fundraisers. During Blumenthal’s time at the venue, the Meyerhoff has hosted comedian giants George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Cosby, Jon Stewart, Louis CK and more. Comedian Kevin Hart set a new record for the venue, which holds approximately 2,450 people, selling out six shows in three days in 2012.

As a huge music fan, Blumenthal has facilitated a wealth of artists performing at the venue, including Van Morrison, Tony Bennett, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Jeff Tweedy, David Byrne and St. Vincent and Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band.

Stevenson University’s Baltimore Speaker Series has brought President Bill Clinton, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and many other iconic figures to the venue.

Blumenthal said it’s his relationship with promoters and agents that help him score big acts.

“Toby is a big reason [we work at the Meyerhoff]. He’s aggressive without being intrusive,” said Seth Hurwitz, chairman of I.M.P. Productions, the company that owns the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. and books Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia and the Lincoln Theatre in Washington. “Toby will always come to us first and say, ‘Hey, I’d like to make this happen. Would you like to work on it with me?’ It makes us feel sort of an obligation to make us work with him first.”

Connections with Hurwitz and many others in the industry go back to college for Blumenthal. As a Towson University student, he worked alongside the promoter he passed out flyers for in high school, All Good Presents co-founder Tim Walther, helping out with music festivals and presenting shows at Towson’s Recher Theatre with Walther. Blumenthal also booked concerts for the university with artists such as Outkast, Bob Dylan and Ben Harper.

After college, he went to work for Cellar Door at the Nissan Pavilion in Northern Virginia as the assistant to the booking manager, working on concerts from Baltimore down to North Carolina. Cellar Door is now part of Live Nation and the Nissan Pavilion is now known as Jiffy Lube Live.

From there, Blumenthal came up to Baltimore, his wife Hope’s hometown, to work at Hippodrome after its reopening in 2004. He was working in a similar capacity, booking the venue’s non-Broadway shows and private functions. When the position opened up at the Meyerhoff, he moved to his current position.

“It’s a unique space that can do pretty much anything,” Blumenthal said of the Meyerhoff.

His current job has allowed him to create some of his career’s more magical moments with popular musicians performing alongside the orchestra. Previous collaborations include singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne and one of Blumenthal’s favorite musicians, Trey Anastasio from Phish.

Upon hearing that Anastasio was interested in working with a symphony while Phish was on hiatus, Blumenthal reached out to the singer and guitarist and spent about six months trying to make it happen, which it did in 2009.

“At times, we would talk once a week,” he said. “It took a solid year to find a specific date that worked for everybody, and it was pretty amazing when it finally happened.”

Blumenthal, who listens to an eclectic array of local, regional, national and international music, also had the opportunity to bring to life music by another of his favorite artists, the Grateful Dead, by spearheading the world premiere of “Dead Symphony No. 6,” which Blumenthal first heard on CD.

The next musician-symphony collaboration is on July 17 with Ben Folds, who will performing his new concerto as well as some of his popular songs with the symphony.

“The organization really is all about exploring the greatest things out there regardless of what genre they may fall into, and Toby’s been a tremendous asset because of the connections and experience he brings for the popular music side of things,” said Matt Spivey, vice president of artistic operations at the Meyerhoff. “He also has deep connection and understanding of the orchestra … and he really bridges that gap for us in a lot of ways.”

And Blumenthal continues to try to find ways to bridge that gap and attract a younger audience to the venue. This summer, the Meyerhoff will host a concert of video game music, outdoor concerts before Beethoven shows and there’s talk of developing new events to bring more intergenerational audiences to the venue.

“I feel like, here, this is the community’s venue,” he said. “So, we want everybody to feel welcome when coming to this building.”

ADD COMMENTS