2007_06_arts_bowerypresents.jpgWith brick and mortar sales declining, and the future of the music industry uncertain - at least live shows are always dependable. Sure, there are a lot of venues closing, but how about the ones thriving? The NY Times reports on some of the big players in the New York venue scene.

In New York heated competition among concert promoters has driven a building spree of small and midsize spaces over the last two years. And a pivotal player in this behind-the-scenes contest has emerged in the Bowery Presents, a promoter that has grown steadily from crowded downtown boîtes to the big leagues of the concert industry.

“What we do well is work with bands at the Mercury Lounge level and grow them as far as possible, all the way to the Garden or beyond,” said John Moore, one of the company’s three principal partners, in an interview this week at its headquarters, five flights above a grungy block on the Lower East Side.

The locals are in direct competition with national promoters Live Nation and A.E.G. Live. The former, a $1.5 billion public company, puts on concerts at places like Roseland, Hammerstein Ballroom the Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza. The latter fills seats at the Nokia Theater in Times Square. The Times goes over the history and capacity of each Bowery venue, which all are relatively small in comparison to their competition.

It started with the 250-capacity Mercury Lounge on East Houston Street, which opened in 1994 for $250,000, some $35,000 of which came from the maxed-out credit cards of Michael Swier, one of the Bowery Presents partners. Four years later came the 575-capacity, $1 million Bowery Ballroom, and in 2004 the company began booking Webster Hall, which fits 1,400. Last year it acquired Northsix in Brooklyn, which will open in September as the Music Hall of Williamsburg, and the 3,000-capacity former Exit dance club on West 56th Street, to reopen as a rock hall in October.

As Bowery Presents started expanding by including bigger venues under their umbrella, its rivals have found smaller venues to even the playing field - with Live Nation booking the new Blender Theater at Gramercy, as well as the Luna Lounge in Williamsburg. However, talk to most hardcore concert-goers in this town and they'll likely say that Bowery Ballroom is their favorite venue. Musicians enjoy playing there, fans like seeing live music there, and because of that - they will consistently do well no matter what the competition brings. Just ask Interpol guitarist Daniel Kessler, who told The Times, “There’s something really special about the Bowery Ballroom. It has a real family kind of feel to it, and it’s one of the few places in the world where you can stand anywhere and have a good view of the stage, and the sound is amazing.”

As the war wages, the big guys are losing some core members to "the little guy," Jim Glancy left as president of the New York division of Live Nation to become a Bowery partner, and Josh Moore, who was booking at the Nokia Theater, made the same move. Is this beginning to sound like The Sopranos?

Photo via WallyG's Flickr.