A 2017 study by the Economic Development Commission of Asheville-Buncombe County characterized Asheville as a music mecca in its adolescence — one swelling with performers, venues, music stores and recording studios, yet lacking the infrastructure of a full music ecosystem like that of Nashville.
Though that 27-page document didn’t circulate to Spanish teacher Melissa Myers, her newly launched company, Red Rover Booking, may as well have been a direct response to it. In actuality, her entrepreneurial start was driven by a simple, out-of-the-blue question from a co-worker: “Would you mind booking for my band?”
A few months in, Red Rover has a roster of 12 artists — and continues to grow.
“I realized that there was this lack of support,” Myers says. “Bands are doing a lot for themselves, and they want that grassroots movement, which I understand. But at the same time, there are logistical sides of things that I really love doing.”
Emailing, scheduling and other organizational tasks top the list, though those aren’t new skill sets for Asheville’s many talent buyers. Rooms that present live music typically have at least one person overseeing bookings, whether negotiations and other legwork are done in-house or by a third-party agency like AC Entertainment. But Myers’ decision to book on behalf of a roster of artists, rather than venues, sets her venture apart in an industry the EDC diagnosed with “an absence of critical mass of business management, booking agents, mastering, mixing and other components of larger music economies.”
Not surprisingly, Red Rover’s clientele has grown quickly to include acts such as Kozak & the Poets (the band that originally approached Myers), Matt Townsend, Brie Capone, Livingdog, The Moon and You, Sanctum Sully and others. For them, it’s a sweet gig, since musicians only pay a commission on successful bookings. Plus, they’re free to pursue their own deals while Myers builds bridges and plugs her artists to the right people.
“When venues see an email from an artist versus an agency, they won’t necessarily take it as seriously,” Capone points out, though she reports faring well as a self-booked soloist in Asheville. The anonymity makes radio silence understandable, she adds, but still, “There is a level of legitimacy that someone representing you can help with.”
Townsend, too, blames no one for the “thousand unanswered emails” he’s launched into the abyss, but he looks forward to allocating time to other parts of his career, such as writing, practicing, recording and sharing his musical pursuits online. He approached several individuals and agencies before landing a partnership with Red Rover.
“I still like booking, but as the sole operator of my touring, the time to do it becomes increasingly more difficult to put aside,” he says. Plus, “I tend to lose track of time, things and my mind quite frequently.”
At this point, musicians far beyond Asheville have sung the low-wage chorus for years (try “Everything Is Free Now” by Sylvan Esso and Flock of Dimes for a literal example). So, how can a company survive, let alone profit, on a percentage of what performers earn?
“I just really, truly believe in the artists who I’m booking — so much so that I think they are going to keep getting bigger offers and bringing more [of a crowd],” Myers says. “Most of these artists I saw once live and wanted to represent them. I want them to be playing more often. I can’t believe that I’ve only seen them one time by chance.”
As Red Rover’s roster expands, Myers also stands to book multiple nights in the same room at once. That’s one reason she isn’t constraining herself to any particular genre.
Still, she says she’s starting small for now. “Mostly, I’m trying to earn people’s trust and let them know that I’m here, I’m responsible, and I can help.”
So far, that’s led to shows at Foggy Mountain Brew Pub, The Odditorium, Native Kitchen, Whistle Hop Brewing and MG Road’s Living Room Series. And, though it’s been a challenge to reach larger venues, Myers is working daily to make those connections. In fact, it’s a top priority, since her artists have high hopes for their own careers.
“I’m expecting Wembley Stadium, sold out, by the end of March,” Capone says. “Just kidding.”
Learn more at redroverbooking.com