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A game of chess: Ruth Eckerd Hall booking, postponing and re-booking concerts

Bill DeYoung



Todd Rundgren. Photo: Bridget Burke.

Todd Rundgren’s two-night stand at Ruth Eckerd Hall, originally scheduled for mid-June, was understandably postponed when Covid-19 came to town.

There are new dates, however, for the rock legend’s A Wizard, a True Star tour stop at the Clearwater venue: August 4 and 5.

Although the calendars for Ruth Eckerd, and its sister venue the Capitol Theatre, are full of postponements, there are concerts still planned for as early as late May. And many of the postponed shows have been rescheduled for summer and fall.

There’s a reason for this, explains Executive Vice President of Entertainment Bobby Rossi. “We’re going to come out of this,” he says, “and when we are we don’t want that three-month lull because some of the industry maybe wanted to be a little too conservative.”

Rossi, who’s been booking the Eckerd venues for 25 years, considers himself a glass-half-full kind of guy. It’s not that he knows something the rest of the world doesn’t know – far from it. The theaters will remain closed as long as the public health crisis is with us.

But, he explains, he feels a responsibility to patrons of Ruth Eckerd Hall (2,200 seats) and the Capitol Theatre (730 seats). Rossi books 250 concerts annually between the theaters, and he wants their reputations as essential hubs of entertainment safe and intact.

“If we come out of it in a month, we don’t want to have shows starting in August,” he says. “So we’re trying to be pro-active with the artists and the managers and say look, people are going to be ready; this is a great community for live entertainment, and they’ve been kind of holed up.”

Ruth Eckerd Hall’s Bobby Rossi, at right, with Kris Kristofferson (l) and John Prine in 2019. Rossi first met Prine in 1988, as a rep with Fantasma Productions. It was his very first job in the “field.” After Prine’s Ruth Eckerd concert, the two (at Prine’s request) went out for ribs. A decades-long friendship resulted. Photo: Ruth Eckerd Hall.

He has the advantage of long-term relationships with artist managers and promoters. And since everyone’s in the same boat these days, everyone’s OK with shuffling things around.

Rossi, meanwhile, is impatient.

“I don’t mind that part of the chess game,” he says, “as opposed to saying ‘Let’s go to June of 2021.’ Moving some around is not as easy as others, but we’re trying to think of it from a consumer standpoint, from a fan standpoint – ‘Hey, let’s get out of this in mid-May, and get ready for some shows in June.’”

Again, if.

“The contracts are the easy part, for the shows that have to be postponed. They just issue, basically, a new face page that goes along with it. The riders have already been done. The new shows haven’t happened yet, so that’s a new deal.”

Announced earlier this week, in the spirit of optimism, was an Aug. 12 appearance by ‘80s rock singer Pat Benatar, who performs on a co-bill with her guitarist husband Neal Giraldo.

It is, Rossi concedes, conceivable that some (if not most) of his new and rescheduled shows will have to be rescheduled again.

“At the end of the day, that’s our life,” he says. “We do the grunt work to make sure that the fans have the great times. More contracts and paperwork and phone calls, that’s what we do.

“We got through almost the middle of March, and thank goodness because our community is a 12 month a year place. It’s not as seasonal as other areas of Florida. That being said, the lion’s share of our shows are pretty much January to April. We’re lucky this didn’t happen in January, where we still had a hundred-plus shows in February and March to do. We got through almost half of the 52 shows in March.

“We did have a lot for summer; I still had to move 75 shows. Only two canceled. Pretty much everybody was on board. It was a real partnership with the artists, more than ever, because they all need to work.

“It’s a domino game. It’s not just Ruth Eckerd or the Capitol, it’s four other shows in Florida that go with it. They have to be sure that the avails are there.”

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    Frank Coppola

    April 9, 2020at11:31 am

    Keep up the great work you do for the community Bobby…You’re the Best in the business..

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