Q: Maybe there are more rock stars than I know who are involved in business ventures, but I am fascinated by your involvement on such a corporate level. Can you talk about that?
Ben Lovett: I have been an entrepreneur my whole life. I started my first business in event promotion on the rock scene about 20 years ago and then opened a record label publishing artists’ records about 15 years ago.
I see my life with Mumford & Sons as my artistic outlet, but there is a side of me that believes in having a day job. Owning these companies is great honest work.
I started doing venues about six years ago and started Venue Group with my brother Greg (Lovett). He has a very strong career in business and most recently he was CFO of Soho House & Co. before joining us as CFO at Venue Group.
Our dad was in corporate management and consulting for 45 years and we grew up in that environment, a household that brought a certain amount of buttoned-up ones and twos, crossing the Ts and dotting the I’s when it comes to industry and running a successful business.
Q: Are you actually involved in building these music venues from the acoustic and design standpoint or are you just a consultant to those who do?
A: I roll up my sleeves and get into the intimate detail.
I think you don’t want any single element of the venue to let you down both from the artist’s experience and from the patron’s experience, because that’s really what it is all about.
When you attract a Jimmy Buffet or Travis Scott, or whoever it might be through a venue, you want them to say, ‘That was pretty good. I want to come back here and play when I am on tour.’
You can’t underestimate their (artist’s) experience whether it is the sound on the stage, the temperature in the dressing room, or the limitations of the production loading docks.
But from the patron’s point of view, you might have done a lot of things well. The sound was great, and the lights were great, but if it takes half an hour to get the car out of the car park at the end of the night, then patrons say to themselves, there was so much right about the experience, but there was something that let me down.
We are looking at the detail, both the artists’ and the patrons’ (experience) to make sure we are not going to fall short on this venue.
Q: Is Huntsville really the first of these venues you are building?
A: Yes, Huntsville Amphitheater is Venue Group’s first amphitheater in the U.S., and this is a very specific type of building, an open-air theatre.
We’ve joined up with some great veterans of the industry like Mike Luba and Don Sullivan, who brought back the Forest Hills Stadium in New York. He has been in this industry for decades and I have collaborated with him on a number of projects.
Given the importance and scale of this project, we decided to partner on it, so we’re not going into it completely cold. We’re leaning on our experience and it’s a good collaboration.
Q: Without sounding corny, but ‘‘of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world” – why Huntsville?
A: Huntsville is a wonderful place.
I think in my travels across the U.S., it has occurred to me that some of the secondary and tertiary markets and cities have a bit of insecurity about them, an inferiority complex. But as far as I see it, Huntsville has people of great stature and it not only deserves to be one of the great U.S. cities, but it is really on its way to being so.
I don’t think it is as hard to imagine building a world-class venue in Huntsville.
The city government is incredibly well run. Our first meetings with the current administration a couple of years ago with Mayor (Tommy) Battle, Shane Davis and John Hamilton – these people are smart, they are ambitious, and they are aware of the responsibility they have in public office. These are, I think, some of the best examples of city officials I have ever met, and I have met a lot of people on different project across the years in the U.S.
So that is a big part of it, and also, just the rate of growth right now in Huntsville is off the scale. You’ve got all of these new jobs, all of this new activity, but what are these people doing on the weekend?
I think the task we’ve been given is to stop people from running off to Birmingham or Nashville or Atlanta to spend their hard-earned money on the weekend.
Let’s keep them here in Huntsville, keep them happy, and let’s entertain them with incredible food and beverage options that will make Huntsville into a great city in the next chapter of the South.
Q: Are you aware of how hot it gets in Huntsville in July and August?
A: I am very aware of the heat and I must say from snowy New York, I think every day I could live in Huntsville full time!
Q: Back in my concert-going days, the only place to eat after a late-night concert was Krystal or perhaps you know it as White Castle. I heard you talk about how food is a centerpiece of the venue experience. Can you explain what that means for Huntsville?
A: Yes, the food experience has changed.
The food element is something that is very important to us, but probably not something people deem as important across the industry.
We think there is such an opportunity with 8,000 people coming out to West Huntsville multiple times a year, to enjoy a concert.
For many people, it will be their one night out that month or one big night out that year and it needs to be from start to finish, exceptional.
Most venues see the show as the main event.
But if you go beyond the show, those people are going to want to park efficiently. They will want to have dinner and some drinks. We see these things as a kind of equal match to the main event itself.
We want to work with people in Huntsville, within Madison County and around the region to showcase their delicious cuisine, whether it is a Poke Bowl or pizza, to those 8,000 people. We want to offer patrons the best options, and we want them to be great, so they become part of their memory of that event.
And we want people to know that is open and available 365 days a year. We want to make Huntsville an inbound destination when the show is on, and when the show is off.
On days when there is no concert happening, people will be able to go and enjoy Huntsville as a new destination where they can hang out with friends and sometimes see big scale arena performances.
Q: One last question about your music – for a British rock band, Mumford & Sons has a very American folksy sound. Where does that come from?
A: I think it is just a fascination with “the other” and it’s been that way for years.
If you think about the Rolling Stones coming to Muscle Shoals all those years ago, it was a British band wanting to learn and nurture themselves with southern American roots.
It’s gone back and forth. A lot of American bands have felt the same way about British and Celtic music, and some of it is that historic relationship culturally between the U.K. and the U.S.
It has led me to living here and growing a family in the U.S. I love this country and I love the South. I think there is an incredible romance about it, so I’m all in.
Q: Can we expect to see you playing here a lot?
A: Playing here is definitely on the agenda!