Tim Walther and Walther Productions
Itís All About the Music
by Lee Abraham †
Tim Walther makes things happen. When he promotes a show, posters and flyers become a whirlwind of color and paper... telephones start ringing and fax machines begin spewing press releases. Bands like working with him because heís proven to be reliable, honest and knows how to pack the house. Music fans dig him because heís got a great ear. When Walther Productions puts on a show, no doubt the joint will be jumpin.
As head of WP, based of out Maryland, Walther is one of the driving forces behind the increasingly popular summertime -music and camping festival- scene in the southeast. Together with Junipa, his partner in life -and- business, Walther has not only produced a series of successful festivals and countless club dates, heís helped cultivate and nurture the -jamband- scene itself. One of the keys to Waltherís success was following his heart rather than his wallet when he got into the music biz.
"Itís all about the bands I like, as opposed to -making money- on bands," says Walther. Heís had plenty of time to develop his business philosophy; at age 13, Walther started managing a swim club snack bar with eight to ten employees. That job lasted for seven years. After graduating from James Madison University in Ď89 with a Bachelors in Business Administration, Walther went into restaurant management. At one point he had 42 waiters and waitresses working for him.
On his 23rd birthday Walther got a birthday card from the Vice President of Operations that said, "Happy Birthday, get a haircut!" Although he was prepared to get the haircut, he waited too long and was fired. "I was upset, I was kind of pissed off for a day, but then I was over it,"says Walther. "I was like, screw Ďem, you know, I can do something else."
For the next six months, that something else meant collecting unemployment and catching 25 or 30 Dead shows. That was Ď91. After the unemployment well ran dry, Walther went to work for a pizza place as a cook. Within a month he was managing the operation. After a year and a half, he was ready for a change. "I was tired of managing peoplesí businesses and making them money and then getting the shaft," explains Walther. "So I kept asking myself, what can I do that I would -enjoy- doing, that would make money as a business and then come back to me directly."
During that period, he read two books, -Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow,- and -Bill Graham Presents-. The combination pointed him in the direction of live music promotion. Walther started out by helping -God Street Wine- promote their shows. The band noticed results immediately. Over the next two years, GSW went from playing to 150 people at the -Grogg & Tanker- to selling out the 600-700 seat -Bayou-.
It was obvious that Walther was able to get the word out and that his promotions brought people to the show. Realizing that he had a knack for marketing, Walther decided to make the leap of faith. "After a while I said to myself, why donít I do this for other bands?" So in January of Ď95, he invested $400 in a fax machine and business cards. -Walther Productions- was born.
Operating out of his parentís basement, Waltherís first three shows came on consecutive nights over a Memorial Day weekend. The holiday blowout was held at the the Avalon Theater in Easton, Maryland. Solar Circus and Blue Miracle played the first night, Bovox Clown and the Empties the next, with Rockwell Church and Eddie From Ohio, capping off the run.
The first show was a huge success, with over 350 people nearly selling out the 400 person capacity theater, but the next two nights were a disaster, with a combined total draw of only 75 people. The bottom line for the weekend was a money loser. "I realized I wasnít ready to be producing shows," reflects Walther. "I didnít know enough about I was doing." A year passed before WP produced another show as Walther focused his energies on the less risky promotion side of the business.
The re-enty into the production game came with the first -Full Moon Music Festival- at Wilmerís Park in Brandywine, Maryland. The -Aquarium Rescue Unit- and -Everything- headlined that festival. Basically doing all the work himself, Walther brought in a couple of people to help him about a week or two before the show. "Thatís how I met Junipa," recalls Walther. "And weíve been together ever since."
With an attendance of 1000 people, the festival broke even. "It was a really cool thing because all these bands that I was busting my butt for out on the streets were coming and doing everything they could do to make it successful," says Walther. "It was really a combined effort on everybodyís part and everybody had a great time."
Then came the 1st Annual Autumn Equinox Music Festival that September. Ticket sales went up to 1840 people and Walther Productions made its first profit. The next year in Ď97, -WP- put on -four- festivals. "It was pretty intense," laughs Walther. The 1st Allgood Music Festival featured Strangefolk, the All Mighty Senators, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, among a slew of others. That festival drew 2400 people and made a profit. Next up was the 2nd Annual Full Moon Festival, which featured Jupiter Coyote, Everything, From Good Homes, Disco Biscuits, Joe Gallant & Illuminati, among others. WP lost money on that one with 1400 people paid.
The -Summer of Love 30 Years Later Festival-, WP was one of only two promotors that got permission from Bill Graham Presents to use the phrase "Summer Of Love." Joe Gallant & Illuminati as well as Merl Saunders headlined that one. The festival was just better than a break even proposition, but the next one, the 2nd Annual Autumn Equinox Festival, did very well. Some of the other bands on that bill included the return of Bela Fleck, the Recipe, God Street Wine, Gibb Droll Band and Ekoustic Hookah.
"We did well on two of the festivals," says Walther. "So in Ď98 we decided to limit ourselves to those two festivals and really focus on them. We were also doing lots of club shows, maybe 10 to 15 shows a month." The plan worked. the 2nd Annual Allgood Festival, headlined by Zero, Jazz is Dead, Government Mule and John Scofield, was a big success with an attendance of around 3,000. The 2nd Annual Autumn Equinox Festival almost doubled that with over 5,000 tickets sold. John Scofield with Medeski, Martin and Stubblefield, the Charlie Hunter Trio and Leftover Salmon were among the big names on that bill.
The 3rd Annual Allgood Festival is scheduled for this May. Although the lineup is unconfirmed as we go to press, safe to say Walther will put together an interesting weekend of music. "These last two festivals I feel like Iím doing something thatís somewhat revolutionary as far as bringing the jamband scene together with the jazz scene. In my world itís there but I feel like weíre introducing it to alot of other people, and it works really well." ###