Let’s clear a couple of things up off the top: No, the Charleston Music Hall has not changed owners. No, they are not ripping out the seats and making all of their shows standing-room only and general admission. In fact, depending on what show you go to at the Music Hall, you might not even notice what they’re doing differently, or who they’re doing it with.
The corporate hierarchy involved is a bit complex, so we’ll try to keep this as simple as possible: Frank Productions and National Shows 2 (or NS2), have taken over the management of the Charleston Music Hall. NS2 is a Nashville-based, concert promotion company that is part of Frank Productions’ national operations — NS2 has actually been the exclusive booking company for the Music Hall for the past six years.
Longtime executive director Charles Carmody remains, as NS2 concentrates on booking a wider variety of acts to perform there. Another company under the Frank Productions umbrella, FPC Live, will help with the day-to-day operation of the Music Hall in conjunction with Carmody and his staff.
“This provides the Charleston Music Hall with so much support to get even better acts down the road,” Carmody says, “while also giving the local team the support we need to run the day-in, day-out things. We have some amazing humans who are really plugged into the industry and can take us to the next level.”
“To quote Hannah Montana, ‘It’s the best of both worlds for us,'” Carmody says (a reference we were not expecting, to be honest).
And yes, there will be some changes in the layout of the Music Hall, but those changes will only apply to the front area of seating. The plan is to replace the 280 or so stationary seats up front with movable ones that can be taken out to create standing-room general admission space for certain shows.
“Basically there are 284 seats in front of the stage,” Carmody says. “We’re going to pull the current seats out and put new ones in. Essentially, a reserved-seating show will feel like every one we’ve ever done, and for a general admission show, we can pick up those orchestra seats, put them on a rack, take them to the back of the room, and boom, you’ve got a general admission floor.”
This change has actually been in the works since late 2018, when standing seats were first approved by Charleston zoning officials.
“Charles and I started a conversation a couple of years ago, about four years into our exclusive booking arrangement,” says Darin Lashinsky, president of NS2. “We had a conversation about how we take this to the next level. How do we build business at the Charleston Music Hall? That led to a conversation about a change in the seating configuration.”
As odd as it might sound, Lashinsky says that making those 284 seats removable opens up more than just space in front of the stage.
“What that changes is that we have the ability to book a wider variety of events because of the seating configuration,” he says. “Over the years, there have been artists who either haven’t played the market or played a smaller venue because the artists want to perform in front of a standing crowd. It opens up the opportunity to increase the amount of national touring shows by 40 or 50 shows a year, at minimum.”
Add in the fact that Frank Productions could also provide an experienced venue-management company, and you have some serious synergy.
“We specialize in venue operations,” says Matt Gerding, the president of FPC Live, “So, when we became partners with the company, it gave them a deeper perspective on running venues. Adding that into the mix gave us a special perspective to look at taking over the operations and working with Charles in that capacity. So everything kind of lined up naturally and made sense for a variety of reasons.”
This partnership has also given the Music Hall staff the ability to network with their peers, something they didn’t have much of a chance to do before.
“We had a bunch of the Music Hall team members out to Madison, Wis. (where FPC Live is based) for our company summit last month,” Gerding says, “and I think it was really energizing for their team to connect with other people who know exactly what they do every day and understand the difficulties and rewards of running a venue. I feel like they’ve gone from being somewhat on an island to having a family they can talk to about making their venue more efficient and smarter.”
But even as NS2 looks for a wider array of acts to bring to the Music Hall, Carmody wants to reassure the people of Charleston that some things will stay the same.
“I do want to stress that we’re going to keep doing the programming that we’re currently doing,” he says. “For those who like to sit for shows, it will be clearly specified that that is the case. People seem to think that we’re pulling out all of the seats, that there aren’t going to be anymore seated shows, and that is not the case at all.”