It has to be surreal at times, looking at the San Francisco Peaks on a clear day, and thinking, “How in the hell did I get here?” For veteran show promoter Tyler King, who co-owns the Flagstaff venue The Green Room, this probably happens often.
King, who is old enough to know better but young enough to enjoy the finer things in life (like going to the Punk Rock Bowling festival in Las Vegas), moved to Flagstaff in July 2015 after 17 years in Phoenix. During much of that time, King promoted concerts all around the Valley and worked in some of the more well-known clubs and venues like the Marquee Theatre, Club Red, and Stray Cat.
Along with his business partner Brandon Kinchen (who played bass in Rapid Fire, a popular Valley metal act during the 2000s), King took over the 550-person capacity music venue in downtown Flagstaff that originally opened in 2008 and put on the club’s first show under the new ownership on September 26, 2015, when they hosted Riverside, California’s Voodoo Glow Skulls. Over the past year, the partners have turned the space into another excellent venue for music fans of Northern Arizona, not to mention providing an opportunity for Phoenix bands (and music fans) to escape the summer heat and take in shows by a diverse group of artists like the Melvins, Sage Francis, Voivod, Boris, and Yellowman, just to name a few.
A huge music fan, King got into concert (many people in the punk and hardcore scene would call them “shows” as well) promoting for one main reason.
“It started for purely selfish reasons, so I could see the bands I wanted to see,” says King.
Selfish or not, there was more to it than just wanting to see bands. King had the do-it-yourself ethic and mission.
“I wanted to see different types of shows that weren’t happening at the time. Whether it was in New York or Maine [where King lived off and on during his youth], I would start bringing bands to these areas and finding out, sometimes the hard way, who wanted to see these bands and who didn’t, but at least I was getting to see the bands I wanted to see,” King says.
The East Coast native cut his promoter teeth setting up punk, hardcore, and metal shows at a variety of venues before landing what many would consider the best promoting gig in punk rock. For eight years (1991-1998), King promoted shows at historic New York City venue CBGB, making him perhaps the first person in the history of modern civilization to be able to say he promoted shows at CBGB, Phoenix’s Mason Jar, and now The Green Room in Flagstaff.
For years, King was promoting as many as 10 shows per week in and around New York City, often riding his bicycle from gig to gig because it was faster than taking a cab. In addition to promoting shows, King held a variety of day jobs, including working for a plumbing company on what he describes as “huge, New York City plumbing jobs,” tending bar, and working security at concerts and punk rock, metal, and hardcore shows.
While his day jobs helped supplement his income, and at times, allowed him to both eat and make flyers to help promote the bands he was partnering with, King was learning valuable lessons working alongside CBGB’s owner, the late Hilly Kristal, and veteran booking agent Louise Parnassa (now Parnassa-Staley) who worked at the club from 1986 to 2006.
“In the decade-plus I worked at CBGB, I paid very close attention to the detail Hilly Kristal and Louise put into their work. Hilly wasn’t one to mince words. He said it like it was supposed to be said. He would say, ‘No, that’s not going to happen’ when it needed to be said. They knew what they were doing. I learned a lot of what not to do as well from working at CBGB,” King says.
To many musicians, promoters are not to be trusted. There are many horror stories around the music world about bands getting screwed over by promoters and bar owners, especially here in Phoenix, where for every promoter with a good reputation, there are three to four without one. To King, it has always been important to create as level a playing field as possible with the bands he works with to create a good show for the fans.
“Promoters are always the bad guy, and for good reason. There’s a lot of them out there who’ve made a good living being scumbags by either making bands pay to play or disappearing before the headlining band plays. These coked-up Hollywood promoters … it’s not a stereotype,” King says.
“What I found that worked for me was to be a little more direct and straightforward, which may not be what management and agents wanted to hear back in the day. I would say, ‘Hey, your band is not worth this much. Let’s negotiate and make sure everyone is treated fairly and comes out of this without anyone taking a loss.’ This way, we come out of this as friends.”
This approach to the music business has allowed King to maintain great relationships with bands and booking agents for nearly 30 years and makes the Green Room a formidable presence in not only the Arizona music scene, but the national music scene as well.
Phoenix bands are taking notice as well. Billy Goodman and his recently reformed band, Necronauts, played the Green Room in August.
“We had a great time at the Green Room. I’m really glad it’s there and glad Tyler and Brandon are there. It’s one of the better stages and sound systems in Flagstaff, and they treat the bands very well in comparison to the competition,” Goodman says.
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David Cosme, who plays in Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra (PAO) and Playboy Manbaby, concurs.
“I played [the Green Room] years ago and it has improved so much since then. The stage used to be small ... The current stage is big enough for PAO so certainly big enough for a variety of performances. I also liked the fact that the venue had printed and put announcements of the show throughout town. When you don’t live close enough to promote, that always helps,” Cosme says.
To King, though, putting out flyers for a show is just part of the process he’s been doing for years, although now, he’s got even more skin in the game.
“If you want to book a show, in this day and age or back then, part of your job is to go to the copy shop and make flyers and put them out. You don’t know if five people are showing up or 500. If you can’t do that [make flyers], you are not doing your job,” King says.