“I think anytime you’re out of work, you start to think about all of your options,” Drusky says now. “I got offered several positions, some in town and some out of town, and I decided I wanted to stay in Pittsburgh. I’d also already worked in this business for more than 10 years and … I decided I wanted to go out and give this a try on my own.”
This year marks Drusky Entertainment’s 10th anniversary. In 2007, Drusky hired Josh Bakaitus, now a partner and vice president of the organization. Drusky says Bakaitus is a big part of the company and has been crucial to its success.
In the early days, the company booked fewer than 100 shows a year; these days Drusky Entertainment puts on several hundred shows annually, in venues ranging in size from The Smiling Moose and the Rex Theater to the PPG Paints Arena; likewise, performers range from local bands to national touring acts. This year alone, Drusky put on shows from musicians such as Ms. Lauryn Hill (her first Pittsburgh appearance in 17 years), Chris Isaak, Graham Nash and The Mavericks, and from comedians like Paul Reiser, Tig Notaro, Kathleen Madigan and Hannibal Buress.
Starting a company wasn’t totally new territory for Drusky, though his first venture was on a much smaller scale. After college he started Landslide Entertainment, before joining DiCesare Engler. He says that, with the advent of social media and the decline of record stores, the process of deciding which acts to book is certainly different than it was 22 years ago.
“That’s the biggest change,” Drusky says. “We used to be able to check resources like SoundScan to see what people were buying. Now you can look on Facebook to see what bands people are ‘liking,’ but just because they like a band doesn’t mean they’ll pay to go see them.
“We also do research to see how bands are playing in similar markets. If you a see band drawing 500 people in Cleveland, they’ll probably do about the same in Pittsburgh. But a band that draws 500 in Philadelphia or New York probably wouldn’t do anywhere near that.”
This past year presented challenges with the sale of the Strip District’s Altar Bar, a venue that Drusky had exclusively booked for years. Its closure this past summer sent the promoter struggling to find venues for existing shows. But, he says, some good has come out of it. He is now booking shows at other venues in town and even started working with a new site, Jergel’s in Warrendale. Looking for new opportunities has been the key to his success. For example, he began booking shows at the then-underutilized Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall.
“I think I had been in the business maybe 14 years before I even knew about the place. At the time it was mainly used for community events,” Drusky says. “They called me in, I went over and saw that it was this beautiful 1,000-seat venue and I knew I could really do something with this.
“At the time, people told us, ‘It’s in Homestead. You’ll never get anyone to go to Homestead.’ Well, here we are almost 10 years later and we proved that wrong.”