Sillerman, 51, the tanned and athletic founder of SFX Entertainment,
the world's largest live-event promoter, scoffs at the worried
looks of new arrivals.
feuding promoters, aging rock stars, Rugrats, tractor
pulls, and Ragtime into his big tent has made Bob Sillerman
the biggest mogul in the concert biz. To his partners,
his acts, and his sponsors, he has the golden touch.
But should fans be picking up the tab?
thunderclouds come rolling over Bob Sillerman's catered
beach bash, threatening to scatter the 100 friends gathered
below the dunes of his $6 million Southampton estate.
For several minutes, his annual "Bobecue," with its
bow-tied waiters and Billy Joel soundtrack, seems a
a little rain?" he says, flashing a toothy grin beneath an
Uncle Sam top hat, his American-flag pants billowing in the
gale. Sillerman bounds across the beach, biting potato chips
out of one man's mouth, lifting a shrieking woman into his
arms, posing beach-boy-style in the sand. He looks more the
triathlete he is than the shrewd billionaire who made a killing
flipping radio stations in the eighties and now controls a
dizzy-making chunk of the live-entertainment business.
buff, a terror on the basketball court, charming to friends
and prone to corny jokes, he has spent $2 billion snapping
up a string of promotion houses, music halls, sports-marketing
firms, and Broadway-theater outfits. Several awestruck bankers
recently lent him $1.1 billion to take his act to Europe.
guy is an absolute genius," says one. "He's making people
is also cornering the market on the season's biggest rock
spectacles (or at least the ones playing to the boomer crowd
willing to shell out $100 and more for the choicest tickets),
buying up the tours of every aging superstar act from Tom
Petty and Rod Stewart to Cher and the odd coupling of Paul
Simon and Bob Dylan, which he personally brokered.
very much a product of the sixties," he tells me, "and these
two artists, to me, represent the heart and soul of that time."
But Sillerman's aims aren't exclusively about feeling groovy.
brash deal-maker (he once told a blustery banker, "Don't waste
my time telling me how great you are"), he is scaring the
patchouli off the very mavericks who built the industry. Conjured
into being during the free-for-all sixties, the rock-concert
business was ruled for years by fierce regional chieftains
like the late Bill Graham, who battled over turf and talent.
Now a huge chunk of that once-balkanized trade is suddenly
under one man's thumb. Critics accuse Sillerman of using his
market dominance (in some cities, he controls every concert
venue) to dictate artist contracts, drive booking agents out
of business, and inflate everything from ticket prices to
the costs of T-shirts, parking, and popcorn.
no question that he's doing all this on a monopolistic model,"
says one stalwart competitor, Woodstock producer and veteran
New York concert promoter John Scher. "It's amazing that the
government is letting him get away with it."
buying spree has, in fact, drawn Justice Department attention
to possible anti-competitive practices. When SFX considered
buying Seagram's Universal Concerts in July, the Justice Department
made it clear to SFX that DOJ would look long and hard at
the deal. Seagram, eager to put through a quickie deal to
pay off debt, eventually sold instead to House of Blues for
flatters me that they think I might be a Bill Gates," says
Sillerman calmly. "But what we do hardly approaches that scale.
It's not our plan to own everything. Nor would we want to."
he does want, Sillerman says, is to be the Sam Walton of pop
music, bringing rival promoters -- from New York's godfather
of gigs, Ron Delsener, to San Francisco's famed Bill Graham
Productions -- into his big tent. Of course, Wal-Mart is about
selling low-cost goods to the masses.
on the other hand, provides high-end one-stop shopping for
the 90-decibel-minstrel set. If you're a touring band, Sillerman
wants to book you, market you, promote you, and merchandise
you. If you're a fan, he wants to sell you the ticket, the
T-shirt, the sixteen-ounce beer. And if you're an advertiser,
he wants you to know all those fans are there for the picking.
got the star-power charisma of a Harrison Ford and the smarts
to pull this entire fucked-up industry together," says Arnold
Stiefel, who manages Rod Stewart, the first mega-act to sign
with SFX. "He's making it all work where it used to be lazy
himself praises Sillerman's marketing genius. "I'll pay him
the highest compliment I can," says the rocker. "He's my kind
of geezer." With this summer's $110 million-plus buyout of
bankrupt Broadway producer Livent, Sillerman's begun flexing
his muscles in the live theater, as well. SFX took over Livent's
houses in Chicago, Toronto, and New York, where Ragtime is
coming to the end of its two-year run. SFX's Pace touring
unit, a road-show powerhouse, is bringing shows like Jekyll
& Hyde to the heartland, titillating tots with Rugrats, revving
up motorheads with monster-truck rallies. All of which Sillerman
wants to sponsor with monster ad deals.
guys hated each other," Delsener says of the other promoters.
"They didn't want to give up their secrets." While Sillerman's
star rises over countless stages, he's managed to stay true
to his roots -- even if those roots now spread determinedly
through the smooth Southampton sand. As the chancellor and
chief benefactor of Southampton College, he has raised more
than $7 million for the campus with his annual "All for the
Sea" benefits, featuring SFX acts such as Tom Petty and the
private beach blowout, on the other hand, with its filet mignon,
grilled tuna steaks, vodka-heavy bar, and swaying Japanese
lanterns, is one of the East End's most exclusive. Not because
it features studio moguls and arriviste rappers, but because
it doesn't. Barefoot electricians mingle with grocers' wives
in Gap dresses. Fast-food franchisers hug the children of
a self-made billionaire, weaves through them all, a jockish
roustabout and the life of the party. "It's like this all-American
picnic in somebody's backyard," says Jane Finalborgo, whose
husband, Vic, owns the local gourmet food shop Catena's Market.
"Not only do they invite me, but all my relatives and their
kids. They just want real friends. A real life. That's not
what you expect from a guy who's been doing what he's doing."
his sleekly modern midtown office, Sillerman stops next to
a crinkly aluminum Bill King sculpture, a leggy hip-jutting
colossus with spindly arms akimbo and a defiant barrel chest
that easily serves as Sillerman's personal calling card. "We
call him 'Peckerman,' " he jokes.
always, Sillerman looks cool and controlled in a charcoal
suit and a silk floral-print tie. For a man in the midst of
negotiating the takeover of Europe's biggest concert promoters,
he is remarkably calm. His office, with its fresh spray of
Cymbidium orchids, black-and-white photos of his wife breast-feeding
their baby daughter, and a steel wedge of desk the size of
a grand piano, is new-man macho.
know what I want," he says, sitting beneath a life-size portrait
of himself with his daughter on the beach at sunset, "and
I try to get it." Sillerman began his latest buying in an
unlikely place, on an empty football field a few miles from
his house, where he accidentally stumbled on a marketing gold
mine. He was planning the "All for the Sea" benefit with Ron
Delsener when he noted something odd about the rock trade:
It rarely attracted national advertising.
its size," he says, "it was incredibly inefficient. If you
were Bill Graham in San Francisco, you might have a great
venue like the Fillmore, but you weren't getting big sponsors.
It's one event in one place with a few thousand people. But
what if you owned dozens of venues?" Sillerman thought that
if he could unite the promoters, cluster their amphitheaters,
centralize bookings, and sell the total package to national
sponsors, he'd create an unstoppable league of live entertainment.
Easier said, of course, than done. Years earlier, Delsener
had tried the same thing, only to see his efforts crumble
amid bickering and suspicion.
guys hated each other," says Delsener. "They didn't want to
give up their secrets. And no one had the type of money Bob
had to just buy them out." Indeed, he had the money -- and
a second motive. At the time, his company, then called SFX
Broadcasting, was a chain of 72 mid- and large-market radio
stations that often sponsored local concerts but missed out
on the lucrative ticket and concession sales that went to
promoters. He wanted a piece of that action.
saw this great opportunity for all kinds of cross-promotion,"
says Mitch Slater, the other half of DelsenerSlater Enterprises.
"He's clearly a visionary, a guy who sees things other people
don't and then seizes it." Sillerman's opportunity came in
1996, when Delsener and Slater complained that they didn't
like their partnership deal with Houston-based Pace Entertainment.
two companies had teamed up to buy the Garden State Arts Center,
but DelsenerSlater was getting only a third of the venue's
proceeds. "Bob said to us, 'Why didn't you come to me?' "
recalls Slater. Over lunch at a midtown Italian restaurant,
Sillerman agreed to buy DelsenerSlater for $27 million in
cash. He brought on Slater, 38, and Delsener, 63, to jump-start
the concert division. He moved their staff of eighteen from
a cramped brownstone into his spacious offices.
two men then began introducing Sillerman around the insular
concert world, opening doors long closed to outsiders. Most
promoters vowed never to sell -- at first. But armed with
fistfuls of cash, and promises of big earnings, he preached
a gospel that was hard to resist.
one of these guys could be bought," says Don Fox, owner of
New Orleans's Beaver Productions and a rabid SFX critic. "He's
like Santa Claus. He gave them the biggest payday of their
lives. These people? They just took the money."
Becker family had sold Pace's three successful units, including
its concert business and Broadway touring outfit, for $190 million
in cash, stock, and debt just a month earlier. The family liked
Sillerman's get-rich bravado but feared a corporate culture
would destroy their chummy club.
quickly snatched up dozens of outfits in San Francisco,
Boston, and Washington, D.C., among other cities. He
targeted those with a stable of amphitheaters, which
the promoters had built a decade ago to steal business
from stadium owners. Sillerman kept each business intact,
drawing its seasoned chiefs into SFX with blocks of
stock options. Finally, in the spring of last year,
he assembled his unruly bunch in a Nashville hotel to
deliver his marching orders.
walks in wearing jeans and a T-shirt, and the first
thing he tells us is 'We're all gonna make a lot of
money. We're gonna have a lot of fun. But most important,
we're gonna have a lot of fun making a lot of money,'
" recalls Gary Becker, CEO of Pace Motor Sports.
set them straight. He works well with entrepreneurs because
he's one of them -- he speaks their language and has no problem
spreading credit along with cash. "Most of the business things
we've achieved," he says, "have been other people's ideas
that I've been able to embellish a little." In his buying
spree, Sillerman had forked over hefty goodwill payments --
money given above a business's tangible bricks-and-mortar
assets. In several cases, it equaled two thirds of the selling
price. In the end, the goodwill run-up was over $1 billion.
And Delsener, who had sold first -- and relatively cheap --
was reportedly furious.
"He was Sillerman's consigliere, his ace in the hole," says
one veteran promoter. "And then he got the least money. He
practically gave the business away." Delsener denies this,
insisting he could have retired rich "long before Bob Sillerman
showed up." When I ask him about the inflated payouts, he
turns humorously gruff. "He tells us what he pays after the
fact," says Delsener.
say, 'How much? You could have got it for half that, you stupid
fuck.' He says, 'I know.' Tell him I said that." "Could we
have paid less?" Sillerman says. "In some cases, maybe. Definitionally,
when something is auctioned off, it means you're paying more
than someone else. If you think it's worth ten, we think it's
worth eleven. Somebody has to think we're paying too much."
everybody thinks Sillerman is paying too much, including the
very promoters who have grown rich on lavish SFX buyouts.
"They overpaid for us and they overpaid for everybody," says
one promoter with Bill Graham Presents, which sold to Sillerman
for $68 million in cash and stock, or seven times cash flow.
"I'll tell you flat-out I sold for the money. When was I ever
going to get a golden opportunity like this again?" "Bob can
take a dollar bill and in 25 minutes it's $100," says Bruce
Morrow. "You don't ask how; you just appreciate it." For Sillerman,
it was worth it to sew up the industry quickly rather than
dicker with doubters.
his 120 stages form a rock-and-roll Super Bowl for advertisers.
With 25,000 events in 1998, he delivered 58 million demographically
desirable consumers with a single contract. "These are people
voting with their feet and their wallets," says Sillerman.
"If you go see Tom Petty or the Spice Girls, you've chosen
to do it. You're excited. You're not doing this passively
-- like watching TV at home. You're spending money, and you're
very receptive to hear direct or subliminal messages."
SFX's ads in trade magazines aimed at advertisers read, "Remember
that magical moment when your daughter's eyes widened to meet
her favorite characters live on stage? . . . It's exciting,
it's magical, it's completely engrossing. And we found a way
to package it."
a business that still has its share of sixties-style idealists,
Sillerman's hard-sell tactics have many competitors cringing.
"It's all we can do to keep sponsorship off the stage," says
Scott Welch, who manages Alanis Morissette, one of the few
artists bypassing SFX promotion.
a corporate mentality. The act becomes the reason to sell
beer, the reason to sell parking." Such hand-wringing hasn't
stopped major brands from diving into the mosh pit. In quick
order, Sillerman has locked up $70 million in sponsorships.
His music halls are turning into marketing malls, from Kendall-Jackson
(wine-tasting tents), Smirnoff vodka (banner ads), and Johnson's
Kids Hair Care (shampoo samples) to its biggest catch, Levi's,
which zipped up the rights to an entire second stage in most
of SFX's amphitheaters for $15 million over three years.
you want to reach the entertainment buyer, we've got the only
national model," says Irv Zuckerman, who founded the St. Louis-based
Contemporary Group concert-promotion company in 1968 and sold
to Sillerman for $92 million in cash and stock. Zuckerman
himself had tried to reach national advertisers years earlier,
but with limited success.
has delivered on every one of his promises to us. He's a great
jockey. He's the one you want to ride this horse." Taking
a cue from sports marketing, Sillerman is shrewdly selling
the million-dollar naming rights to such venerable houses
as the Garden State Arts Center (now PNC Bank Arts Center),
and he wouldn't mind re-tagging Jones Beach Theater, Irving
Plaza, and the Beacon Theatre, the core of his New York inventory.
To pack these places with fans (and, critics say, to squelch
competition), Sillerman is slipping rockers the equivalent
of backstage coke: the biggest paychecks of their lives. According
to insiders (Sillerman won't divulge the sums), he's given
Rod Stewart $350,000 per gig, twice what he was getting two
juiced up Dylan and Simon, who several promoters say dislike
each other, with a combined $500,000. On his own, Dylan pulls
in one fifth that amount.
how does Sillerman pay for it all? He doesn't. You do.
seats for Stewart now cost $80; for Dylan-Simon, they were
$125. If you think those sound like scalper prices, you're
not alone. Critics call it the back-alley trade moving to
the front office. Sillerman calls it tiered ticket pricing.
It's based on the Broadway and sports model, where the closer
to the stage (or game) you are, the more you pay. Artists,
who get up to 70 to 85 percent of the gate, are singing all
the way to the bank. It's a brilliant strategy. If Joe Wall
Street can fork over $300 to feel Mick Jagger's spittle, then
clearly the market will bear the front-row increases.
problem is that the "inventory" on cheap seats is meager.
For next spring's Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young reunion at
Madison Square Garden, for example, ticket prices range from
$30.50 to $201. But if you buy a cheap seat, you'd better
bring oxygen -- even in the fourth tier, tickets are $76.
wealthy concertgoers tend to be conservative concertgoers
-- leaving up-and-coming bands and the younger concertgoers
who support them out in the cold, according to Sillerman's
middle-income consumer is getting bitten in all this," says
Jules Belkin of Cleveland's Belkin Productions. "A guy who
makes $32,000 a year and wants to go to four or five shows
with his girlfriend, he can't do it. So then he goes to just
one. How is that benefiting anybody?" And John Scher, who
held his three-day Woodstock tickets to $150, retorts, "We
are cannibalizing our own business." Why would Sillerman,
a brilliant strategist, do something so shortsighted?
leopard doesn't change his spots," says Morisette's manager,
Welch. "Look at this guy's history. Look at what he does.
They keep trying to color it something else. Let's just cut
the bullshit and call it what it is. A stock play." According
to SFX's most recent, third-quarter report, cash flow was
up 123 percent for the first nine months of this year over
last, to $169.3 million. But when interest on the $1 billion-plus
debt is factored in, along with depreciation, amortization,
and other charges, SFX shows a net loss of $15 million.
Sillerman is closing the debt gap, investors have bailed in
a big way on his stock, which is down 30 percent from a high
of $51 just three months ago. It doesn't help that some key
insiders, including the Beckers, cashed in huge stock blocks
at their first opportunity. And while his play dates climbed
13 percent this season, attendance rose just 2 percent, which
means fewer people on average are coming to his shows. No
surprise, then, that Sillerman prefers to talk about his slate
of acquisitions and long-term goals.
believe at the end of the year we will report a profit," he
says. "But that is not the way I'm managing the company. We're
managing toward free cash flow and we're managing toward growth.
We're not managing to increase revenue."
York theater insiders can't help pointing out a weird echo
in all this of Garth Drabinsky, the free-spending producer
whose remains Sillerman just picked up at a Broadway fire
sale. The Toronto-based entrepreneur created Livent, built
theaters in the U.S. and Canada, and got the Ford Motor Company
to buy the marquees. Pleading fiscal prudence, Drabinsky took
Livent public while producing musicals like Ragtime and Show
Boat, spending enormous sums of other people's money -- until
he finally ran out of investors and drowned in a sea of red
ink. Sillerman hardly seems cut from the same cloth. But at
some point, SFX's investors will want results.
far, Sillerman has left every promotion house intact, missing
out on the cost-cutting benefits of unifying various marketing,
accounting, and merchandising staff. He continues to accumulate
debt, having bought up several European promotion houses this
people in our industry know he's wasting millions of dollars
that he doesn't need to," says one SFX promoter. "They throw
ridiculous amounts of money away. His only concern is driving
up stock prices with a new press release every day."
people in our industry know he's wasting millions of dollars,"
says an SFX promoter. "His only concern is driving up stock
prices." When I ask Sillerman if that's his game, to push
the stock until he can sell the whole calliope to a willing
buyer for one flash-point payday, he gives me a textbook answer.
have a fiduciary responsibility to the shareholders of this
company," he says. "It would be irresponsible of me not to
consider any and all options, not to look out for their interests."
In other words, Sillerman is for sale. And not for the first
the woodsy Riverdale section of the Bronx where Robert F.
X. Sillerman grew up, he learned early how to put capital
to work. While selling greeting cards door-to-door in middle
school, he wasn't satisfied with the slim margins. So he started
his own company, buying in bulk and marshaling an army of
friends as a commissioned sales force. But it wasn't until
his father's bankruptcy in the pioneering Keystone Radio Network,
when Sillerman was 13, that the business bug gripped his entire
was the consummate salesman," says Sillerman. "Good salespeople
are optimistic. That's what I got from the whole thing. When
you're in your sixties and you go bankrupt, it can be debilitating.
But my father, the very next day, had an idea on how he was
going to make his next million. He never did. But he never
lost his optimism."
did his son. At Brandeis University, where Sillerman majored
in political science, he launched Youth Market Consultants
in 1966, offering fellow students discount magazine subscriptions
while advising marketers on how to target the teen set. He
sold the company in 1972 to Boston's Ingalls ad firm, though
he won't say for how much. While making the deal, he met a
bright and passionate copywriter named Laura Baudo. At first,
she was put off by his swagger.
had hordes of women surrounding him, and I thought, 'Oh, get
over your cheap self,' " Laura says with a laugh. "I wanted
nothing to do with that." She pauses and adds, "That was moth
to flame, wasn't it?" When Laura sought his help in developing
a musical greeting card, she learned what a lot of people
learn if they listen to Sillerman closely. "Bob is very much
a self-determinist," she says.
one thing I liked about him. And he likes conversation. That's
not a usual male trait, is it? Other people might think he
was attractive because of what was attached to him. He was
successful. He dressed well. But I think it was that he really
liked to talk and listen. He loves ideas." In 1978, Sillerman
joined forces with oldies D.J. Bruce "Cousin Brucie" Morrow
to buy two tiny stations in upstate New York for $1.875 million.
can take a dollar bill and in 25 minutes it's a hundred dollars,"
says Morrow. "You don't ask how; you just appreciate it. It's
really this talent to assemble the right people. I want to
call it charm, but it's actually quite frightening. He has
this ability to absorb and master any skill. Thank God he
never became Cousin Bob." On the first day they hit the air,
Sillerman cried. Over time, the pair amassed a string of scrappy
radio and TV outlets. But Sillerman's frat-boy humor (pretending
to steal paper supplies during a crucial contract deal, awarding
gold sales pins with the letters sls for "Sell Like Shit")
and his tough deal-making earned him a reputation as cocky
down, Bob enjoys his celebrity and financial power," Morrow
tells me. "But he knows people gun for you. He's a sweet guy
in his personal life. In business, watch your gloves." By
1993, Sillerman had fought his way into an even bigger arena.
That year, he teamed with radio-industry honcho Steve Hicks
to take several stations public under SFX Broadcasting.
the Telecommunications Act of 1996 opened the way for ownership
of multiple stations in single markets, they devoured dozens
of properties to become the nation's seventh-largest chain.
That year, Hicks left to become president of Capstar Broadcasting.
With backing from his brother Tom at Texas buyout firm Hicks,
Muse, Tate & Furst, Steve Hicks bought SFX Broadcasting for
$2.1 billion. The transaction netted Sillerman $250 million
-- and set the stage for his latest takeover.
sale further increased his reputation in Southampton, where
he had arrived in the mid-seventies with Laura after following
some friends out for a weekend. They quickly began spending
every summer weekend, camping out on living-room floors, with
Bob dominating the local volleyball nets. As his star rose,
he bought nine acres of property and began building two houses.
Sillerman imported hundreds of Alaskan clear cedar logs, which
were planed in town and assembled onsite. He ruled over every
inch of the design, from the living room's vaulted ceilings
and the 40-foot indoor pool and basketball court -- where
a glass wall reveals swimmers, like fish in an aquarium --
to the private disco, where the stairs light up as you step
down to the dance floor.
his guest house, tons of timber were joined, without a single
nail, by a Japanese temple builder using pegboards as a guide
instead of blueprints. "These things are not monuments to
money," he insists, in a reflective monologue shot through
with moments of mysticism. "But in them, you feel this spirituality
of the hands that have been laid on the wood to do this. I
know this sounds sort of Shirley MacLaine, but there's something
about the peacefulness of the men who built it.
piece of wood supports the other." In 1992, when Southampton
College lost its chancellor -- the blue blood Angier Biddle
Duke, ambassador to Spain under Lyndon Johnson -- Sillerman
took over the post at the behest of his old friend Tim Bishop,
the school's provost. Sillerman laid out two conditions for
taking on the job: that the college scrap several ill-defined
liberal-arts programs and focus on its major strengths --
marine science and creative writing.
in his business dealings, he also infused the college with
his quirky humor. In a blatant publicity stunt that troubled
old-guard administrators, he named Kermit the Frog as the
1996 commencement speaker. Thirty-one newspapers picked up
the story, a free marketing bonanza that raised the college's
profile and drew hundreds of new admissions. Tom Petty, road-weary
and bored, in yellow shades, just nods. He hates tiered seating
. And he'll gladly fight about it. But not at a benefit.
thought right away this is a good marriage," says Roger Rosenblatt,
editor-at-large for Time Inc. and professor of writing in
the newly formed MFA program that was one of Sillerman's pet
you have a chancellor who is generous with his own money and
his own time, it means so much more here." Sillerman and his
wife, who dreamed up the "All for the Sea" benefits, personally
oversee every concert. They set up chairs, decorate tents
with hanging fish cutouts, pick the area's top caterers. In
other words, they roll up their sleeves.
face it," says one administrator, "Bob is a rich guy who jets
all over the place. He could just give us this money." That's
owns a resort on Anguilla. He vacations in Paris and Cuernavaca.
He recently flew several friends to Ireland on his ten-seat
Challenger jet, then rerouted the whole group to London for
a Rolling Stones concert.
truth, Sillerman is unquestionably generous with his friends,
paying the college tuition of several of their children. And
he is generous, too, with strangers. In a touching tribute
to his marriage, he gathered his friends at Irving Plaza for
a twenty-fifth-wedding-anniversary party last February.
the evening's headlining act, Willie Nelson, took the stage,
Sillerman stepped under the bright lights and presented Laura
with $100 million to launch the Tomorrow Foundation, a charity
to be run by her.
"Bob is usually Mr. Entertainment, the Milton Berle of my
life," says Irwin Kruger, a McDonald's franchiser who has
known Sillerman for nearly 40 years.
he was giving this lovely speech, saying, 'We've been so lucky,
and we're not just giving back but thanking everybody.' "
think Bob, more than anything, has changed from somebody who
was looking outward and is now able to look inward," says
Laura, who notes that the birth of their daughter, late in
their lives, has "mellowed" her husband.
has become extremely conscious of wanting other people to
get the first helping, of attention, joy, even credit. That's
a good thing to know about yourself, that there's enough to
Petty is wearing a grungy green army jacket, wandering around
backstage with a willowy blonde young enough to be up past
her bedtime. It's a hot night. Sillerman is making believe
it's no big deal, but he wants to meet Petty. He's circled
the field at Southampton College three times, even changing
out of his Petty T-shirt because that might not look cool.
His buttery cowboy boots are losing their shine in the dust.
And the roadie patch on his faded-to-white Levis isn't getting
him anywhere. He flips open a Motorola cell phone and tells
the housekeeping staff to prepare a room in case Petty wants
to stay the night.
the phone shut, he sidesteps a caterer lugging buckets of
chilled Thai calamari and exits the VIP tent onto the field.
An eardrum-rattling organ is punching out the hypnotic riffs
of Petty's "You Got Lucky," testing the sound system of his
Arabian-themed stage set. "Isn't this amazing?" says Sillerman,
gazing -- like a flower child finally seeing Woodstock --
at the velvet draperies and rococo set.
place was absolutely empty this morning. I watched them raise
it's a benefit, this event could serve as the blueprint for
Sillerman's grand plan. The show is heavily sponsored. Hundreds
of Revlon gift bags line the entrance to the VIP tents, packed
with Iced Mocha nail polish, Tom Petty T-shirts emblazoned
with eab logos, show books thick with Dean Witter ads. There's
plenty of tiered seating. The VIP tent, closest to the stage,
costs $300 per person. A seat in the VVIP tent costs $600
and up. It includes a fully stocked bar and lavish table settings.
Lawn seats, 100 yards from the stage, cost $40.
Sillerman finally gets to a backstage tent where Petty sits
at a littered table with his band, he greets the rocker like
an old friend. "So we got a house for you to stay in," says
Sillerman, throwing an arm around Petty's shoulder. After
some coaxing from his girlfriend, Petty accepts. Sillerman
claps his back and says he'll be sitting down front during
says Petty with a crooked smile, "we'll be seeing a lot of
tells the grizzled rocker that "people who paid a lot of money
are in the front seats." Petty, road-weary and bored, in skinny
yellow shades, just nods. He hates tiered seating. And he'll
gladly fight about it. But not at a benefit show. Sensing
Petty's lack of enthusiasm, Sillerman assures him that after
a few songs, "we open the VIP section" and the crowd moves
says Petty, "so we won't just be playing to the rich all night."
When Petty takes the stage in a long velvet coat and white
ruffled shirt, he surveys the VIP area, choked with lawn chairs
and coolers tripping up dozens of cheap-seat fans who are
already breaking ranks.
that sees a folding chair," says Petty, "let's stomp it to
death." The crowd cheers -- and stomps -- as Petty launches
into "I Won't Back Down."
front-row center, remains seated as the dancers surge and
bump around him, nodding in time to the music with a satisfied