A sponsor display for the Stoughton Opera House.

Saudi Arabia’s investment in Live Nation is good for Madison’s music scene, actually

Make no bones about it, we saw this one coming.

Ever since Live Nation bought a controlling stake in Madison-based concert promoter FPC Live in 2018, we’ve heard a whole lot of panic and hyperbole about how the deal stands to impact fans and the local music community. We all need to take a deep breath, focus on the facts, and fret less about the deal coming together just after a group of major promoters and venues consolidated under the control of one company and just as that company prepared to open its new flagship venue. FPC Live operated for decades as Frank Productions, and the company has proud local roots. Becoming a subsidiary of the world’s largest concert promoter and a company its own management has publicly criticized is pretty much just a matter of paperwork, and you’d be a Chicken Little and a fabulist to suggest otherwise. In fact, it has both changed nothing and magically energized the local music scene, a proposition that lets me have it any way I like it and helps me not think about the relationship between the arts and the unsavory tendencies of capitalism.

We’re sure to hear more unfounded naysaying and sniping on the heels of this week’s news that Saudi Arabia has just picked up more than 12 million shares of Live Nation. The kingdom’s mighty public investment fund has acquired what The Hollywood Reporter estimates to be a $500 million stake and boosted the stock of a company that everyone hates for serially ripping off consumers and venues, as the live events industry grapples with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, sources at FPC Live have assured me that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will exercise no influence over the day-to-day influence of this totally independent local company, much as we could all benefit from the fresh perspective of that gentleman and reformer. Let’s face it, the Saudi regime knows how to entertain a crowd. When such synergies are realized, the consumer wins.


Some of our more provincial and rigid music scenesters will scrunch up their self-righteous little noses at the idea that there are only a few layers of complex corporate structure between beloved local venues like the High Noon Saloon and a regime that only recently abolished the death penalty for children. Hey, fine. That’s all the more room around the cool glowing orb for those of us who know how to have a good time. It’s not as if MBS’ operatives are going to be dismembering the next Jamal Khashoggi in the beer cooler at the Majestic. No one’s going to disappear into one of those cool bathroom stalls at the Sylvee where the doors are done up as backstage laminates and emerge in a series of trash bags deposited behind the building, a fine Gebhardt Development property. There’s also no proof that people who buy tickets for the VIP zone at Breese Stevens Field will be penned up at a luxury hotel and slaughtered one by one in a political purge.

All we’re going to experience is the indirect benefit of some fresh capital, openly laundered through the wondrous machinery of the stock market. If you’re worried about indirectly helping some bad guys buy new bone saws, you need to knock back a $9 PBR and relax a bit.

Music is a business, whether all you too-cool-for-school snobs like it or not. Savvy shareholders like MBS provide companies like Live Nation with the money they need to survive when the concert industry takes a hit. I don’t see any of you forking over the exorbitant ticket fees for shows that aren’t happening. Here in the real world, nations must also pursue sound long-term financial strategies, that they may proceed confidently with affairs of state. Those kids in Yemen aren’t going to bomb and starve themselves.

Let’s set aside negativity and division and remember what ultimately matters most. Everyone involved is simply doing this because they love live music. If you say you love live music while doing something, you are allowed to do that thing and not be criticized, because that would be mean and unsupportive. With Saudi Arabia as its third-largest investor, Live Nation will be able to do even more to boost Madison’s profile as a live-music destination. We should greet that news with open arms, and with all the other parts that are still currently attached to our bodies.

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