Tim Walther is fighting the good fight. Actually that may not be the choice of words he would select but trust me that’s what he has to go through every day to put together shows for members of the community. Many of you who are reading this piece may not fully understand all of the issues involved in assembling and promoting a show. I am always amazed to stand behind the scenes and watch as a show comes together- all the subtle (and not-so-subtle) issues and concerns that one has to take into consideration.
One thing we want to do at jambands.com is let people behind the scenes get an understanding of what it takes to put on a show. I think that this way some of you can better appreciate the promoters, club owners, publicists and other people who are out there working to do what they can to keep the scene thriving. Of course, it all starts with the bands. And yes they need fans. Still, everyone in between serves an a nexus, a conduit to try to ensure that bands can perform their music and make their connections with supportive listeners. One such person is Tim Walther. Walther Productions puts together and promotes a dozen (or more) shows a month in the Baltimore region (and he’s expanding). People enjoy his efforts there but it’s his musical festivals that really make heads spin. On May 21 and 22 he does it again with the 3rd annual All Good festival, which takes place at Wilmer’s Park in Brandywine, Md. Tim has brought together a number of stellar acts this time:
moe. * String Cheese Incident * The Disco Biscuits * Deep Banana Blackout * The Recipe * Ekoostik Hookah * Viperhouse * The Slip * Lake Trout * Ulu * Tony Trischka Band * Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe * Calobo * Sector 9 * All Mighty Senators * Runaway Truck Ramp
For more on the event, visit the Walther Productions web site. And now on to the interview.
DB- So tell me, how did you get started?
TW- Walther Productions brings together the two things that have always been most important to me: live music and running my own business. Back when I was thirteen years old I stated managing a snack shop at a swim club. Eventually I had ten employees. I did that for a number of years. But during that time I also was drawn to music. I’ve always been drawn to music. The Grateful Dead were a central part of my life. I did quite a bit of touring in the eighties and early nineties. I have vivid memories of many shows from that era, including that RFK “Dark Star” in the rain.
Anyhow, I graduated from the James Madison University restaurant management program, and for a while after college I was as working in a corporate restaurant environment. What happened there was I never had any problems with anyone I worked with but one day on my birthday I received a card from the vice president of operations which said “Happy Birthday, Get a haircut.” I just didn’t appreciate that. I haven’t cut my hair since. I left that place soon after.
DB- Part of the story I’ve heard is that you started Walther Productions because of a book you read. I hope that’s true because I’m always psyched when people are inspired by literature.
TW- That’s definitely true. Actually, there were two books that led me down the path to Walther Productions: Bill Graham Presents (editor’s note: a fascinating autobiography/oral history) and Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow, which helped convince me that maybe there was something I could do to bring the ideas and ideals from the Grateful Dead scene and create something positive in terms of a business enterprise.
But there’s more to the story. before I picked up those books I was doing street promotions for God Street Wine. I sort of fell into that. I was seeing them down at the Grogg & Tanker in D.C., and once they asked me to fill in and work the door for them because they knew they could trust me. You see my girl friend’s best friend was going out with the lead singer. Well anyhow, I did that and enjoyed it and from there I told them that I would help them out next time they came to town by handing out fliers. I can still remember how amazed I was when this kid I had handed a flier to, came to the show. It got to the point where I moved from handing out 50 fliers to 100 to 500. This was when God Street Wine was really gaining momentum, a half dozen years back or so. Eventually when they moved on to play the Bayou they demand that the promoter of the show, Cellar Door, pay me for my street promotion. They put that into the contract and I made some money. I had been doing that for a year and a half when someone told me to read the Bill Graham book.
Then I read the other one and I was inspired. So I bought a fax machine and set up Walther Productions in my parents’ basement. It all began there.
(editor’s note there is much more to this story in terms of the lessons Tim learned, how his business developed, etc. We promise to discuss these issues with him in a future issue..)
DB- Let’s jump ahead to All Good. How much planning does it takes to put together a festival of this magnitude. When do you start thinking about it?
TW- Well, this is the third one and each time I’ve added another month to put everything together. So the first one I did in two months, the last one took three months and one took four month to get together.
DB- Where did the name came from?
TW- That’s terminology I used to hear all the time on tour with the Dead: “It’s all good, brother.” That came right out of the Dead scene. In fact there was a time in the late eighties that I thought the phrase was overused. But eventually it got to the point where people started to phase it out so I decided to use it. The name is important to me because it expresses what I am trying to do, which is create the scene I enjoyed back when I was out touring with the Dead with some new live improvisational music. I think that Wilmer’s Park is very conducive to create that vibe as well.
DB- Why is that?
TW- It has such a rich history. There’s been live music there since the fifties. When you’re out there by yourself and you’re the only one there you can still feel the energy. Also it’s a peaceful place with quite a bit of open space. At All Good we really do what we can to help create a community. People can come out and be comfortable with one another and with all of us. We work on maintaining a healthy environment and I mean that on a number of levels. I think that some of us are additionally motivated to do this because of all the nervous energy out there with the millennium approaching.
DB- Along those lines, what do you think the year 2000 will bring to the people in this scene?
TW- 1999 is a time of change, you can feel it. This is a strange time and I think that music can be a part of that change, can be at the forefront of that change. The sarcastic, mean-spirited music that was popular a few years ago is fading out and I think that this music which puts forward a position direction will become much more important. Part of what we do at Walther Productions is use music as a vehicle for positive change. That’s why we invite activist groups to come to our shows and put out literature. That’s part of what I’m about and part of what Walther Productions is about. Ultimately it’s my hope that this music can carry us into a new era, with a positive message of change.