The entire concert industry is hurting these days, with fewer people shelling out for seats, service charges and inflated alcohol prices. But just imagine you’re a nonprofit tasked with filling an aging, 13,500-capacity music venue next to a not-so-great neighborhood (52nd Street!). Such is the lot of the Mann Center for the Performing Arts and, by extension, CEO Cathy Cahill, who left the Brooklyn Philharmonic in mid-2008 to come helm the amphitheater here.
“There are unique challenges,” Cahill, 52, says of her new gig. “The rain can do horrible things. Plus, lots of people think we’re a commercial venue. Fund-raising is a challenge.” In her first seasons at the Mann, there were plenty of empty seats; the partnership with concert producer Live Nation—which brought in the more popular acts—was fraying; and the Orchestra—known for picnic-perfect summer Mann -concerts—all but pulled out. There were rumors that Stephen Starr would abandon Crescendo, the on-site eatery he’d just opened.
But this season, which kicks off on the 15th, there’s cause for cautious optimism. Starr isn’t just sticking around; he’s taking over all concessions. Live Nation is out, in favor of a five-year contract with another concert powerhouse, AEG, which has already booked such worthwhile shows as a Faith No More reunion and crowd-pleaser Tony Bennett. The Orchestra’s back, too, with such special guests as Aretha Franklin—joined, oddly, by pianist Condoleezza Rice. (One of Cahill’s “unique” challenges at the moment? Angry bloggers accusing her of showcasing a war criminal.)
As for the price of tickets in a down economy, Cahill offers this: “You can get onto the lawn for some concerts for $10. It’s cheaper than a movie.”