'Rock the Bells' Hits the Clubs

Sarah Friedman
Mobb Deep will perform their 1995 album "The Infamous" at Rock The Bells 2011.

Promoter Guerilla Union is teaming up with Live Nation to bring the hip hop festival to House of Blues venues across the country.

In summer of 2010, concert ticket sales were so sluggish that several big-name acts, such as Christina Aguilera, Rihanna, Lilith Fair, and the American Idol Live summer outing, were forced to cancel dates, downsize, or in the most dramatic of examples, call off entire tours. A year later, the situation is not nearly as grim as festivals remain a big business, with Coachella moving 51,000 tickets in a record six days, Bonnaroo selling out well in advance, and August's Lollapalooza having recently sold its last single day ticket.

It’s one reason why promoter Guerilla Union is teaming up with Live Nation to take its hip hop-themed Rock The Bells tour to clubs across the U.S. Chang Weisberg, CEO and founder of Guerilla Union, which is known for area shows primarily around Southern California, says this full partnership will find his company promoting and marketing nationally.

It’s an aggressive teaming and an ambitious schedule. In addition to four previously announced festival dates that kick off August 20 in San Bernardino, California, the company unveiled staggered club runs, the first, featuring Raekwon and Ghostface Killah performing Only Built For Cuban Linx and Mobb Deep doing The Infamous Mobb Deep, both in their entirety, kicking off at House Of Blues in New Orleans on August 12. Beginning September 6, also in New Orleans, Black Star will be playing Mos Def And Talib Kweli Are Black Star in its entirety.

But Weisberg says that’s just the beginning, promising 150 dates in 18 months. “It won’t just stop because Rock The Bells stops," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "We’ll have a winter club tour, then we’ll pop right back up in the spring. There has never been this big of a commitment from Live Nation, House Of Blues or Guerilla Union to provide this many shows on a regular basis.”

The plan was initiated by Ben Weeden, House Of Blues Entertainment chief operating officer. “When we created our club and theater division, Chang was one of the first people I called because of the platform he had created for live hip hop,” he says. “It came about because, frankly, I have 30-plus venues, and what I do is make sure that I’m partnering with experts in their respective fields. We do a great job of booking a lot of shows a year, but Chang and Guerilla Union, when it comes to live hip hop, they are the guys to go to.”

Weeden points to Weisberg’s remarkable record and solid rep within the hip-hop community, pulling off as he calls it, “what might seem impossible to outsiders.” Among those feats are orchestrating the final full Wu-Tang Clan reunion (including Ol’ Dirty Bastard) at Rock The Bells in 2004, getting the reunited Rage Against The Machine to follow their momentous Coachella reunion in 2007 appearance by headlining the fest that summer, and this year, getting Ms. Lauryn Hill to perform The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill live from start to finish.

Weeden admittedly wants to utilize those relationships. “For us, obviously, we want as many shows as we can effectively market and produce,” he says. “And I think when you bring on a partner that has the relationship with the talent, for us, it’s a very simple, easy fit.”

And from Guerilla Union’s purview, Weisberg sees a lot of room for growth that he believes Live Nation can help facilitate. “I’m an independent promoter,” he says. “I don’t have the resources that a House Of Blues, Live Nation, or AEG have, and I do think that intimate versions of Rock The Bells need to exist to continue to build up the genre. So here’s a classic example of indie promoter working with the machine in the best interest of good music. It gives us a backbone, because what’s great is there are a dozen of House Of Blues around the country that can supplement the four festivals. And there are markets where there isn’t a House Of Blues, like Utah, where some acts do Harry O’s. I could not even fathom going to Harry O’s unless I had the backbone of these 10 other dates to solidify a tour.”

Though the club tour promises to reach many cities, the festival will only be making four stops this year, San Bernardino, San Francisco, New York, and Boston. Washington D.C. and Chicago, which had hosted the festivals in previous years, are not happy about being what they perceive as being slighted this year. Weisberg says he’s hoping this partnership with Live Nation can eventually bring Rock The Bells back to those cities.