How Do You Pack the Hollywood Bowl? These Promoters Have Cracked the Code
Coldplay perform at an Andrew Hewitt & Bill Silva Presents show at the Hollywood Bowl in 2012
Photo by Timothy Norris
As Steely Dan wrapped up their show at the Hollywood Bowl in July, Andrew Hewitt paused amid the box seats to greet some guests. Silhouetted against the stage lights, with longish hair and dark-rimmed glasses, he looked younger than his 50-some years, especially brimming with excitement at the conclusion of another successful show booked by his concert promotion company, Andrew Hewitt & Bill Silva Presents.
Hewitt and Silva got Steely Dan to play the Bowl once before — nearly 20 years ago. "Before the show I reminded them about it," Hewitt says, as happy fans of the '70s jazz-rock giants streamed toward the exits around him. "They couldn't believe it had been so long."
After 25 years of booking shows at the Bowl, there aren't many acts capable of filling the natural amphitheater's 17,000 seats that Hewitt and his longtime partner haven't worked with. Over lunch a few weeks later at an Italian restaurant in West Hollywood, Hewitt mentions U2 and Bruce Springsteen as desired gets, then runs out of names.
"Barbra Streisand used to be on our wish list, but we finally got her," he says. What about the most popular entertainer of the moment? He smiles and shakes his head. "I guess we should add Taylor to the list." (Actually, Taylor Swift played the Bowl as part of last year's We Can Survive benefit concert for breast cancer. But in Hewitt's mind, such abbreviated charity sets don't really count.)
Despite being the exclusive promoters of lease events at the Bowl since 1991, Hewitt and Silva remain unknown to many L.A. music fans. Some don't even realize that the Bowl books lease events — and that those events, unlike the Los Angeles Philharmonic's official season, don't allow patrons to bring their own alcohol. At some shows, such as the recent Van Halen concerts, the grassy areas outside the Bowl's entrance turn into impromptu boozy picnics, as concertgoers rush to down their bottles of wine.
Although lease events are clearly marked on the Bowl's website, the programming divisions can be confusing. A recent appearance by The B-52s was part of the L.A. Phil's calendar; an appearance by Duran Duran, just two weeks later, was a lease show. Generally speaking, however, Hewitt and Silva are the ones tasked with bringing all forms of "contemporary" music to the Bowl, from Kanye West to Brad Paisley to Lana Del Rey — especially during the Phil's off-season, which stretches from October to mid-June.
"It's a great partnership," says Gail Samuel, executive director of the L.A. Philharmonic Association. "If you look at the history of the Hollywood Bowl, it's the greatest artists of all genres over close to the last 100 years. And a lot of that is L.A. Phil's productions, but [Hewitt and Silva's] concerts really allow us to round out that scope and bring some of those big, iconic artists."
Andrew Hewitt, left, and Bill Silva have produced concerts at the Hollywood Bowl since 1991.
Photo by Christopher Patey
Hewitt, an L.A. native, cut his teeth as an independent promoter and later as part of the Nederlander Organization, which in the '80s booked many stadium and arena concerts in Greater Los Angeles. When he met Silva, his future partner was promoting similar shows in San Diego, along with Phoenix and a few secondary markets.
"Us both being very young men, we ended up producing [the same] stadium shows, like The Police," Hewitt explains. In those days, concert promotion was a regional business, so rather than seeing each other as rivals, Hewitt and Silva helped one another build relationships with artists and their booking agents. "We became good friends," he says. "But we didn't work together until the Bowl project."
Though originally designed to host orchestral music, the Bowl had been booking pop stars for decades. A very young Hewitt, at his first concert, saw Sonny and Cher play there in 1965. Silva's first Bowl show wasn't until 1987, when he saw a Doobie Brothers reunion concert.
Still, by the end of the 1980s, with the rising popularity of suburban outdoor amphitheaters, the Bowl wasn't attracting pop and rock acts as often as it once had. Hewitt estimates that Irvine Meadows, which opened in Orange County in 1981, was booking about "40 shows a year" by the end of the decade — many of which probably would have played the Bowl just a few years earlier.
Both Silva and Hewitt are careful not to suggest that they rescued the Bowl from a fallow period. Silva explains via email that they were brought in simply to "round out the musical offerings." Hewitt says, "It wasn't that it was out of favor, it was just a different time. 'Cause remember, the original shell" — replaced with the current, larger band shell in 2003 — "was very constrictive of what kind of shows you could put in there, production-wise. Bands would have to take their shows apart entirely to make it work."
Hewitt and Silva made their Hollywood Bowl debut with a Paul Simon concert on Sept. 27, 1991. It was a booking right in line with late-'80s Bowl offerings such as Rod Stewart and Elton John, but the young promoters — then still in their early 30s — had ambitions that went beyond the familiarity of pop stars and classic-rock legacy artists.
"We wanted to help establish the Bowl to all audiences," Hewitt explains. "So that was always our game plan — to do all genres of music. Not just Sting and Paul Simon and Whitney Houston, but Radiohead and Coldplay and eventually even hip-hop."
It was a mark of how conservative the Hollywood Bowl's image had become that, when the pair booked Morrissey in 1992, "People told us we were crazy," Hewitt says. "And the first show sold out in 45 minutes."
These days, according to Gail Samuel, the Philharmonic rarely questions Hewitt and Silva's choices. "It works as a partnership," she says. "They have a real understanding after all this time of our sensibilities and our priorities."
Working around the L.A. Phil's schedule — and taking into consideration the residential community surrounding the Bowl, which doesn't want concerts seven nights a week — Hewitt and Silva can book only about 20 to 25 shows a year. But those shows have a huge impact on the Phil's bottom line.
According to a recent Billboard article, the promoters' annual revenue is around $30 million, about 10 percent of which goes to their landlord. Those profits, along with funds from L.A. County (which owns the Bowl), have helped finance many of the venue's recent improvements, including refurbished box seats and a new wine bar.
In recognition of their contributions to the Bowl, both cultural and financial, the L.A. Philharmonic Association recently gave Hewitt and Silva its Distinguished Service Award. "They were really touched by that honor," Samuel says. "And I think that's really reflective of the kind of relationship it is."
The promoters are already looking ahead to 2016. Janet Jackson and The Cure will play back-to-back nights in May, but Hewitt is particularly excited to welcome Pink Floyd's David Gilmour in March, for his first Bowl appearance as a solo artist. One of Hewitt's personal highlights was when Roger Waters performed Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety at the Bowl in 2006, and he expects Waters' former bandmate to deliver at a similarly high level.
"Now if we could just get them to perform on the same night," he says with a smile. "Then we'd really have something."
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