Michele Rizzo-Berg talks booking Bay Shore's YMCA Boulton Center for the Performing Arts and more
While growing up in Farmingville, Michele Rizzo-Berg (then just Michele Rizzo) knew that she wanted to work in the music business. After studying at Five Towns College, she landed a job at Westbury Music Fair – now known as the NYCB Theatre at Westbury – where I first met her in 2001. After a few years with SMG and the Nassau Coliseum, Michele wound up at the YMCA Boulton Center in 2005, where she's been for over a decade.
At Bay Shore's Boulton Center, Michele not only oversees event programming, but also marketing, staffing and fundraising for the venue. Upcoming performers at the Boulton Center include Edwin McCain (May 20), Carl Palmer of ELP (June 17), Nine Days (July 16), and Dick Dale (August 23). I had the pleasure of recently seeing Delta Deep – as featuring virtuoso vocalist Debbi Blackwell-Cook alongside Def Leppard's Phil Collen and Stone Temple Pilots' Robert DeLeo – at the venue, during which I re-connected with Michele.
Michele tackled some Q&A for No Place Like Long Island, explaining how a Bon Jovi concert is to credit for where she is today.
What was the first concert you ever booked?
Do you remember the first concert you ever attended?
MRB: Yes -- Bon Jovi, 1987 at Madison Square Garden. Though if you want to get really technical, it was Carole & Paula of The Magic Garden live at the Tilles Center. I was about seven years old.
What specifically led you into a career as a live event promoter?
MRB: It was by accident. I studied audio recording in college and thought I actually wanted to be a publicist, although I didn’t really study marketing. I have always loved the concert aspect of music, but it didn’t actually occur to me that someone booked the events.
When I graduated, I was given a job right out of college at Westbury Music Fair as their receptionist. It was there that I discovered I was more interested in booking the acts than marketing them.
Were you inspired by a particular person or a concert experience?
MRB: My first arena concert, Bon Jovi. When the lights went out, I turned to my eldest brother and said, “One day I will work in a place like this.” I wasn’t sure exactly what kind of work happened, but I knew I wanted to be around live music. As I learned more about the business, I read a book about Bill Graham and was inspired.
These days, what is the biggest challenge of putting on a concert at a venue like the YMCA Boulton Center?
MRB: Finding new and creative ways to program.
How do you usually find out about the artists that you're booking? Are artists' agents approaching you most of the time?
MRB: It varies...I research acts, I listen to what people suggest, I crowdsource friends and family as well as our guests.
A lot of people on the outside think that the music industry is dying out based on declining album sales. But in your experience, does it feel that way for the live business? Or are things becoming more niche-oriented?
MRB: I always tell people that the concert business will never die. People love music. They may not be buying albums, but they still listen to the radio, or satellite, and they want to see these artists in-person. They want to escape their everyday lives, even if it’s for only an hour, and they want to connect with others who share the same love of the artist. So I do not feel it is niche-oriented, though the cost of tickets and VIP experiences are rather expensive.
When you're not busy at the Boulton Center, how do you like to spend your free time?
MRB: I do lots of things. I love to knit, bake...I will be running in the TCS New York City Marathon, raising funds for a cause I feel so strongly about, the North Shore Animal League of America. Being the voice for animals who have no voice of their own is extremely important to me.
What was the last concert that you went to for fun?
MRB: I typically don’t attend live shows if I am not working.