Promoter Mike Kelley: "Numbers Is Houston's CBGB"
Numbers' credentials as a concert venue are undeniable - everyone from Siouxsie and the Banshees to Green Day to Type O Negative has played there. It's hard to argue, though, that the past decade hasn't been a rough one for the old girl. An aging sound system turned many shows into crapshoots, and the club began to focus more on its dance nights.
Marco Torres Wu-Tang Clan's GZA and Ghostface Killah at Numbers, December 2010
Lately, however, Numbers has been enjoying something of a renaissance. The Wu-Tang Clan reunion show was, by all accounts, kick-ass and packed. Anything Box made for a surprise near-sold out celebration of all things synthpop, and Numbers racked up its first-ever live concert DVD location thanks to the legendary Faith and the Muse.
The future looks even brighter, as the next couple of months are poised to bring Peter Murphy (rapidly approaching a sellout), Clan of Xymox, Dipset, EPMD, Three 6 Mafia and Men Without Hats. The man behind most of these shows - and Numbers towering new sound system - is Mike Kelley of Onstage Events. Kelley was behind some of Meridian's finest moments in recent years, but has now moved his home base to Numbers, and it couldn't be sweeter.
Rocks Off: What methodology are you following for booking all these acts? Most of them, like Peter Murphy and Xymox, don't even seem to be on tour. Are you just picking names and calling them out of the blue?
Mike Kelley: Actually lots of the artists I bring in are not on tour. There really is no methodology per se; I just go after the bands/artists that I feel will be either well-suited for the club or that I have a personal interest in seeing. Some of them, like Clan of Xymox, Men Without Hats, Flock of Seagulls, Three 6 Mafia, Digable Planets, EPMD, etc. I'm actually just flying in for a one-off show, solely for the sake of creating an interesting event.
For the most part, I have working relationships with their agents and/or managers, and have done a lot of shows with them over the years. I have been in this business for 21 years this March.
RO: How do you feel Numbers has changed since you started booking for them?
MK: Well, to clarify, I don't actually "book for Numbers." While it's true that I handle all of the booking for the venue, my company, Onstage Events, is my own. I do shows at other venues in Houston when it makes sense, and other promoters occasionally do shows at Numbers.
Numbers is technically my "home" venue and the place I prefer for most shows, but I have been known to do shows at places like Rudyard's, Walter's, and other venues if the show is better suited for them.
RO: What made you want to start booking in the first place?
MK: As I mentioned, I have been in this business for 21 years now, most of that as an agent on "the other side of the fence," as they say. In my years as an agent, I had the pleasure of working with artists like Green Day, Cake, George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, NOFX, Fastball, Rickie Lee Jones, Ice-T, Kittie, and hundreds more.
Over the past six years I have owned or co-owned venues like Javajazz, The Junction and the now-defunct Meridian - an experience I can thankfully put behind me. It was a natural progression for me from agent to promoter, and I can happily say I'm glad I made it. I am toying with the idea of opening a satellite office for a certain larger boutique agency I cannot name here, but which represents some very respectable big-name artists.
RO: Do you feel the acts you've brought have better secured Numbers' continued existence? There were some worries last year it would close.
MK: Despite what you may have heard anywhere, Numbers' existence is secure, and it's not because of me. The venue is an institution, a landmark if you will. Houston would not be Houston without it, plain and simple.
The staff and management there are first-rate people, and there is almost no turnover, which says a lot about a place - unlike Meridian, which changed management and staff like a model changes clothes. People like Rudi Bunch, DJ Wes, and Robot have been there longer than most can remember and keep that place running like the well-oiled machine it is. Not to mention they are all just amazing people to work with.
As far as the music goes, I'm trying to keep it diverse as possible with a steady mix of Classic Numbers acts (Xymox, Peter Murphy, etc.) as well as hip-hop (Three 6 Mafia, Dipset, EPMD, Wu Tang Clan), metal (Cannibal Corpse, D.R.I., Nevermore, etc.), emo (Forever The Sickest Kids, The Scene Aesthetic) and even country (David Allan Coe).