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Chances are you have been to a show this guy has put on. Amidst an office full of vinyls, we had a good conversation with the man behind the music at ACL, Stubb’s and more. Get to know Charles Attal with us.interview By Russ and Wendy

AD: I thought you were different.

CA: Oh, yeah? You thought I was like an old fogy? People come in and they are like, I thought you were like 55! I’m like, no; I’m still in my thirties.

AD: Are you from Austin?

CA: I’m from Austin. Born and raised here and my family’s been in Austin since the 1880’s. I’m third or fourth generation. I’ve been here forever.

AD: How did you get your start in the business?

CA: I started off playing music in Austin and a buddy of mine was starting Stubbs. He said, hey, since you play guitar and you know the scene, why don’t you come and book the bands? So I ended up going down there, booking the bands, and getting involved. Became partners with these guys. That’s how we started. We started doing four or five shows. Then it went to ten shows. Then it went to thirty shows. And then people in Dallas starting asking me to book some of their stuff at Trees and Gypsy Tea Room. And then it just went from there. Now this year, we’re going to do eight hundred shows in seven different states. We started a management company, an artist ticketing company. We do the festivals. We’ve been doing it nine years. It’s pretty crazy. That’s why people think I’m older, I think. I still learn new things every single day, I’ve taken my lumps over the years, but we’re having a lot of fun right now.

AD: How do you choose bands to book? Do you like the music they play?

CA: Usually, it’s interesting. Take ACL for example. A lot of it is the music I like to listen to. I hate to be biased, but I book a lot of stuff that I like to hear. Again, I don’t do all that, but when Oasis was booked and Thievery Corporation and John Prine, those are all bands that I listen to in my car and in my house. Allman Brothers. Franz Ferdinand. These are all bands I listen to. ACL is a very eclectic lineup, but a lot of it is stuff that people my age have in their stereo. Most of the stuff I like. There are a few things that I haven’t heard, but not much. 99.9% of the stuff that goes through there is stuff that I’ve listened to and heard.

AD: Like ACL, is there a rule that the bands have to play the TV show?

CA: No, there are no rules or anything. We try to keep the eclectic vibe with the television show as well as the festival. But there are no rules at all. It’s all pretty free flow.

AD: Well, if bands play the festival, are they invited to play the show?

CA: What the festival does is open the awareness to a lot of the people in our offices as well as at KLRU, at the television program. So they get to see a lot of bands first hand rather than just listening to a CD. So yeah, it could probably help. We work hand in hand with the television program and we have a great relationship and we all collaborate on a lot of things. So yeah, it helps.

AD: Is it difficult for you to get in touch with some of the bands you want to work with?

CA: Not at all. It was at first. But this year, we had all our headliners call me. They all wanted to play. At first, it was just like this Lollapalooza we’re doing in Chicago in two weeks. We had a lot of people say, well, didn’t it cancel last year? We’re like, well, we’re doing it different. We’re doing it more like ACL. We’re remodeling it and rebranding it. So they got it after we had to make a lot of calls about it. It’s just like anything. It’s like when you have a new start up. It takes a lot more calls than if it’s already established. ACL is established now. People know to put it on their calendars. These bands are touring through just to play the festival. They’re starting their tours here or they’re ending their tours here. A lot of bands are starting. Coldplay is ending their last show here. It’s a destination.

AD: There’s so much going on every night in Austin. How do you deal with competition or is there any?

CA: There’s always competition. Believe it or not, I get along with all the other promoters in the city. There’s a few that I probably don’t talk to as much, but there’s always going to be competition. You just try to work your differences out behind the scenes and make sure you’re not stepping on anybody’s toes too much. And when you do, you try to work it out. There’s always competition, but we do probably eighty percent of the road shows that come through the city, touring acts. And I’m pretty laid back. I’ll co-promote a show with any promoter. If they’ve got the history with it, I don’t have a problem co-promoting. I’m not territorial or anything like that. It’s pretty chill with me. I’ve got guys in Dallas that I work with and I promote shows with Clear Channel, I promote shows with House of Blues. It’s not like we’re fighting it out out there. We try to work together. It’s hard. A lot of them do fight it out, but being independent, you’ve got to be able to work in different areas. If I was a major huge concert promotion company, it probably would be a little different. But this year, actually, we’ll be in the top 15 to 20 in ticket sales in the world, in concert promoters, but the top five control a lot of it. The top three or four. I try to be friendly with them.

AD: We book bands here in town, too, for our gigs. What’s really interesting is that six of the bands that we book are actually playing ACL.

CA: Oh, cool. Right on. That’s a good thing, right? I remember when I first started, the first year, I only did three shows. It’s hard to get in with the agents. I lived it for the first few years; it was 24 hours a day. I was more reckless then. It was hard. I took my lumps. Now as you can see, we’re pretty organized over here. It hasn’t gotten any easier, but I think it’s gotten easier on me physically. Mentally, it’s the same. You get more regular hours. Once you get a little more infrastructure, it takes the load off. We have a great group of people working here. There’s nine people in our office here. They help keep me sane.

AD: How does a local band catch your eye?

CA: Believe it or not, we listen to everything that comes in here. A lot of times, it takes a long time to get through, a month or two, to get us to listen, but everything gets listened to. There’s three people out there that listen to music. I listen, too. When it gets through them, it comes in here. But I have to filter a little bit, because if I didn’t, that’s all I’d be doing all day is listening to music. I wish I could, because I love music, I’m a musician, but I wouldn’t get anything done. So they listen to it. They know what we’re looking for. They’ve got great ears and they’ll put it on my desk. I’ll hear it sometimes and I’ll be like, what’s that? Probably two or three hours a day, we’re playing music in here. It’s fun. I’ve been an A and R rep for Warner Brothers for five years, so I help find talent for them.

AD: How does one get involved with ACL?

CA: You’ve got to submit. Stay persistent. Not too persistent. Stay on it. If you don’t get in this year, keep sending a CD. The thing is, a lot of times CDs get listened to once, and then it gets put into a stack. It’s good not to overrun us with CDs, but anything new you have, a new song, send an email with an mp3. Kind of stay in our face with it. The thing not to do is call and yell like some people do. It’s amazing. I get these calls and people are just screaming at me. That’s the last thing you want to do. We do the best we can and we try to get to everything. Sometimes things slip through the cracks. You’ve got to stay persistent with it.

AD: What bands are you most looking forward to at ACL?

CA: Let’s see. Let me look at the grid. It’s hard for me to remember. I can’t wait to see Oasis. I think it’s going to be great. Jimmy Cliff. It’s going to be great. I want to see Wilco, my favorite. The Black Keys. Arcade Fire. Kaiser Chiefs. But the most important one that I’m looking forward to seeing is Roky Erikson. It’s his first real show in twenty years. I’m excited. Everybody is getting excited about that.

AD: What has been the toughest band for you to book?

CA: This year?

AD: Whenever. And was it worth it?

CA: You know, it’s funny. I haven’t had a hard time booking anybody. It’s just who’s available. It’s not about hard bookings; it’s about availability and money. About if you want to pay the price and who’s coming through. I think I could pretty much book anybody in the world at this point if the date works and the money’s right. I talk to every major agent in the country. It’s all about logistics now.

AD: But before the money was around, when you were back at Stubbs?

CA: Oh, it was always hard. I had to battle with everything. I remember it was like pulling teeth just to book Cheap Trick. I remember I had to fly to New York. I had to go show pictures of the venue. They were like, we’re not playing a barbeque joint. They didn’t get it. It was a nightmare. Some were headaches. Some aren’t. One of the first shows we ever did was the Fugees. That was the very first band. That was a nightmare of a show because we didn’t have it together. We didn’t have a roof on the stage. We didn’t know what we were doing. They showed up and there were five thousand people that showed up. Not that got into the room. Only a couple of thousand got in, but there were people all over the street. It was panic, chaos. But it was worth it. That’s what got us into the business. That Fugees date was like, wow, we have a real concert venue here. That’s what kind of launched it.

AD: So what is your favorite thing about Austin?

CA: There’s not one. This is my home. I’m born and raised here. There’s so many things I love about Austin, I can’t even tell you. I love the vibe, the people, the lakes. I love everything about Austin. I travel all the time. I’ve been on the road for three months. I’m always begging to get back home. It’s a big city, but it’s still laid back.

AD: What local live music brings you out? Or do you have time?

CA: I like to see the Damnations. I like the Grand Champeens. Spoon is obviously awesome. I get out to see local music every once in a while. I don’t go out all that much just because we’re working here from 8:30 or 9 o’clock in the morning until about 9 o’clock at night almost every day.

AD: Do you only go to Stubbs?

CA: No, I was at 710 the other night. I go to La Zona, I go to the Parish. I go out. I was at Antone’s the other night to see John Popper.

AD: I love the vinyls you have.

CA: Right on. I collect vinyl. It’s gone around so much and I’m so engulfed in the music world that I’ve kind of reverted back to vinyl because it’s what relaxes me. It relaxes me more than CDs or tapes or mp3s or anything. It’s got that sound. It’s got a little bit of a crackle to it. It chills me out. I’m all about not cleaning it up too much, you know? I’ll tell you what, you get a good vinyl record that’s clean, put it on a good stereo and nothing sounds like it.

AD: It’s cool that you are a complete true music aficionado.

CA: People don’t understand that. They don’t know what our vibe is. I started in music. Since I was a kid, I’ve been playing music and that’s where it all started with me. There are some people out there that I’ve heard and seen in the paper like, oh, he’s just a businessman. I’ve had to learn business because our company’s grown so fast. I have a history degree from college. I’m not a businessman. I love what I do.

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  2. James "Levi" Barnes

    I am a graduate of ACC’s Commercial Music Management department. The director of CMM at ACC Geoffrey Schulman suggested to me that I contact this organization to see what if anything I can do to be a part of the team there. I am very eager to become a member of a great company that would allow me to put my degree to best use. Please feel free to contact me and maybe we can get togther to discuss what I can do help in any way.