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A Concert For Human Rights

05:50 PM Wednesday 9/11/13 | |

ESM Productions’ Scott Mirkin talks with Pollstar about his company’s involvement with the BBVA Compass Concert For Human Rights.  Hosted by Jamie Foxx and featuring Jill Scott and Charlie Wilson, the show takes place this weekend in Birmingham, Ala.

  • Planning The Concert

    From left to right, Scott Mirkin, Mayor William A. Bell, Jamie Foxx and co-producer Charlie “Mack” Aston in Washington, D.C.

    (Craig Mirkin)


Co-produced by Live Nation, the Sept. 14 concert at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex Arena will observe one of the civil rights movement’s most tragic episodes – the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church which killed four girls.  The concert will take place only hours after the city unveils a memorial to the four victims – Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins and Cynthia Wesley.

A half century later the people of Birmingham will come together, not only to honor the four young people whose lives ended much too soon, but also to salute the progress the civil rights movement has made during the past 50 years and discuss what still needs to be done to end racism in America.  The concert is part of the city’s year-long celebration called “50 Years Forward” which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement in Birmingham where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”

Bringing it all together will be Scott Mirkin and his ESM Productions.  The Philadelphia-based company has plenty of experience producing special events, most notably the Philly Jam – the annual Fourth Of July celebration of music that is the largest free concert in the U.S.  More recently, Mirkin and ESM completed Jay Z’s second Budweiser Made In America festival which, took place during Labor Day weekend in the city of Brotherly Love.

Although the conversation was about this weekend’s BBVA Compass Concert For Human Rights, we couldn’t resist asking at least one question about Made In America.

How would you rate this year’s Budweiser Made In America compared to its 2012 launch?

Last year was a success, for sure.  I would [say] that this year was a bigger success.  Any time you do something for a second time, [there] are lessons learned from previous years. From an operational perspective, lots of things went smoother [and] the crowd was larger.  We got 60,000 each day, pretty close to that on Sunday.

It was very successful.  Folks had a really good time.  From an infrastructure, security, operational standpoint, everything went well.  The city was very, very pleased.  Something I’m very much involved in is the broadcast of the live stream from all stages both days. Although the audience metrics aren’t completely in, the preliminaries looks great. One of our highlights we had last year, in addition to being a large audience from a streaming perspective, the dwell time, the time folks spent watching the stream, is extraordinarily high.  … We were blessed with good weather and a great event.

BBVA Compass Concert For Human Rights – You have a bank based in Birmingham working with a Philadelphia-based company to produce a human rights concert. How did these elements come together?

The folks in Birmingham with the Mayor’s office – Mayor [William A.] Bell, the mayor’s chief of staff, Chuck Faush and the director of communications, April Odom – little did we know they were watching us from afar when we launched Made In America in 2012 and they’ve been watching us produce the Fourth Of July Jams the last couple of years.  I have an interesting career path which involves producing historically significant events over the years. So they saw a historically significant event presenting itself in Birmingham – the 50th anniversary of a civil rights milestone, the church bombing which is a sad day, [and] when you think about it, it is really terrorism.  And a week of civil rights programming and events. 

It was really Mayor Bell’s idea to top off that week with an entertainment event.  He had seen some of the things we had done, some of the things my partners had done, and reached out to us and said, “Would you guys come down?  We’d love to chat with you about doing something in Birmingham.”

We went down to Birmingham somewhere around November, December of last year and had some conversations about what might be possible.  We immediately fell in love with the city and all it stands for, including all the civil rights milestones.  And we were well on our way to producing this event.

BBVA Compass, our sponsor, comes into the picture a little bit later when we were looking for corporate citizens to help us.  Once we started putting together the concepts and the event, we asked the mayor’s office for help in identifying corporate citizens that would make a good fit to partner with this event. … BBVA Compass was at the top of the list and they became proactive pretty early and asked us to come sit down with them.  They have a big footprint in the Birmingham market.  We sat down with them and put together an arrangement where they would help underwrite some of the costs and be part of the event.

The other thing, under the heading of producing significant historic events, I was involved as producer of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in D.C. [which was actually] two events.  There was the march on Aug. 24 and there was the actual anniversary of the march where we had the president and others at the Lincoln Memorial. … You look at the photos and you’ll see a picture of the president and the King Family at the Lincoln Memorial at an event titled “Let Freedom Ring.” Everyone rang bells at 3 o’clock in the afternoon signifying the time Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his speech 50 years ago.

The bell at the top of the steps at the Lincoln Memorial was actually the bell from the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. I was in Birmingham doing some advance work … down there with the mayor and his folks. … I had a little time to kill between lunch and the next meeting and I said, “Can you guys swing by the church? I want to look at the bell tower.”  We did, and I said, “Can I get up in that bell tower?” And they said, “No.” 

I said, “Is there a bell up there?” They said, “Yeah, but there is another bell in a museum that we took out of there.”

And I said, “How would you like that bell [in the museum] to be on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for the president and the King Family to ring on this historic day?”  They said, “That’s great.  Will it fit in  your carry-on?” and I said, “Probably not.”

So the city of Birmingham made arrangements on our request to bring the bell to the event. … Jamie Foxx was at that event in D.C. and we were able to tie those two events together with the bell from the 16th Street Church.

  • President Obama

    Standing next to the 16th Street Baptist Church bell on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
    August 28, 2013



When arranging a special event such as this, is it difficult to get artists onboard?

No.  One of the first folks we got involved with this was Jamie Foxx.  Once this thing started coming together we reached out to Jamie and say, “This is a really cool event [that] we’d love to have  you be a part of.”  He’s a student of Dr. King … and jumped at the chance.  The second call was to Jill [Scott], for a variety of reasons.  No. 1, she has a pretty nice fan base in Birmingham.  No. 2, she thought this was a really special event to be a part of.  Not a tough sell.  She’s excited about it.

What are your ticket prices?

Tickets range from $50-$250 and the $250 is the VIP area, the pre-event stuff.  The average ticket is between $50 and $78 and some additional student discounts that will probably be less than $50. … We want to deliver some proceeds to scholarships.  Because we have corporate sponsors we don’t have rely solely on ticket sales.  But it is a ticketed event because it’s in an arena.  We need folks to have a seat.

Along with the entertainment, will the event host people associated with civil rights?

We will.  Besides Mayor Bell and some others from Birmingham, we’re kind of finalizing that during the last couple of days. … We have many, many speakers that want to do it and not as many positions so I have to be diplomatic. … We’re going to use a couple of video segments to make it a meaningful yet entertaining event.  We don’t want to make it too speech-oriented.

How has response been so far?

It’s been great.  We counted it on being around a 5,000-7,000 person show.  We’re about 80, 90 percent there.  As usual with these kind of shows, the overnights during the last couple of days have been two or three times the overnights leading up to this. We expect to have a nice-size house and a great audience.

I did a walk through a couple of weeks ago [and] learned the history of this place.  They hosted one of the last Elvis shows, in 1976, which I thought was cool.  It was a mail-order, pre-internet [onsale] that sold out in two seconds.  Everyone who didn’t get tickets, they had to return all their checks.

What can you tell us about the BBVA Compass Concert For Human Rights that our readers may not know?

I think the city of Birmingham, if you’ve not been there, is a wonderful city. It has a great past, but also a really great present and a really great future.  They definitely have a civil rights district that will help us reflect on some of the things that have happened over the past 50 years.  There are some brand new things going on, with the entertainment district. … There used to be a manufacturing sector and now they have built up the education system as well as the medical and hospitality industries. They have beautiful new hotels.  If you have not been to Birmingham in the last 10 years, you ought to come. And if you’re going to come to Birmingham, why don’t you come this weekend to the show?

Please click here for more information about the BBVA Compass Concert For Human Rights and here for the 50 Years Forward website.

And be sure to check out Pollstar’s past conversation with Scott Mirkin.  Click here for the producer talking about Budweiser Made In America and here for a behind-the-scenes look at Philly Jam.