IN MEMORIAM: BRUCE KAPP
May 10, 2008
By RAY WADDELL
“It’s gonna be huge.”
That’s what Bruce Kapp always told me. That’s what promoters say. And Bruce Kapp was a promoter.
Word that Kapp had died suddenly April 21 of a suspected heart attack shocked the entire touring industry. He was an Energizer Bunny kind of guy, indefatigable in putting together the next deal, tour, show. He had complete and unbridled enthusiasm for whatever project he was immersed in. If Kapp was working on it, then it was gonna be huge.
At the time of his death, he was senior VP of touring at Live Nation, where he oversaw tours by Aerosmith, Jimmy Buffett, Def Leppard, Jonas Brothers and others. But his résumé shows what a survivor this guy was in a business where you don’t survive if you don’t do what you say you’re going to do; if you aren’t a winner. Kapp’s final tour was the current Van Halen reunion, no doubt a challenge, but one he was built for. The tour was rerouted and rescheduled more than once during the past year. Van Halen’s manager Irving Azoff knew the tour was in good hands because Azoff and Kapp had history. “I worked with Bruce all the way back to my college days in Illinois,” Azoff says. “We booked bands together when we were kids.”
Kapp began his music career booking bands while still in high school in his hometown of Chicago. He formed Celebration Concerts in the early 1970s, joined PACE Concerts in 1984 and spent a decade there helping shape the modern-day amphitheater circuit. He moved around a bit, and as a journalist covering the live business, I never knew where he would show up next. I just knew he would show up.
One stop was Magic Works where, with current Live Nation touring VP Brad Wavra, Kapp booked such tours as New Kids on the Block. (It was huge.) That was good experience for later tours with Wavra, including Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync and Britney Spears. SFX Entertainment acquired Magic Works in 1998. In those tumultuous times, where many players moved on or dropped out, Kapp survived.
Kapp was one of those guys who was so good for so long, it was easy to take him for granted. You just knew he was going to be around forever, working a big tour, available on the phone (often with dogs barking in the background), touting creative marketing plans, savvy routing, effective sponsorships, powerful performances. He was a reliable source of information, on or off the record. He was candid, truthful, enthusiastic and sharp.
At Live Nation, Kapp was competing in an ever-tougher game and winning often. “Bruce was a tenacious worker who was thriving in his career,” says agent Dennis Arfa of Artists Group International, another guy who worked with Kapp for decades. “He had finally earned the respect of his peers.”
Kapp’s temperament and skill set made him a vital dealmaker at Live Nation. “Bruce helped make Live Nation a better company with his creative buying and packaging,” says veteran agent Howard Rose, whose acts include Buffett and Elton John. “His word was his bond.”
Through his own tour of life, Kapp influenced countless careers, Live Nation Texas president Bob Roux among them. “Bruce Kapp was a dear friend and mentor,” Roux says. “I had the great privilege of knowing Bruce for over 25 years. If it was not for Bruce Kapp, I may not have had the good fortune to participate in a business I truly love.”
Among those Kapp mentored was his own daughter, Kelly, also a Live Nation touring executive. “I am lucky that not only was my dad my Daddy and someone I could count on in good times and bad, but he was also my mentor, as he was to many other people,” she says.
Azoff sat with Kapp at the latter’s final show, Van Halen’s April 19 performance in Las Vegas. “He was in his element and had that sparkle in his eye of a guy who really loved life,” Azoff says. “He was the happiest I had ever seen him recently, both personally and professionally. He was at the top of his game.”
Services were held April 24 at Mount Sinai Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles, followed by a memorial at the Wiltern Theatre. Hundreds paid their respects. “The industry turnout to Bruce’s memorial service and reception yesterday reflected just how very much loved and admired Bruce was in our business,” Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino says. “Promoters, agents and managers from all over the country came to Los Angeles to remember him and celebrate his life, telling great stories about his adventures in the concert business. I personally will miss his enthusiasm, passion and humor around the office. He was very good man.”
Nice life, Bruce. It was huge.