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Webster Hall Vet Heath Miller Talks New Booking Venture At The United Palace
Professorcornbread [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Webster Hall Vet Heath Miller Talks New Booking Venture At The United Palace

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NEW YORK (CelebrityAccess) Heath Miller, formerly the buyer for New York City’s Webster Hall and founder of concert promotion company Excess dB Entertainment, was recently named director of booking for the historic, 3,400-capacity United Palace in Manhattan.

The performance facility, the fourth-largest in Manhattan, is church-owned and known as a non-profit cultural and performing arts center. Its neighborhood of Washington Heights has risen in prominence with the help of the red-hot Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose musical “In The Heights” is being adapted to film.

The venue has hosted acts like Lenny Kravitz, Bad Bunny, Mumford & Sons, Sam Smith, Lorde and John Legend.

“We are absolutely thrilled to have Heath Miller join the team at the United Palace. We believe Heath’s vast experience in the industry will positively impact the already very popular events we offer at the Palace.” said Reverend Heather Shea, the Spiritual Director and Chief Executive Officer of the United Palace.

CelebrityAccess talked to Miller about his new role.

What are your expectations for the next year?

The obvious goal is to book more shows. I want to do that by retaining and growing what they’ve already been booking in house and with outside promoters as well as expanding to new genres and events. I think now is a good time for this, with growth in the neighborhood up here and, with Hudson Yards opening up, which is planting more people right off the A-train makes it a beneficial time.

I don’t think the things events that would go here would go to The Shed in Hudson Yards, normally, so we would be providing different programming without competing.

We definitely plan to expand into doing more country. We’ve done some country up here but minimally, such as a Lady Antebellum show up here through PBS’s Artists Den.

What would be some of the things that would set this venue apart from competitors?

We’re much more cost-effective being that we’re non-union versus similar options in the market. We’re right by the George Washington Bridge. We’re uptown. The George Washington Bridge gets more car traffic each day than the other two main entrances from New Jersey to the city combined – actually double the volume of traffic across the GWB than the other two entrances combined.

We have two nights of Nicky Jam coming up, one of the recent Latin crossover acts, and they have an extremely deep history of the Latin superstars of today playing here. There are some exciting things in the works; let’s leave it at that. They will hopefully be announced shortly after this article.

Anything, in particular, you would want to mention about the facility?

The venue’s been here for just under 90 years. It’s one of the five Loew’s Wonder Theatres. Unlike some of the others, this one was very well preserved so when they’ve done renovations it’s more about restoring the original details and touching up paint than recreating. A lot of the other theatres like this were so badly maintained that they had to be a re-creation, not a restoration.

Given that, this one has better preservation of the rich history of the Loew’s Wonder Theatres. It’s shockingly well-maintained.

Where do you see yourself in the next year, as far as programming?

Hopefully, I’ll have [my second industry award] by then, or for a nomination for the “theater of the year” in the next year or two.

The reception I’ve gotten from the industry has been very positive. People seem very pleased to have someone here, in house, who comes from the world of booking concerts because the venue is owned by a church. People here know what they’re doing but it’s also about just speaking the language better and understanding the reasons why sometimes shows haven’t gone here or why some of the shows that have come here, knowing what was in that decision-making process.

Sometimes you want that marquee play, being at a certain venue because of its name-value or location or some other tie-in specific to that venue as opposed to here.

We’re often looked at as an option to The Beacon Theatre, which is a great room and this is a great room as well, but playing at the United Palace is doing something different than the venue you may have already sold out four times in the past. We are a little larger than the Beacon and the artists can walk out with more money here, however, sometimes it’s obviously not about the money because it’s only one date on your tour, or it’s about the setup to play MSG.  Options for seated venues of this size in Manhattan are limited, and we are farther uptown, but native New Yorkers would rather not get out of the train at Times Square and keep going uptown a bit more. It’s only a few more minutes to get up here and it’s something different.

One thing I’ve encountered is people going, “Oh! You’re in the Bronx!” or “Oh, you’re in Harlem!”

No, we’re in Washington Heights, which is in a very historic area and Lin-Manuel has had heavy involvement in helping fundraise and raise awareness for the venue through “In The Heights” in recent years. “In The Heights” is becoming a movement now, which is very much about the immediate area.

Anything else?

Ten years ago, if you told me that all my friends would be going to Bushwick multiple times a month to see a concert or go to an event, you would have thought they were crazy. I think the immediate neighborhood around here isn’t where Bushwick was 10 years ago but maybe six or seven. They’re realizing it’s easier to get to and it’s a more cost-effective neighborhood to live in.

For people who are working on the west side, it’s an easy commute.

And obviously, not everybody who goes to a show in New York City lives here. Getting here from the ‘burbs is very easy on the Jersey side. From the other boroughs or Long Island, it’s a very easy drive. Or take your preferred mode of mass transit: take the A-train up or the 1-train, it’s very accessible.

On the surface people think, “Oh, it’s up there” but it’s a lot easier to get to than people would think.

I’m curious to see how this stacks in the market long-term. Instead of doing 6,000- or 7,000-seat rooms in the city, which are few and far between, doing a play here and at King’s Theatre – which is also a Loew’s Wonder Theatre – and for an artist who might have difficulty selling 6,000 on one day in Manhattan, they might be able to do it across two plays in slightly spaced-out markets.  I don’t think overall we’re getting that many people from Brooklyn when they have a Brooklyn option and in general Brooklyn is farther and a lot of people from there don’t like to cross the river any more than they have to.

On the flipside, there are people up in Westchester, or uptown in general, that find hiking out to Bushwick or Flatbush for a show, is a challenge, particularly if you’re rushing to a show after work. If you work in Manhattan and you’re by the A, you’ll make it here faster than any option you have in Brooklyn. Even getting up here from my apartment by Union Square is a seven-minute difference between that versus going to The Beacon.

I don’t want to keep comparing us to The Beacon, but every agent does, and we are kind of the two similar-sized venues in a similar area in the city (above 59th Street).

I want to try booking some new things that haven’t really played here, such as a children’s series because there is a large family population near here that doesn’t have the entertainment inventory they’re necessarily seeking. When you look at our market versus the Times Square market and the Broadway market, our costs are significantly lower based on what real estate costs over here versus Times Square. My key goal is we continue providing entertainment value to the immediate local community as well as booking events that we can use this as an opportunity to bring more people into the neighborhood who realize there are good restaurants up here they can eat at before the show and is in an easy-to-get-to, safe neighborhood.

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