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The Roxy's Nic Adler On The Sunset Strip Music Festival, Politics And Social Media's Role in Saving The Strip
On paper, Nic Adler is one of those LA kids that should have ended up as daily fodder for TMZ. His father is Lou Adler, the Grammy Award-winning music producer who opened The Roxy in 1973 (now most often seen on TV sitting next to Jack Nicholson courtside at Laker games). His mother is model-actress Britt Ekland. In 1991, at age 18, Nic and pals actor David Faustino, Dan Eisenstein and Robert Gavin opened Balistyx, the premiere under 21 hip-hop club on the Sunset Strip for a couple years.
After several years of band management, promotions and even as a restauranteur, Nic took over The Roxy’s operations in 1998. If that weren’t already enough, he decided to open Adler Integrated—a full-service marketing firm last year—now working with clients like the Staples Center and Austin City Limits. In his spare time, he also produces the Vegan Beer Fest and helped create the Sunset Strip Market.
So we didn’t know quite what to expect when LAist caught up with Adler on a recent Saturday afternoon at The Roxy to talk to him about theSunset Strip Music Festival (SSMF), which he co-founded in 2007. It turns out that Adler is good peeps: A down-to-earth guy whose passion in music, social media and civic duty was palpable.
Our conversation meandered from the SSMF to the dark, lean days on the Sunset Strip and how social media has helped revive the scene. He also talked about getting involved in WeHo community issues (he’s currently the Vice President of the Business Association) and even about possible future political aspirations. And of course, we had to ask him about his favorite shows he's seen on The Sunset Strip.
What’s new and different this year at the Sunset Strip Music Festival, which is now in its sixth year?
We’ve grown every year, not only in the amount of people that come, but I think in the way that we build out the street. We’re not in a field somewhere, so we have this interesting layout of this long street with a parking lot here and a parking lot there and a bunch of businesses and the neighbors, so we have to work with the space like a puzzle. It’s all about the balance between having enough entertainment value and having the right bands to also having the right food and the right activities. Art is something that we gonna see a lot more this year than we’ve seen in other years. We’re working with Ethos Gallery [and graffiti artist RISK], and we’re gonna have three or four live art installations going on throughout the festival. One of them are those big 10-foot Gibson guitars we have lining The Strip. We put those together with Gibson, and we’re actually going to be painting one live in the street
So you’ll be concentrating more on art this year?
Well, for us, that’s where we’re growing, and we’re also growing by getting bigger bands. Last year, we had Marilyn Manson and The Offspring, so we split the headliner, which is an interesting thing to do. We thought we would get more people with two headliners, but it doesn't always work that way, so we went back to getting one dominant headliner with Linkin Park. That is a change from years past because I think before it was a little bit more about the top three or four bands, but there’s no doubt that linkin park is the headliner of this festival.
And also this year, what’s different is that we usually fell on the same day as the Rock the Bells festival for the past three years, so that’s really limited us on how much hip hop we can do. So if you look at the lineup this year there’s a lot more hip hop than we’ve ever had.
Did I see Doug E. Fresh in the lineup?
Yeah, and that’s what we always do. Whether it was Public Enemy two years ago and De La Soul last year, we like to bring back classic hip hop, one because I myself am a big hip hop fan and i grew up on the sunset strip during a time—and I know this sounds weird—but there was a lot of hip hop on the strip.
How have you seen not only The Roxy, but The Strip evolve?
Any place that has been around for over 50 or 60 years, especially in entertainment, is going to have amazing years and not so amazing years because things come in fashion and out of fashion. We’re really dictated by music, so, when you are, you’re only good as the music you put into your venues.
I think we’ve battled a little bit, and we didn't understand on The Strip that there could be other places where there was music. And I think we almost fought against the idea, and we hurt ourselves. Once we realized that the more music there is from different parts of LA, the better it’s going to be. It was almost like rising tides lifts all boats. I don't know we’ve always thought about that in terms of music and music communities...So once we got past that The Strip was the only place to go, things started to come back to us. It was almost like ‘get humble, stop talking about how great the ‘80s were; stop retelling stories and start telling new stories.’
How did social media play a role in telling new stories? Reviving The Strip
We weren’t good listeners on The Strip. Until you listen, you can’t make real change. and social media gave us the opportunity to start listening again. Once we started listening, we realized that we’re not the only game in town, and we can get better and we can stop talking about the past and start talking about who played last night...and who’s playing next week...and who our new favorite band is that’s coming through—whether they’re from the Eastside or the Westside—and once we took that approach I think things started to change for us.
You’ve talked about keeping things relevant while respecting the history of The Strip and that had to do with the attitude shift?
It did and now we’re seeing a new wave of restaurants and bars coming in. We have Rock and Reilly’s. We have Pearl. We have Everleigh. We have the State Social House...but we also want to smell the history and know that this ground was not poured last week. I'm standing where Jim Morrison once stood, but I'm also at a bar that has TVs and has dance music playing, and that wasn't always accepted here. So finally we found this amazing balance between our history, and what the people want and the atmosphere they want to be in. The people don’t always want heavy metal music blasting in their faces. They might want to hear pop music while they drink their martini...
I think in the late 90s you had a bunch of business owners who started sometime in the 70s, and they had an amazing 80s where they didn’t even know where to put the cash...and then the 90s come along and things start to move in different places—Third Street Promenade started opening up, Universal City opened up, LA Live...it wasn’t the only game in town and a lot of them didn’t know how to deal with that. They all got very competitive, and the competition really hurt us, we were fighting our neighbors. I was trying to get that band from the Viper Room because I did not want the Viper Room to succeed. But now I know, the more the Viper Room succeeds, the more I succeed, the more the Rainbow succeeds. We’re only as good as our neighbor on the strip.
What are the other venues that are involved in the music festival and is there some sort of friendly competition when you’re not collaborating on the festival?
I call it co-opetition. We [The Roxy] jumped on social media the minute it was there, we were like this is our tool this is our time. And then the viper room came on and up to that point we would do anything. we didn’t let them pass out flyers we didn’t let their employees come here.
This was 2006, it was right when social started to come in. So we see the viper tweet, ‘Hey we’re on Twitter everyone follow us.’ And i was in the office and I said, ‘Hey what if we told all of our fans to follow the Viper Room?’ [Adler hit that Tweet button, telling everyone to follow the Viper Room.] So that one interaction almost broke it...it broke this kind of ‘that club this club’ stalemate.
You’re involved in a lot of civic activities here in WeHo...
It’s just about ‘where can I get involved?’ If there’s a parking task force, I want to be on that.
Do you live in West Hollywood?
I don’t or I would run for city council—which I think I might eventually run. But I would have to move here to run. [Adler and his wife Alison currently live in West L.A.]. I really like politics a lot, but then I realized that I love changing things more than I love politics. I love the fact that I can help change things, bring people together or change people’s perceptions. But I do want to go down that [political] path. I think I can bring something really different, too. I think I’m part of that next generation. My ideas aren’t so set in stone...it’s like ‘How can we work things out?’
What are your top five most memorable shows either here at The Roxy or on the Sunset Strip?
In any order? Well, I used to do that hip hop club called Balistyx (at the Whisky), and NWA had the number one record in the country, and as a little white kid from Malibu, I could never dream that NWA was going to play something that I had something to do with....and Eazy-E was onstage....just seeing NWA up there was one of my favorite shows. Jane’s Addiction, I’d seen them a couple times here at The Roxy, but their show—I think it was in ‘98—was one of my favorite shows.
I managed a band called Snot. They were a hard rock band and they played at The Key Club. I saw STP at The Roxy [around 1999], and it was about 120 degrees and you couldn’t move...and Weiland was playing in his underwear. That was an amazing show. I think [number five] would have to be Ozzy on the Sunset Strip. [He played the second Sunset Strip Music Festival—the first one where they shut down the boulevard.] I’d lived here my whole life. I’d never seen The Strip—except for a riot or a car accident—with no cars on it. So walking The Strip, and seeing trucks unloading gear and seeing these stages rise up. And then to have 10,000 people out there and have Ozzy Osbourne come out on stage....that was a dream come true.
The dream continues tonight when the 6th annual Sunset Strip Music Festival sponsored by Jack Daniels opens with a tribute to Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. The Street Fest with headliners Linkin Park is on Saturday.