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Published July 23 2013

Concert promoter puts bands center stage at local music venues

FARGO – Jade Nielsen says he once had the chance to bring Johnny Cash to Fargo.

It was in 1998 or 1999, Nielsen says, just a year before the concert promoter formed his music booking company, Jade Presents, and just a few years before the Man in Black’s death in 2003.

Nielsen, who at the time was booking and promoting concerts only as a part-time job, says he had discussions with Cash’s agent about potential concerts in various markets, one of which was Fargo.

The concert never materialized, but it was a sign of how far Nielsen had come since he started booking shows as a hobby several years before after taking a part-time job at a Fargo record store.

“I made some connections at that point with record labels and started getting calls to help out with touring bands,” says Nielsen, who grew up in Fargo, went to Fargo South High School and attended North Dakota State University.

The first show Nielsen ever booked was for the band Firehose, which was touring, attempting to play all 50 states.

“They booked with us because they didn’t know anyone else here,” Nielsen says. “That was the first successful show that I did, and it just sort of hooked me.”

For a while he continued to book gigs as a side job, he says, but after getting married and having his first child, he decided he needed to start taking the job a little more seriously.

In 2000, he started Jade Presents and moved to Bismarck, where he spent a few years booking shows for the Prairie Knights Casino.

After four years, he and his family moved back to Fargo, where he worked on establishing and growing Jade Presents.

In 2009, Nielsen started Tickets 300, a ticketing company used by Jade Presents that now exclusively handles events at the Fargo Theatre, the Venue, House of Rock and Cadillac Ranch at the Hub and Bluestem’s Imagine Amphitheater.

Nielsen also hinted at an upcoming ticketing partnership for Tickets 300, which he says will be announced in the coming weeks.

Both Jade Presents and Tickets 300 are run out of the same office in downtown Fargo, where several posters of Johnny Cash adorn the walls.

A business first

When Nielsen started out in the business, he quickly learned he was going to have to keep his personal musical interests and his business interests separate.

“It’s been said by many people in this industry that if you book artists based on your tastes, you’re not going to stay in business,” he says. “It’s a business first.”

But occasionally he’s able to bring a musical act that matches his tastes to Fargo – like the Avett Brothers, who played at the Venue at the Hub earlier this month.

When something like that happens, “that’s an added satisfaction for the job overall,” he says.

Nielsen has discovered he and his staff have to essentially promote Fargo and North Dakota to the artist and their agents.

“The big challenge in my business is getting agents out in Los Angeles, New York and Nashville to take this market, and North Dakota in general, seriously,” he says. “That’s one of the things that I fight every day.”

Factors like low unemployment and a booming North Dakota economy certainly help with that part of the job, he says, but so do expanding musical tastes in Fargo-Moorhead.

“One of the great things about what I’ve seen in the F-M area is the market on the whole has gotten so savvy about music,” he says, adding that technology and the Internet have played a role in making music more available.

“It’s remarkable that we could sell out 2,400 seats in a market for the first time the Avetts have ever played here,” he adds, referring to this month’s concert. “Twenty years ago that couldn’t have happened. That’s a product of the media and the web, and even just the market. The culture has changed in this market a lot, even just in the last 10 years.”

Successful shows are how Jade Presents, which books shows in the Dakotas and Montana, has grown and expanded, Nielsen explains.

“Success breeds success,” he says. “If we’re able to bring in certain artists and it sells well, you’re going to have additional events follow. This business is very tight-knit.”

For 10 consecutive years, Jade Presents has been named one of the top-100 promoters in the world by Pollstar Magazine. With such recognition comes the question that Nielsen occasionally gets from people in the industry: Why keep his business in Fargo?

Booking and promoting can be run from anywhere, he acknowledges.

“I personally have no interest in going to a larger market,” Nielsen says. “We choose to be here. We think the market is growing and the palate is expanding, and that’s proven to give us more to do.”

Indeed, Nielsen is much busier these days. This year alone, he estimates that Jade Presents will book roughly 275 shows.

In his entire career, he thinks he’s probably handled close to 2,500 gigs. But even with all that, Nielsen still looks back with regret at Johnny Cash, the one show that he wanted to book, but never did.

“He’s the (concert) that I would have loved to do,” he says.

Jade Presents

Some of the Jade Presents Fargo-Moorhead shows currently on sale at www.jadepresents.com:

July 30: Dwight Yoakam at Imagine Amphitheater in Moorhead, 7 p.m.

Aug. 1: Court Yard Hounds at the Fargo Theatre, 8 p.m.

Aug. 17: Reinventing Radio: An Evening with Ira Glass at the Imagine Amphitheater, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 29: Clint Black at the Fargo Theatre, 8 p.m.

Sept. 17: Jonny Lang at the Fargo Theatre, 8 p.m.

Sept. 24: Iron & Wine at the Fargo Theatre, 8 p.m.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535