Hill climbing: Sam gives bands the business
By Amy Briggs
In a field often marred by instability and red ink– music booking– at least one local company has created a success story. For seven years, Sam Hill Entertainment, brainchild of Charlottesvillian Hank Wells, has not only firmly rooted itself, but also branched out to include clients from five states.
Although still in his twenties, Wells projects a mature aura of capability and confidence. That attitude probably didn't hurt when he was signing his first few clients in 1995, when the executive office was just a UVA dorm room.
What the Sam Hill do they actually do?
"We help find great bands for just about any kind of event," says Wells, "whether it's a college concert, fraternity party, wedding reception, winter gala, or backyard barbecue."
It seems like a smooth move, as folks on both sides of the handshake need help: bands are always looking for gigs, and hosts need musical entertainment for their soirées and shindigs. Providing music exclusively for private functions, Wells and his staff have been able to bypass much of the toil and trouble that has deep-sixed similar startups. For example, he's able to avoid the costs and hassle of distributing flyers and dealing with club policies.
The work lies primarily in pushing the company name. Sam Hill has reaped its greatest rewards by sowing the seeds of interest in university towns. The company's college contact, Michael Allenby, spends most of his extracurricular time on the road, touring East Coast campuses to divine what bands are hot or not. Allenby shakes hands, passes out business cards, and assures fraternity honchos that their house social budgets will be well spent.
According to Wells, while there exist larger booking firms in D.C. and Virginia Beach, they don't intersect competitively. Sam Hill Entertainment operates on a smaller scale, and is able to maintain a more personal relationship with those on the other end of the phone.
On the company website, samhillbands.com, interested parties can choose from a hundred-plus bands, ranging from the Agents of Good Roots to Nickeltown to Lake Trout to the Charlottesville Swing Orchestra. More recognizable names like the Hackensaw Boys can command anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 per gig, but the average range is between $250 and $1,000.
His wish for the future? It's simple. "We want to keep having as much fun as we're having now." With Sam Hill Entertainment on track to book over a thousand gigs in the upcoming year, he may not have any reason to worry.