Chris Fahlman, a long-time music industry executive in everything ranging from festivals to orchestras, has been tapped to help the Huntridge Revival group to help envision the type of various entertainment that would make the old theater a viable venue again.
The Huntridge Theater sports a new paint job, seen Monday, Sept. 30. It’s going to need more than paint to get up and running.
The latest addition to the Huntridge Revival project has a bit more gray in his hair than the trio of entrepreneurs who are working to resurrect the Huntridge Theater near downtown, but that’s just an indicator of his years in the business of providing entertainment to people across the country. He’s gone from the Summer of Love to Generation Z; now Chris Fahlman hopes to provide some insight and inspiration to a theater that’s older than he is.
Fahlman started promoting bands and concert events in the late 1960s. While still taking classes at Kenyon College, from which he eventually graduated, he started working with the Cleveland Orchestra in Ohio. He soon became manager of the orchestra and its venue, Blossom Music Center.
On his long road to Las Vegas, Fahlman has also been an organizer of the Lalapoolooza festivals, executive vice president of MCA/Universal Concerts and chief operating office of NextStage Entertainment. Although much of his work has been in concerts, he’s also a television and film producer.
He’s worked with The Who, The Byrds, The Eagles, Jackson Brown and Bonnie Raitt. He’s made concert posters (and in a throw-back to a tried and true media, is working to bring a one-ton, 1888 letterpress to Las Vegas to make posters here).
Fahlman is one of Huntridge Revival’s newest additions, but he’s not looking to resurrect the music of his youth. He’s looking for new ways to present information to Generations Y and Z, through digital products and ideas that are barely on the drawing board.
But the same sort of zeal that propelled him and many others four decades ago can still win converts and customers, if properly harnessed today, Fahlman says. Cabarets, experimental film and video, music - any kind of entertainment is possible.
“Each one of these has to have it own sort of evangelical,” Fahlman says during a recentinterview. “That’s how we win.”
Fahlman considers the fragmentation of the entertainment industry that potentially make delivering large-group content challenging.
“It’s not one niche,” he says of the Huntridge Theater’s probably customer base. “It’s many niches.”
Fahlman’s mission will not be an easy one. The Huntridge Revival effort itself is audacious, and it is following in the path of others who have tried to rescue the deteriorating edifice at the corner of Charleston Boulevard and Maryland Parkway. Entrepreneurs Joey Vanas and Michael Cornthwaite announced last year that they would buy and rehabilitate the theater, which is actually a rabbit-warren of four connected buildings.
The main theater area opened in 1944, and in its heyday of the next two decades was the place to be seen in Las Vegas. Over the years, the neighborhood changed, Las Vegas grew on the suburban margins and downtown slowly withered.
Downtown now is coming back economically, with investment from various sources but especially from Tony Hsieh, Zappos’ billionaire CEO and a friend of the developers.
The two have estimated that the cost of the project could be $15 million, which would include $4 million just to buy the property and the rest to reconstruction work. Assuming those steps go well, filling the venue would be the next challenge, and that’s where Fahlman’s expertise is needed.
Joey Vanas says that Fahlman is a man who matches challenge and experience. Fahlman, Vanas says, will join an existing team that includes Tim Driver, who is project manager, and dozens of volunteers who have contributed time and money to the project.
“We’re extremely excited to have Chris Fahlman join the Huntridge Revival team, bringing with him decades of experience and expertise in theatre and performing arts venue development, design, programming, marketing, and operations,” Vanas says. “His passion and constant desire to revolutionize and push the envelope of how audiences experience live performance are perfectly aligned with our intentions to make the Huntridge Theater a historically significant venue that pays homage to the past but is designed for the needs and wants of future generations.
“Chris joins my partner Michael Cornthwaite, project coordinator Tim Driver, a team of 50+ volunteers, and an advisory board of 25 of the top professionals and community leaders of Las Vegas who are coming together to make this project possible.”
Vanas emphasizes that whatever programs are ultimately offered in the restored Huntridge Theater, the community, including people who have contributed money and sweat equity to the rehabilitation, will have a voice in those decisions.
Fahlman says he knows the venue has to stand out even as new venues - the Cornthwaite-Downtown Project Inspire Theater, which is to open later this month; the proposed Modern-Contemporary Art Museum; the Container Park - offer or will offer gathering and performance spaces. Part of Fahlman’s job is to figure out “what people don’t even know they want yet.”
He envisions a sort of custom experience for every concert goer, for example, by using state-of-the-art technology to individually control the mix of the music as it is happening live. But most important, Fahlman says his four decades of experience teaches him the importance of “being nimble” and providing a rewarding experience with the consumer.
“You’ve got to be a sociologist,” he says.
Fahlman says bringing in acts and other entertainment that will appeal to the community is key.
“Are their enough artists out there for whom the mission will be attractive to make this venue successful?” he asks. The question is probably rhetorical, because he also offers” “There are certainly enough kits and talent here in Vegas to try it out.”
The appeal to the Huntridge Theater is its close connection to the history of Las Vegas, he says, which makes it much different from a theater or concert venue created from scratch.
Although in a state of disrepair, the “bones are pretty good,” Fahlman says of the theater buildings. The Huntridge is special, he says, because “everybody’s got a story about that place. That’s part of the historicity of the place.”
“As grungy as it is right now, it’s authentic,” Fahlman says. “There is a place certainly for an authentic location.” CL