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Atomic Turtle - Beginnings (1984-1986)
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Foster Auditorium
Welcome sign near the dorm
David Meece
Paty Hall
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Some of the original teamAfter serving a year as a youth minister while attending Auburn University at Montgomery I transferred to the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa and took up residence at Paty Hall on campus.  With the success of the earlier Petra concert in mind and more than 20,000 college students residing in town, it wasn't long before a group of us at the dorm began discussing the possibility of bringing Christian concerts to Tuscaloosa. 

I spoke at the Baptist Student Union and Campus Crusade for Christ and met some people who ended up becoming the core of our team.  They brought their friends and we soon had eighty people ready to help bring concerts to Tuscaloosa, and several chipped in enough money to finance a concert.  We chose the name Dragonslayer and started figuring out how to organize a production crew.

Tickets from the first two concertsAfter being turned down by many booking agents because I was new, I eventually managed to book David Meece and Connie Scott for an April 1985 concert.  We rented Foster Auditorium on campus and began promoting the concert.  Everything was fine until Mylon LeFevre's manager called me.  Mylon was returning to their home base in Atlanta from a Texas tour but a Mississippi date had just been canceled, and the band wanted to play Tuscaloosa instead.  In two weeks.  I immediately agreed.

The Dragonslayer team tried to kill me but then found an auditorium for the show.  We started publicity the day we booked the concert and began training personnel.  Mylon was very popular and tickets started selling, with many people buying tickets in Birmingham.  Two weeks later we were ready and 800 people had purchased tickets.

Then the ice storm of 1985 hit.  It covered everything in ice and was so bad the Birmingham Christian radio station, WDJC, unilaterally announced that we'd canceled the concert.  A phone call to the station fixed that problem, and work continued.  When the band showed up for load-in the stage crew cheered and we began our first concert. 

Mylon & Broken HeartAfter Mylon we did the David Meece concert and five more concerts, including a much larger Mylon show on the Alabama campus.  We managed to break even on all of these and the team kept increasing their proficiency.  We had after-action reviews after every concert to discuss what worked, what didn't, and what needed to change, and introduced improvements at each concert.  Lots of people were walking down the aisles to talk to our counselors at each concert's invitation, we had built up a solid bank balance, had big plans for upcoming events, and the future looked great. 

But there was a negative side too.  Now that Dragonslayer was active and promoting multiple shows the bands started calling me.  I received at least two booking calls a week from various Nashville agents plus calls from the road managers and promotion staff from the bands we were doing concerts with.  There were also meetings with radio stations, lawyers, churches, insurance companies, venue managers, printers, and book store owners.  Everyone needed to talk to me and there was always a meeting to attend or concert to plan.

Michelle PillarManaging all of these concerts was taking a lot of my time but concert work was not all that I was doing.  I was working three jobs to cover my college expenses while going to college full time and working on my application to join the Navy as a pilot.  There was so much to do that even with the Dragonslayer team helping the burden of all of this extra work was becoming difficult for me to carry.   I was on an unsustainable course.

As 1986 drew to a close we had one last big concert to do.  The very popular band Whiteheart was lined up to play just before Christmas break and we were well positioned for the concert.  Everything looked great...


Concerts are expensive and we never had enough money.  Patrick, our Birmingham guy, observed that approximately 10% of the audience at any given concert are super fans of the band that is playing.  They attend their band's every concert and go out of their way to buy tickets early when they go on sale.  Others also buy tickets but never with the urgency of the 10%.  If we could harness the super fans we could solve our cash flow problem.


Churches buy tickets in groups as people sign up to go.  Reserved seats put those groups into separate areas, which is bad.  General Admission solves this but also causes stampedes when super fans stampede to the front.  Patrick proposed general admission gold and silver tickets with the gold being 10% of the total.  Gold cost a little more but had a roped off area down front.  You only had to fight the other gold people for seats because Silver sat behind you.


Gold ticket people rushed to the bookstores the second they heard their favorite band was coming to town, no matter which band it was.  We then collected the gold money from the bookstores, giving us the cash we needed to finish producing the concert.  Gold tickets worked every single time we used them and became Dragonslayer's default method of ticketing.


We started using gold and silver tickets in 1985 and the practice was copied by promoters to our north and south.  The bands told other promoters and we started hearing about other cities doing the same thng.  Today you still see gold and silver tickets or variations of the concept like Artist Circle.  I don't know if Dragonslayer started this practice but we were the first to do it in Alabama and it was a new idea to the bands.

Patrick was a student at Birmingham's Samford University and managed Birmingham ticket distribution.  It was Patrick who got our tickets into the Birmingham Christian bookstores and it was Patrick who pursued the Phantom.  In later years he moved to Montgomery and booked quite a few concerts there.  Patrick was a critical part of Dragonslayer and was instrumental in our success.


In the early days tickets were printed in Tuscaloosa and mailed to Patrick.  He would distribute them to Birmingham's Christian bookstores and collect unsold tickets the day of the concert.  Patrick's tally of bookstore sales fed the Tuscaloosa tally and we kept a close eye on available tickets.  Ticket counts were taken once a week but if things were really moving we would call the stores daily.  You did everything you could to keep tickets in the stores, and planning calls for sellout concerts sometimes got intense.


During one Tuscaloosa/Birmingham conference call we realized not all Birmingham tickets had been distributed and 500 were missing.  Patrick said he had made the initial drops but had not been able to resupply some stores and that the tickets were in his footlocker.  This actually worked in our favor because Patrick was able to get tickets to the stores that needed them without pulling any from other stores.


But the footlocker took on a life of it's own and became the defacto reserve ticket dump for Birmingham.  We kept a footlocker count alongside the bookstore count and tapped the footlocker stash whenever we needed extra tickets somewhere.  On at least one occasion the footlocker sent tickets back to Tuscaloosa when we were running low.  The Internet has made all of this work obsolete but we still remember Patrick's footlocker and it's role in our first concerts.

The first real Dragonslayer concert was with Mylon and Broken Heart during the great ice storm of February 1985.  It was bitterly cold and even though the worst of the storm passed north of Tuscaloosa there was ice everywhere.  The Birmingham Christian radio station WDJC was so certain that Tuscaloosa was iced-in they announced that our concert had been canceled.  We called them and set the record straight and their multiple on-air retractions actually helped our ticket sales.


During load-in at Tuscaloosa Central High School we noticed that the building was very cold and asked the school facilities manager what could be done.  It turned out that one of their furnaces was broken and the best we could hope for in the building was a temperature of around forty degrees.  The 800-person audience and the stage lights helped raise that temperature a bit but Mylon still had to perform in a full-length winter coat.


The school facilities manager was highly annoyed at the furnace and spent most of the day banging on it with a wrench.  He was also mad at the school's electrical system and pretty much everything else.  We were friendly and stayed out of his way but his mood did not improve over the course of the day and he yelled at bystanders as much as he yelled at the furnace. 


But what stuck with us was his response to questions.  When we asked about locked front doors, the status of the furnace, what he wanted for lunch, or anything else he would consistently reply "Don't you tell me what I don't know!"  None of us knew what he meant but he kept saying it even though we weren't trying to tell him anything.  At later concerts this became the catch phrase for the Dragonslayer stage crew and it is still sometimes heard around our concerts today.

Dragonslayer operated in the pre-Internet days and had to sell tickets at physical locations.  That meant Christian bookstores in all of the cities within a 50-100 mile radius of the concert site.  Our couriers normally delivered tickets, posters, and flyers to the bookstores 2-3 months in advance of the concert date and the bookstores would distribute the flyers and posters to their customers.


Right from the first concert our Birmingham runners began reporting that someone had already been to their bookstores and dropped off hand made posters and flyers.  Whoever it was kept beating us to the bookstores and generally did a great job of distributing accurate concert information, but we had no idea who was doing it.  The Birmingham crew began calling this person The Phantom and the Phantom kept beating us to the punch.  From 1985 until 1989 we wondered who our friend was, but we were never able to catch the Phantom.


I managed several Christian bookstores at the time and one day in 1989 an employee named Michelle told me about her boyfriend Smitty.  He was so excited about area concerts that he made his own flyers and made sure everyone around him knew about upcoming events.  This included him following band schedules, finding recently announced Birmingham gigs, and driving around town dropping flyers off at most of the bookstores.  I realized Smitty was probably our Phantom and began to compare notes with Michelle.  I was right, I met the Phantom, and Smitty became a valued member of Dragonslayer, helping us from the inside this time.  Michelle and Smitty are now married and both are dear friends who still help us with the occasional concert.

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