Growing up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Jay Cooper says there wasn’t much of a live music scene. Touring bands would skip over his town for bigger cities and Cooper wasn’t entirely sure what he was missing until he became a youth usher with his Boy Scouts troop.
“We would volunteer to usher at some of the shows at the venue and Johnny Cash was the first one. I know there were others, but that’s the one I remember. So, my first concert was actually seeing Johnny Cash at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Cedar Rapids,” Cooper tells Amplify. “I still remember him singing ‘Ring of Fire.’ It blew me away. That’s what started me liking music.”
When Cooper was in junior high, the Five Seasons Center opened in Cedar Rapids and more shows were finally flooding into the city. Suddenly, him and his friends were saving their pennies to see $8 shows at the venue with big touring acts like Doobie Brothers, Foreigner and Van Halen coming through.
Cooper jumped at the first opportunity to join the live music industry when he got to college.
“My freshman year I had an opportunity to join Scope Productions which is the student run group at University of Iowa. That was my first involvement in the business,” says Cooper. “We would promote our shows and we had exposure to everything from stagehand work to selling t-shirts to working with the promoters and cutting the deals.”
Cooper had the chance to work with the top promoters in the region, Jam Productions and Contemporary Productions, to cut deals for Billy Joel, Tina Turner, Stevie Nicks, Elton John and Psychedelic Furs shows.
After college, Cooper headed straight for Detroit to join Olympia Entertainment as an event manager and hasn’t looked back.
“I enjoyed being involved in the operational aspects of putting on a show. Whether it was the load in or selling merch or working security. That interaction between the band and the fans, the building is in the middle of all of that. That’s what I liked,” says Cooper, who is now senior vice president of AEG Facilities.
One of Cooper’s favorite parts of his job is bringing venues or acts to new territories, especially those that are often skipped over like Cedar Rapids once was in his childhood.
“With AEG, we’re always exploring new territories. There is always something new. Even if we come into a market with an existing building, there is always opportunity there,” says Cooper. He adds, what him and his team do “will change the landscape of how people entertain themselves by having a new arena, a new artist, a new sport come in to a market.”
Amplify caught up with Cooper to find out about five of his favorite shows.
Stevie Ray Vaughan at Col Ballroom in Davenport, Iowa
Oct. 4, 1985
I was turned on to Stevie Ray & Double Trouble by a friend in college. We went to see his show at the little Col Ballroom in Davenport, Iowa. When he came on stage and started to jam, I was blown away by the way he played his guitar and the power of his music. Despite a few beers (or because of them) I was mesmerized the entire show. I saw him several times before he died, but the show at the Col always stuck with me for the power of his music. As there are constant comparisons of who are the greatest guitar gods of all time, Stevie Ray is at the top of my list.
N.W.A at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit
Dec. 10, 1988
If you saw Straight Outta Compton, you know this show. I was the production manager at Joe Louis Arena and N.W.A was playing with Public Enemy. I don’t think the movie did enough justice to how furious the Detroit Police were over “Fuck tha Police.” The promoter’s production guy and me were told we would be arrested if we allowed the band to play the song in concert. We were both young guys and were terrified. I remember standing with Stu Mayer with Olympia Entertainment watching the show and then the song starts. Damn! I go sprinting backstage only to see the area outside of the band’s dressing room full of police, many with guns drawn. The promoter had this great big guy working security at the dressing room door. Out of this sea of police comes a hand with a blackjack and knocks the security guy cold with one smack. Of course, the band was long gone by then via an alternate route (brilliant!) and the show continued from there.
At the time, I was terrified I was going to jail or would be shot. I had no idea how impactful this band or this show was to the entirety of the genre. I was witnessing music history and didn’t know it until many years later.
Coldplay at O2 World Arena in Berlin, Germany
Sept. 15, 2008
It seems everyone has a memory of a Coldplay show. That’s because they are so damned good! I was helping with the opening of the O2 World Arena in Berlin (now Mercedes Benz Arena) with AEG. The building was open, the crowd was in, so we had a chance to sit back and watch the show. The reason everyone talks about Coldplay is because they create such an immersive experience at their shows. All good artists connect with the crowds at their shows. Coldplay take it to an entirely different level. The Berlin show was no different. The band was on fire and the German audience was loving every minute of it. I remember thinking each was feeding off the energy of the other. Of course, the production was awesome. Those of you who have opened a music venue know what I am saying here: After a lot of long days and late nights with great people working their asses off to get this new awesome arena open and functioning, it was especially gratifying to sit back and watch this dynamic of the band and the crowd lift each other up.
The War On Drugs at Greek Theatre in Los Angeles
Oct. 5, 2017
I first saw the band at Coachella in 2015. Like everyone else, I knew “Under The Pressure” and that was about it. As I listened to their Coachella set, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was hooked! Fast forward to the show at The Greek in 2017 and A Deeper Understanding had recently been released. I was mesmerized by every song on the set list. Adam Granduciel has that moody, pissed-off vibe going most of the time he is on stage, but one can tell he is totally into his music. He was certainly not mailing it in.
Paul McCartney at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Aug. 2, 2014
What is there to say? He’s a Beatle! Sir Paul was one of the few artists still on my bucket list I had not seen. My wife and I scored some great seats from Joe Litvag (Thanks, Joe!) at Target Field and then witnessed why Paul McCartney is the icon he is. He killed it through each and every song! I was in awe of his talent and how he could deliver his Beatles and Wings work like he was singing them for the first time. I was ready to cut him some slack for his age and a long set list, but no need to expect less from him. It was truly a great and memorable night.