Even though React Presents’ Matt Rucins began his music career behind the counter at a record store, he was never one to judge people’s taste in music.
“I recognized where I was. I was at a record store in a mall, so if I were judging people’s music I would have driven myself nuts,” Rucins told Amplify. “If I never have to hear the Bodyguard soundtrack or Ace of Base’s ‘The Sign’ ever again I’ll be happy. Along with Sting’s ‘Field of Gold’ were the three records that were played over and over again. At the same time, that’s where I picked up a promo of this band called Weezer, put that on at home, and was hooked.”
The store, Sam Goody’s Musicland, had other perks as well. Rucins said there was an entire floor dedicated to jazz, new age, and classical and he spent his hours sifting through the shelves and learning more about genres he hadn’t been introduced to yet.
“My brother who is eight years older than me, was friends with a bunch of the 90s Chicago bands like Urge Overkill, Liz Phair, and Material Issue,” Rucins said. “From a young age, he was making me listen to music and memorize the members of the Police and the Clash and the Who. He lived in the attic and had his records up in his room. I would sneak up there and listen to his records.”
In college at University of Missouri, Rucins’ passion for music didn’t die. One summer he was a waiter, a bartender, working at a record store, and booking shows. He was also DJing at a club that had a stage they never used. He asked the owner if he could try to get bands in there and he was given his first shot to book shows.
“At the time I didn’t know that booking agencies were a thing so I wrote a letter to record companies and luckily one of them landed on the desk of my brother’s friend who worked at Touch And Go Records in Chicago. Who at the time happened to be married to Ali Hedrick who still works at Billions. He put her in touch with me and she had known me since I was a little kid,” Rucins explained.
He added “Hedrick sent me a blacked out fax of a show offer and I made a template and started sending offers. I can’t remember how long it was before Richard King, who owned the Blue Note at the time, hired me because he noticed I was taking up spots on kiosks that he would normally take. He hired me and my girlfriend at the time was working there at the Blue Note.”
Rucins hasn’t looked back since. Considering the traction he was able to make in Missouri, Rucins’ brother encouraged him to return to Chicago which he eventually did to work at legendary venue Schuba’s. He helped the company open Lincoln Hall and stayed with them for 15 years until he moved to React Presents two and a half years ago.
“I was brought over to diversify React which predominantly focuses on electronic music and hip-hop and R&B. I was brought over because what I did at Lincoln Hall was just about everything and to increase the amount of club shows that we do which I still do,” Rucins said. “Two months ago the principles at React all left so I was elevated to a co-general manager role. They were looking to hire in-house and I appreciate that.”
Now Rucins has set his sights on making React Presents the Bowery Presents of Illinois. He plans to work with bands from 200-capacity rooms up to United Center azlon with the company’s festival properties as well. Amplify caught up with the new Co-GM to find out about five shows that led him where he is today.
Michael Jackson at Rosemont Horizon in Illinois
April 21, 1988
My first arena show and possibly my second show ever. My girlfriend at the time had a hip mom, who managed to score tickets to what must have been the tour of the year. I can still see that tiny Michael Jackson from my-not-that-hot-of-a-view from the upper deck.
Pearl Jam at Chicago Stadium in Illinois
March 10, 1994
This was my first guest list experience. It was thanks to my brother, who at the time was working with or around some much talked about Chicago bands, including the night’s support, Urge Overkill. This time it was me taking the girlfriend to the show and I did it right with a one-way limo ride from the burbs. Urge Overkill was fun and Pearl Jam was solid in the midst of their Vitalogy tour. This was the final concert at Chicago Stadium, where I had previously only seen Michael Jordan captivate an audience.
The Flaming Lips at The Blue Note in Columbia, Missouri
Nov. 18, 1995
In 1994, I headed to the University of Missouri, Columbia to begin my career as a music journalist, which would peak a little over a year later when I got to sit down and interview Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips. We chatted in the basement green room of The Blue Note, a venue I would help book about three years later. He and the band made an unscheduled stop on their Clouds Taste Metallic tour. That day marked my first major artist interview and that night a first of another kind. Let’s just say with Ronald Jones’ guitar playing, Steven Drozd’s drumming and the curtain of moving Christmas lights, The Lips were on another level.
Radiohead at Auditorium Theatre in Chicago
June 20, 2006
Radiohead in an almost acoustically perfect theatre designed by Louis Sullivan might be enough reason to place this show on my list, but this evening also marked the first time my (now ex) wife and I went out after having our first child. We left Owen asleep on his grandmother’s chest and he was still in the same exact spot about 23 Radiohead songs later.
Prince at United Center in Chicago
Sept. 25, 2012
I had never seen Prince live and he was definitely on my shortlist, but didn’t really want to shell out the money to see him on a weeknight. However, about a week prior to the start of his three-night-run in Chicago someone claiming to be Joan Jett’s manager cold called me at Schuba’s to ask if I could get a colleague of hers into my sold out Rodriguez show at Lincoln Hall. She said in exchange she’d get me two seats to any of Prince’s shows. Two spots on a guest list is no sweat off my back and I can ride my bike to the United Center, so I would just head back home if I discovered I was scammed. But my name or the woman’s interpretation of my name was actually on a list and I was handed two tickets in the third row, about thirty feet from Prince. Bonus (if that’s even possible here): This was the second night and the night before was roundly panned, meaning Prince had something to prove and he knocked critics back with a massive 34 song set.