Goldenvoice’s Nic Adler will be the first to admit that his upbringing had its advantages. Growing up the son of legendary music producer Lou Adler – who also owned the infamous Roxy Theatre on LA’s Sunset Strip – filled Nic’s childhood with tunes and live shows. But for Adler, getting dropped off after school at one of the Strip’s hottest clubs and skateboarding off the stage until his mom picked him up seemed common place.
“Sometimes you don’t know different. What I did for as long as I can remember was hang out in front of the Roxy,” Adler told Amplify. “Even though it was crazy and chaotic, there was always the feeling that I was at home.”
Adler added, “I don’t take this for granted at all. At this point, I realize that all the little things make up what I do today.”
Today, Adler is the Festival Director at Goldenvoice, where he is responsible for Arroyo Seco Weekend and Eat Drink Vegan in Pasadena and Camp Flog Gnaw in Los Angeles. Adler is also the Culinary Director for Coachella, Stagecoach, and Desert Trip in Indio.
More than 40 years after opening, The Roxy still belongs to the Adler family — Adler co-owns the venue with his father, which is now managed and booked by Goldenvoice.
Amplify caught up with Adler to learn about his highs and lows in the business and his never ending love for Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
I listened to pop like the Doobie Brothers and Fleetwood Mac. Then from my dad there was a lot of 50s and 60s music. I couldn’t get enough of that music. Then my stepdad was the drummer in Stray Cats so I had a lot of rockabilly influence too. I stayed in that genre for a while, but as a teenager you get into dark, depressing music. I gravitated towards The Smiths and The Cure. At 16 or 17, I took a total turn and gravitated towards early hip-hop. That was the first time I would go to the record store at midnight and wait for the new Gang Starr record to come out. It was the first time I traveled for music. At 17, I flew to New York to see KRS-One.
You ended up starting a hip-hop club, right?
I grew up having access to the clubs on Sunset Strip. My friends and I started one of the first hip-hop clubs on Sunset at the Whisky every Thursday. It was a club called Ballistics. It was me, David Faustino from Married…With Children, Brian Austin Green (Beverly Hills, 90210) and we were these random white kids from the Valley. It was every different kind of person loving hip-hop. It was a youth movement. None of us could get enough of it. DJ Speed from N.W.A was the DJ and will.i.am and Xzibit were battling every week on stage. N.W.A was doing performances.
How old were you at the time?
I graduated high school on Saturday, turned 18 on Sunday, and opened the club on Thursday. This was my first time promoting a show, putting together a flyer and fearing that first night if it was going to work or not. I remember showing up and there was a line from the Whisky to the Roxy of 15 or 16 year-old kids. My dad was at the front door taking money. My sister was at the box office. It was surreal and it lasted for the summer and then the next. Then the Rodney King beating happened and that was the end. Before the 1992 LA Riots, it was just music and it didn’t matter what background you came from. But then we had to shut it down.
What did you do after the hip-hop club?
I produced a couple of records from people who won the rap contest at Ballistic. I ended up producing a single for Dave Faustino and a few things for people that no one would ever know.
Following in my dad’s footsteps, I thought I was going to be a record producer and we started a small label that we put a few records out on. I got a little bit of that understanding of the music world.
I also opened a Jamaican Sports bar called Creek Alley on Melrose. It was an offshoot of this restaurant called Georgia which was a high-end southern restaurant that Denzel Washington and a couple other people had. We were trying to make a younger version of that. I did that for about a year then wanted to get back into music.
How did you get back into music?
I managed a band called Snot out of Santa Barbara and quickly got them signed to Geffen. I managed them for about two and a half years, definitely seeing success, and then the lead singer died in a car accident. He was a close friend and the band was my whole life. After that happened, everything froze. We went through the grieving process and they had already started recording the second album so I said “what if we made this record and we went and got all of his friends to do the vocals.” We put the record out as a tribute to Lynn (Strait).
Did you return to the Roxy after that?
From there I went back into management and managed about 10 bands that were spread out on different labels. After that, when I returned to the Roxy I knew what it was like from the band’s side. I helped changed the culture, treating bands differently and getting rid of pay to play, and changing the conversation about the Strip. I got very involved in the Strip and became the Vice President of the business association and got on the general plan committee for West Hollywood, and the parking and events committee. I was anywhere that I could insert myself on a civic level. One of the things that came out of that was the Sunset Strip Music Festival. As a co-founder of that I was able to work with all the clubs and the restaurants and had good relationships with the city. That ran for about six or seven years. At the same time, I was running the Roxy.
How did social media become an important part of the Roxy’s success?
At that time, social media began to really show itself a strong marketing tool to bring people together. I got very involved with the social to make sure the Roxy was the first verified venue. We were the first venue Twitter and Facebook reached out to to help figure out their ad platforms. I was doing a bunch of keynotes on how to use social for marketing and how to build communities. While we often looked at each other on the Strip as competitors, we were able to use social to support each other. We’d say “Head to the Viper Room tonight. We’re all sold out” or if you go to wherever “Come swing by our place after.”
How did you manage to get ahead of the social media curve?
My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, came to me and said you guys need to have a MySpace page. I said “Nah. I don’t believe in any of that.” She made one for the Roxy and I saw the response. When you get a box of flyers and give it to someone to pass out, you don’t know if people are into that show or if they are in the back of that person’s car. Social media was at the intersection of culture and music and the Roxy had these things to offer. We had multiple bands playing every night and they had videos. It was so clear to me that this was a space we could play in. We had 20 years of experience building ads for LA Weekly and creating flyers so we were ready for advertising on Facebook. Suddenly we were able to target people by what they listened to. Our numbers just started spiking.
Is this when you started Adler Integrated?
Yeah. That was myself and the guys who were running social for Viper Room, the Comedy Store, and those of us who were pushing the Strip along on social. We were spending a lot of time together and wondering why weren’t just all working together. We could still run all these accounts, but we could go out there and help the people who were looking for consulting with their social. It was short lived. We were only together for about a year. One thing we learned pretty quick was that we were working with companies like Staples Center and large artists and record companies and they were paying 60-90 days after we had completed the work. We just couldn’t get paid in time. We didn’t think to go get capital. Our financial person left and we realized the business model just wasn’t there. We got together one day separated the accounts.
Where did you go from there?
It left me in an awkward place because I was about to have a kid, the Sunset Strip Music Festival was winding down. The Roxy was turning 40 and I was trying to figure out what that looked like as the Eastside and Downtown were starting to take hold as the place where bands wanted to play first. It was cooler to play a museum or anywhere besides a traditional venue. That’s when I went to Paul (Tollett) at Goldenvoice and started talking about what a deal would look like between Goldenvoice and the Roxy. Goldenvoice four-walled the Roxy when I was a kid. It was a room they really understood. Goldenvoice was my first and only choice.
Did you immediately start working for Goldenvoice or was that something down the line after they started booking the venue?
That was down the line. To go back a little bit, around the time I started the Sunset Strip Music Festival I also started Vegan Beer Fest. That turned into Vegan Food and Beer Festival, now the Eat Drink Vegan. It started in the back lot of the Roxy with 250 people and before you knew it we had 2-3,000 people coming to the event every year. It is now doing 10,000 people at the Rose Bowl.
When I met with Paul we were sitting drinking a beer, and I mentioned that there was room for growth in regards to Coachella’s food and beverage. We had just finished the Roxy deal and for the first time since I was 17, I was directionless and without a job. I wasn’t looking for a job but I went home that night and wrote out how I would do food and beverage at Coachella. I sent it to him at three in the morning and woke up at 10 am to an email saying “Can you come down to the office?” I went and talked to them mostly about beverage. I didn’t hear back from them for three weeks and they then asked me to do the food and beverage.
Since you did the Vegan Food and Beer festivals that shouldn’t have been a huge leap?
I have always loved food and beverage and restaurants. Besides Creek Alley, I had several other restaurants. There was also something about where food was in LA. LA was just about to become a food town. The food truck scene was breaking and then it was Egg Slut and Grand Central Market. It was almost where I felt hip-hop was in 1991. I was able to tap into a bunch of friends who were in the restaurant business and have them come out to the desert. We signed up 15 or 20 restaurants and I wouldn’t say it was a failure, but it was a steep learning curve of food and beverage operations. The festivalgoer was not ready for kale salads. Five years ago, we ended up buying two semi-loads of kale back from one of the chefs and we ended up having kale and catering for two weeks.
You also worked this year on the first ever Arroyo Seco festival in Pasadena, California.
When Paul and I had that beer, we looked up and thought this would be an amazing place for a festival. I had close relationships with the Rose Bowl, as did Brian Murphy. We found out that the Rose Bowl was looking at turning down the NFL and thought the future of the bowl and the golf course was more of a music festival. That would be easier on the neighbors and would bring them what they needed financially. We ended up having to do an environmental impact report to get the festival approved which meant a lot of time with city council members, planning commissions, and neighborhood councils which I was very comfortable with. I found myself listening to neighbors that didn’t want noise or traffic, just like in West Hollywood, and I was able to navigate that and got the city on our side and pro-festival.
When it was time to decide what Arroyo Seco weekend was we knew it should be a combination of great music and great food and also family friendly. We have Coachella. We have FYF. We have Flog Gnaw. So we were trying not to jump on top of those festivals in terms of talent. After Desert Trip, it became clear that there was this older demo. We wanted a festival that Pasadena would be proud of and we did that. We had done a lot of work with sound because we were unsure what it was going to be like when there were multiple stages. We ended up getting calls from neighbors asking if we could turn the music up because they couldn’t hear it.