Ali Hedrick is one of indie rock’s most accomplished booking agents, but she didn’t earn her stripes working in the mailroom of one of the big Hollywood talent agencies.
“I was a waitress and bartender at the Avalon and Elbo Room in Chicago in the 90’s and received a great deal of my musical education working those jobs,” she told Amplify. “There were times when I would see 20 bands a week. I was introduced to so many different genres of music and it really helped form my musical taste today. Let’s just say that I have put in my 10,000 hours.”
She ended up wanting to be a talent agent through “the process of elimination” during her college years at Columbia in Chicago in their music business program. Hedrick knew she didn’t want to work at a record label because she might have to rep artists that she didn’t like or believe in. Becoming an agent felt like the right fit. Right around graduation, she met Billions Corporation founder and Arcade Fire agent David “Boche” Viecelli at a gig in Chicago.
“What can I say, I applied for the job and he hired me,” she told Amplify. “This month I will have worked at Billions for 21 years.”
She said she loves here job 90% of the time. “I love the music, the people, going to live shows and traveling. I truly enjoy signing young acts and watching them grow.”
The first band she signed at Billions was Calexico and her roster includes Glen Hansard, The Head and the Heart, Neko Case and Sufjan Stevens. Amplify recently caught up with Hedrick to ask “of the thousands of shows you’ve seen, which five stand out the most?” Her answers are below:
James Brown Bartenders Ball for Camel Cigarettes
Dec. 7, 1999
Camel cigarettes wasn’t allowed to advertise in print anymore so they changed directions and offered free concerts and alcohol to all of the bartenders in nightclubs across Chicago. These shows were called Bartenders Balls and were private shows given in order to seduce bartenders to have their clientele smoke Camels. The amazing part about this particular show was that the majority of the bartenders were too drunk to watch James Brown and hung out in the bar instead of watching the show. I was able to get all the way up to the barricade and I swear I watched him play to around 200 people. It was incredible. He had multiple outfit changes and used sparklers during “Living in America.” It was one of the best concerts I have ever seen.
Elliott Smith at Lounge Ax in Chicago
April 6, 1997
I have always been a huge Will Oldham / Bonnie Price Billy fan. Someone told me that the opener was incredible and I should get there early. Elliott was solo and he sat on a stool playing his heart out. I liked the show so much that I left after his set and remember being euphoric for the rest of the evening. My mind was just too blown to stay for Will.
Cyprus Hill at The China Club, Chicago
March 21, 1993
The China Club was more of a dance club than a concert hall yet they still managed to confirm some amazing acts while it lasted. The show felt like it was special and something that you had to be in the know to attend. They threw out joints from the stage — at the time this was completely outrageous — and the crowd jumped up and down for the entire show. The energy on stage was electric.
Sufjan Stevens at Prospect Park in Brooklyn
August 2 & 3, 2011
These were Sufjan’s first outdoor headline shows and he nailed it. The Age of Adz was a special tour where Sufjan added, subtracted, rearranged songs from the album during the cycle. At these shows he had perfected the live set and you could hear each and every note from his large 12 piece band. He was done, mission accomplished, he never performed this show again. He ended on a high note, mic drop.
Willie Nelson CMJ at The Bottom Line in New York
Sept. 15, 1999
CMJ always held back half of their tickets for badge holders. The show had been sold out for months. On a whim I decided to jump in a cab and try my luck to get in. There was a line around the block but to my surprise there wasn’t much industry in the room. I have no idea who was working the door but they held those spots for badge holders all night long and I was able to see Willie Nelson in a small intimate room. It was wonderful.