After Michael Belkin narrowed down his list of concerts for this Five Shows feature, he was a little concerned that his picks would make him look like an old fart.
“I look at this list and know people will think ‘this guy hasn’t seen a good show in 25 years,’” he wrote to Amplify. “In the last few months or so I’ve seen fantastic performances by Florence & The Machine, Dave Matthews Band, Keith Urban (the whole package), Zac Brown Band, the Dixie Chicks, Billy Joel, Twenty One Pilots (I’ve seen the future of rock), Rascal Flatts (no one else sings like this guy), Barenaked Ladies, Sting with Peter Gabriel, Joe Walsh & Bad Company (one of the best guitarists around and THE best rock singer of all time), Jimmy Buffett, Paul McCartney, Coldplay, and Steely Dan with Steve Winwood.”
Damn dude, that’s a lot of freaking shows! Of course as the head of Live Nation Cleveland, Belkin helms one of the biggest rock operations in the Midwest. Belkin Productions was started 50 years ago by Belkin’s father Mike Belkin (“I’m not a junior!” Michael insists.”I’m Michael, he’s Mike.”) and grew the company with the help of his brother Jules into a concert powerhouse, promoting the biggest shows in Ohio and much of the Midwest. The brothers sold their company to Live Nation in 2001 during the SFX rollup and now son Michael serves as a Senior VP for the concert giant.
“Belkin Productions began promoting shows in 1966, so I was always hanging around backstage,” Michael said. “I have worked as a runner (before GPS!), stagehand (I sucked), marketing assistant, ticketing manager (before computerized ticketing), production manager, and club booker.”
He’s had plenty of rowdy shows, including a Rage Against the Machine gymnasium gig “with waist-high glass panels surrounding the upper level,” he recalled. “I was a huge Rage Against The Machine fan, but when the group hit the stage I could see the upper level literally shaking. I have never wanted a show to end as quickly as I did that one.” He even got engaged at one of his concerts, backstage during the Rolling Stones’ Voodoo Lounge tour.
He said he’s still driven by a passion for music and said his favorite part of the job is “seeing the response of the fans at each show. We may take things for granted because we see so many shows, but each night there are passionate fans flipping out at our venues.”
Below Belkin shares his five most memorable shows with Amplify.
Bruce Springsteen at the Agora Theater, Cleveland
For me, just about any Bruce show could be considered the best because every time I see him I think “now this one moves to the top of the list,” and that continues to this day. That club show in particular was crazy. He was an established arena act at that time so to see him in this kind of room was unprecedented. This is the guy that always reminds me of the power of live music.
Pink Floyd at Ohio Stadium, Columbus
Aside from being the first concert ever in the iconic stadium of my alma mater, it was the first show of this size I had ever produced. That was nearly 30 years ago and things were so much more primitive then. I was so green and there was so much I didn’t know — thankfully it was also so much easier to hide mistakes back then.
Nine Inch Nails at the Phantasy Theater in Cleveland
The first concert was when they opened up for Peter Murphy at the Phantasy Theater in Cleveland in April 1990. They were local guys so this market had a head start on the rest of the country, but I have never seen a headliner so decimated by a support act. Nine Inch Nails were SO powerful and security was totally overwhelmed. We lost the barricade, and then over half the crowd left as soon as their set ended. The other Nine Inch Nails show that sticks out in my mind is when they did an underplay at The Odeon in December ’94. We kept it under wraps until the afternoon of the show when word started trickling out, and the 1,000 fans who were fortunate enough to get in will never forget it.
Frank Zappa at Cleveland Music Hall
I wasn’t a big Zappa fan, but happened to be at his table for dinner and he found out that I was not a registered voter. He always had a variety of interests and causes, and his cause-de-jour for that tour coincidentally centered around The League of Women Voters. So that night I literally registered on stage with Frank. I’m not proud that it took me so long, but now I think about him every November, and how he took the opportunity to expose his fans to more than just music.
Motorhead at Variety Theater, Cleveland
The band was so loud the plaster in the ceiling was coming loose and starting to rain down on the crowd. I spoke to the tour manager but the group never backed off the dBs and I finally had to pull the sound down and go on stage to tell the crowd the show was over. After the fact, I heard that the group loved this, as it just enhanced their reputation as the world’s loudest band. And every time I saw Lemmy for the next 30 years he would always ask me “are you going to let us play our full set tonight?”