Jill Wheeler’s father worked at RCA Records for 30 years, so music was always a huge part of her life. As a kid, vinyl was constantly spinning and she didn’t know how she would be in the music industry, but she knew she had to be in it.
“I can remember being a really little kid and playing records in the basement,” the Red Mountain Entertainment promoter told Amplify. “I tried to build a stage to pretend I was in a band. I built it out of the furniture that was in the basement. I was always captivated by the live experience.”
Part of her enthusiasm for live music came from the incredible shows she attended as well.
“In the 70s, I got to see a lot of great shows. I saw Bowie. I saw Elvis Presley. I saw Waylon Jennings,” Wheeler said. “The first time I smelled pot was at a Chicago concert. I burned those records up. I just remember thinking ‘There they are on stage and they’re playing the music I listen to in my room. Holy shit. This is awesome.'”
Wheeler’s first job in college was running a fan club for country star Ronnie Milsap. She explained that this fan club was long before the days of advanced access to tickets or fan club seating areas at shows. For a nominal fee of about $7 per year, fans would receive an autographed picture, a button, physical newsletters, a personalized letter, and other Ronnie related items.
“The one thing that was cool about Ronnie was that he was into computers. He was on the front end of computers. When I say computers, I mean we had a word processor that he bought for the fan club. Damn thing took up one whole wall of the office,” Wheeler said. “I thought I had died and gone to heaven when I figured out how to use it, how to merge the names on the list so that everybody got their personalized letter. A personalized envelope on top of that was a big, big deal.”
From there, Wheeler went to work as a receptionist at WME and worked her way up to being an agent. Then in 1993, she moved to Birmingham, Alabama to work for Tony Ruffino and Gary Weinberger at New Era Promotions.
“I didn’t know I wanted to be a concert promoter until I got to Alabama and I did that because I wasn’t necessarily a country music fan,” Wheeler said. “My passion was more in the rock and alternative world. One of the first couple of shows I worked, I was there all day and watching the band take the stage was so exciting.”
Amplify caught up with the Red Mountain Entertainment promoter to discover which five shows had the biggest impact on her.
David Bowie, Station to Station Tour at Municipal Auditorium in Nashville
I went in high school with some friends probably. It was not my first concert, but to this day Station to Station is in my top 10 of all time favorite records. It was life altering for me. The sound, the lighting, it was perfect start to finish. It was Bowie!
Wilco at The Alabama Theatre in Birmingham
Feb. 13, 2005
I was fortunate enough to promote this show. It was sold out, and it was the day of the Grammy Awards. The band found out they won (Best Alternative Music Album) so the energy was high. The band took the stage and the crowd went crazy and stayed on their feet through the entire set. They did a Sun Ra cover – AMAZING. Wilco is my favorite band.
Tina Turner at BJCC Arena in Birmingham, Alabama
Oct. 21, 2000
I treated a friend for her birthday. A group of us went. I had no idea that I would leave there, never forgetting that show. The stage had like two or three floors. The dancing was fucking crazy good. At the end of her set, an arm-like lift rose up with Tina on it and she was carried out over the audience, where she waived at everyone like the queen she is. My favorite part was that all the t-shirt security had to wear a coat and tie, and she rolled credits on the video screens at the end of the show. Total pro.
The Dead Weather at WorkPlay in Birmingham, Alabama
April 27, 2010
Lead singer Alison Mosshart is a rock star. Her voice is a freight train. And then you’ve got Jack White playing drums and it was just fucking amazing. The final song on their debut Horehound, “Will There Be Enough Water,” where Jack plays guitar and sings with Alison that was some sexy rock and roll.
Radiohead at Lakewood Amphitheatre in Atlanta
May 8, 2008
Hail to the Thief Tour. WTF! I’ve tried to explain this to people, but it never comes out right – but at one point, I think during “There There,” there was this synchronicity with the band and the audience, where we were all in the moment together – all as one. I’ll never forget it.