Music with Friends Club Draws Big Stars to Small Venues

October 31, 2013
By Nate Rau

Nashville is the new home to a private music social club where members pay a premium price to see top artists give three performances per year at an intimate venue in town.

The first performance for the new club, called Music With Friends, was on Monday and featured Diana Ross at the new CMA Theater inside the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Music With Friends founder Larry Farber, a music industry veteran from Charlotte, N.C., said members pay a one-time permanent seat fee of $500 and then $1,500 annually in exchange for three shows that feature a preshow cocktail party and a post-concert event.

As of Monday, Music With Friends had garnered 400 members in Nashville using a word-of-mouth marketing strategy featuring in-home events at the homes of prominent Middle Tennessee residents.

Music With Friends started in Charlotte in 2007 and expanded to Charleston, S.C., in 2010.

"I had a dream to create a music club, if you will, a country club for music lovers," Farber said.

After the program's first year, the approximately 660 seats in the Charlotte venue have been sold out, as have about 420 seats for the Charleston club. The CMA Theater, where the plan is to hold all the Nashville shows, seats 777, Farber said.

"You want to give fans the chance to see artists like Diana Ross, Willie Nelson, major acts at a small venue they otherwise wouldn't play," Farber said.

Less risk for artists

Billboard magazine live music business expert Ray Waddell said the Music With Friends model could appeal to artists, because it gives them a healthy payday without the inherent risk that comes with trying to fill a larger venue.

"The live music industry is inherently a narrow margin business, always seeking a way to balance the market for higher-end 'ueber fans' while not alienating or outpricing mainstream, or less well-heeled, fans," Waddell said. "The most appealing prospects for the former are exclusivity and proximity, whether it's premium seating or meet-and-greets, and Music With Friends seems to provide both."

To lure members, Music With Friends made its pitch at private events at the homes of notable Nashville-area socialites.

Fletcher Foster, industry veteran and manager at Red Light Management, hosted one such event at his home. Foster said the first show with Ross was a success, and he anticipated the club doing well in Nashville. The challenge for Music With Friends in Nashville, where industry events frequently feature top-line artists, will be to book other acts whose status is comparable to Ross's.

"I can't think of a better artist to kick it off," Foster said. "The energy was insane; people were dancing and energetic about it. To see an artist of that caliber sing for an hour and a half, hit after hit, it's the songbook of our lives.

"I think in Nashville, we do get spoiled based upon having so much access (to top artists). I think the key is going to be bringing the right talent to the venue, because it is a beautiful venue."

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