Scott Hayward discusses the business of running an award-winning entertainment venue ahead of its 20th anniversary.

In honor of Tupelo Music Hall celebrating its 20th anniversary this September, the venue has a lot of big ideas in store for their patrons. For the next three months, Tupelo Music Hall is going all in when honoring the occasion – from limited-time commemorative shirts, ticket giveaways, digital community engagement activities, discounted merchandise, kitchen specials, and so much more.

To kick off the anniversary celebrations, Maria Crivac, the venue’s public relations and marketing intern, sat down with Executive Director and Owner Scott Hayward, to learn more about Tupelo’s history, what it takes to run the business, and what the future holds.

Maria Crivac: It seems like an incredible feat that Tupelo Music Hall has been around since 2004. Before we talk more about this milestone anniversary, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and maybe a bit about what you were doing before the venue was created?

Scott Hayward: Tupelo Music Hall began when I purchased an old Victorian farmhouse in Londonderry, New Hampshire, which had an attached barn-like building that the owners were using as a small coffee-house music venue. I was working in financial planning at the time and purchased the building as an investment. I decided to run the music venue under a new name, Tupelo Music Hall, but I never expected it to become my full-time job. 

I’m curious, what inspired you to open a music venue here in New Hampshire? There must be an interesting story behind that! 

I listen to all sorts of music. Twenty years ago, venues were either Rock clubs, Jazz clubs, Folk venues, or Blues clubs. Nobody was having Rock on Thursday, Jazz on Friday, Folk music Saturday, and a Metal band on Sunday. I wanted to change that. I wanted to make a venue for people who liked all sorts of different music, not just cater to one genre. 

Starting a business, especially a multi-genre music venue, has its hurdles. What were some of the biggest obstacles you encountered when starting in this business? 

Starting out in the concert promoting business isn’t easy and there are two big obstacles to overcome. The first obstacle is getting bands. It takes years to build the contacts and relationships with artists and agents that are needed to book bands. It’s a slow progression of trust building during a time when getting shows is of paramount importance. Agents won’t just give shows to a new promoter, which is why so many venues hire people with industry contacts to book their shows. The second obstacle is cash. If shows don’t sell enough tickets, it’s easy to run out of money very quickly.

Building this trust and becoming profitable is non doubt a massive undertaking with a lot of responsibilities. Can you share what your day-to-day looks like as the owner and director of entertainment at Tupelo? 

I spend my time booking bands, negotiating contracts, answering patron emails, and working on the bookkeeping and finances. On show days, I end the day at the venue and help out wherever I am needed. Typically, that means I am washing dishes!

With so much talent to choose from, how do you determine which artists and bands to book for the venue? 

It’s definitely a challenge to program a diverse monthly calendar that includes comedy, original artists of different genres, tributes, and other events. My booking philosophy is that, if I book an artist that I like, there will be enough people my age who would want to attend. Of course, it needs to work financially as well. Some bands want way more money than I could ever recover in ticket sales.  

It sounds like you encounter a good amount of ups and downs on a weekly basis. What would you say are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of your job?

There are probably 15 more venues in our area now than there was when I opened the Tupelo in 2004. Because of that, more venues are competing to get the same artists. This results in venues paying more money for artists, which translates to higher ticket prices. It has been a real challenge for me to keep our ticket prices low while booking the artists that we want. As far as what is rewarding for me, I absolutely love the team of people who we have been blessed to work with at the venue. It’s very much a family atmosphere and every single person who works at Tupelo is invested in their role there. I’d say that, for me, working with these employees is the most rewarding part of my job.

Seeing that Tupelo is an integral part of the music community in New Hampshire, how do you incorporate feedback from performers and attendees to improve the venue?

I personally receive every email sent to the venue and I answer the phone a lot. I am definitely on the front line when it comes to feedback. Most feedback is constructive and helpful. We strive to get better every day. I appreciate it when patrons, employees, and artists give us feedback to help us get better. Luckily, most of the comments are positive and related to how much someone enjoyed a show or how an employee was so helpful.

Since the 20th Anniversary of Tupelo is just around the corner, can you share a memorable moment or performance that has stood out to you since first opening? 

Just one? I’ve promoted over 3,000 shows in the past 20 years. Many of them stood out for different reasons – some good, some bad, and some hysterically funny. It would be impossible to name just one.

In your opinion, what makes Tupelo Music Hall special compared to other venues? Maybe there’s something unique that fans might not know about? 

There are many things about Tupelo Music Hall that make us different from other venues.

I get many emails from people telling me that our staff is very different from other venues and that they have formed friendships with our employees. I think this is a very important difference because they give the venue the “feel” that I want it to have.

Tupelo Music Hall was the first venue in New England that uses solar power to accomplish a “net zero” status for electrical consumption. This becomes increasingly more important as the world suffers the effects of global warming.

The kitchen at Tupelo Music Hall is a real “Scratch” kitchen. Everything served is painstakingly prepared. Our french fries are hand cut.  Our chicken tenders are cut from fresh chicken breasts. We make our own sauces. Everything patrons order is prepared by our chefs in the kitchen. I am extremely proud of what they are able to accomplish. It requires a lot of dedication and many hours of preparation to serve food in this way.

Finally, reflecting on the last 20 years in the industry, how has Tupelo evolved? And what growth do you hope for in the future? 

Over the past 20 years, Tupelo Music Hall has evolved and I’ve evolved along with it. We went from a 200 seat venue in a barn to a 700 seat venue in a 20,000 sq. ft. building. Our employee count went from zero to 38. To some degree, we’ve changed the way people hear music in Southern New Hampshire because we were offering a program of Jazz, Rock, Blues, Folk, Country, and other genres during a time when venues were focusing on just one genre. The trial-and-error period of the first few years gave birth to an understanding of what worked for the patrons who were buying tickets. The more shows we had, the more I understood what made artists happy and the more we were able to invest in accommodating them. Once I was able to quit my job and become a full-time concert promoter, we were able to really expand on our shows and spend more time on the business. Growth has been constant, even during COVID when we completely reinvented the business and became an outdoor concert venue for two years. 

I don’t know what next month will bring or where the business will be in ten years but, on our 20 year anniversary, I can say without a doubt that change is constant and we will always be “All  About The Music!” 

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