A promotion company diversifies culture through music in Ithaca

A list of fall 2015 shows at the State Theatre of Ithaca, organized by Dan Smalls Presents.

In a dimly lit, slightly crowded concert setting, vocalist Starr Busby thanks the mixer as he finishes tinkering with the microphones during sound checks for People’s Champs at the Haunt Friday night. This show, like most others coordinated in the Ithaca area, was organized by Dan Smalls’ promotion company, Dan Smalls Presents.

Smalls aims to diversify the Ithaca culture by bringing various acts of music and entertainment to the city. In a community lacking large venues to accommodate artists of different platforms, Smalls uses his reputation to attract both local and nationally recognized talent.

Smalls has mainly focused on promoting shows in the Ithaca area to bring more attention to the place he resides and appreciates. Though his area of jurisdiction stretches past solely entertaining the Ithaca area, he tends to focus his efforts on convincing artists to play shows here.

When booking stops for a tour, performers are often faced with decisions regarding which venues would prove to be beneficial both in profit and in community interaction.

“They choose to come here to a 1,600 seater instead of a 2,500 seat room in Syracuse where they could have made a lot more money,” he said. “It isn’t always about the money, it’s about the experience – and it’s nice that artists are making that choice.”

Dan Smalls has been exceeding the standards set by the State Theatre, booking shows more frequently than in the past, in an attempt to further increase expectations in regards to entertainment.

“I’ve pushed the limit this fall and we have 18 shows at the state theater, there’s usually only 13,” he said. “Because of this, people are paying more attention to the acts that are playing here instead of Rochester or Syracuse. It gives the town a lot of credibility.”

Smalls’ reputation as a promoter has changed the way performers view Ithaca, according to his business partner John Sanders.

“Dan has worked hard over the last 8 years,” he said, “to develop Ithaca into a market where artists want to perform.”

When working with local venues such as the Haunt and the State Theatre, Smalls tries to recruit varying musical styles that he feels aid in educating the Ithaca community. As the promoter, he takes responsibility for these decisions, whether they’re designed to be financially successful or not.

“You have to be willing to do the shows you know are not going to be that big of a hit,” Smalls said. “You need to do certain shows to round out the culture. You can’t just do the ones that will make money.”


This philosophy applies directly to Smalls’ decision to bring in The Meditations, a reggae group recognized as Jamaica’s legendary harmony trio, to the Haunt this past Friday.

“These people go back to my days,” he said. “I’m not going to make money off it it but it connects the old [Ithaca] to the new – the culture of the town grows from this.”

Spectator Isaiah Parker, from Friday night’s performance, appreciates the ability to listen to a variety of musical acts when coming to shows in the area.

“I would say the music scene in Ithaca is very diverse,” he said. “I’ve been here almost 16 years, and I’ve never had a problem finding great music.”

Smalls said his goal is to create a scene that people want to check out. His reputation with agents has helped his cause because they often take a chance on him as well as the town when it comes to booking performances.

“People who like certain types of music attend specific shows in Ithaca,” Smalls said. “But there is a strong percentage of people who attend events because of general interest.”

Smalls continues to emphasize the importance of establishing connections with artists, as it helps them feel comfortable, while aiding in business development too.

“If you treat people right and artists right they are gonna spread the word and word is going to get around,” he said. “That is how we have been able to grow–just dealing with the right people.”


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