Taken from EUREKA REPORTER April, 2008 Article by Melody Stone
Matthew Beck and Steven Watts were good friends involved in the music business who loved Humboldt County. In 2004 their talents and passions were combined to create Humboldt County’s only full-service music promotion company, Passion Presents.
Beck and Watts met in 1997. Beck was touring with and working for improvisational jam band Phish, running their nonprofit Water Wheel Foundation.
Beck had lived in Humboldt County in the ‘90s, but moved away to pursue a happening music scene and an opportunity to work in the music business.
“I learned the business through working with such a successful organization as Phish.” Beck said in an interview in their warehouse/performance space/office off West End Road in Arcata.
Watts had been putting on informal shows here and there locally when he met Beck. Beck had been a performer and band manager and decided his strength was in organizing.
In 1999, Watts decided to move to Hollywood to attend the Hollywood Musician’s Institute and refine his musical professionalism. There he studied sound and equipment. By the end of his term there, Watts said, he knew he wanted to work with Beck professionally, “and have him out here as a friend.”
“The Musician’s Institute gave Steve more of a leg up beyond having his degree and being very motivated.” Beck said. “Steve understands electricity and sounds and has used that knowledge to build a cache of the most top-notch, impressive equipment on the North Coast.”
It was when Watts finished at the Musician’s Institute in 2000 that the two began the dialogue that would lead to Passion Presents. It wasn’t until October 2004, however, that they put on their first production. The first show was Particle at Mazzottii’s in Arcata. By that time Phish had disbanded and Beck was free to move back to Humboldt County. Passion Presents became his full-time, 60-hour-a-week job.
“Since then it’s snowballed into other events,” said Beck. They have put on about 350 productions since they started.
Watts became an executive member of Arcata’s Chamber of Commerce and started being involved in Arcata Mainstreet, helping organize events like Oysterfest.
Just in the week prior to the interview, Passion Presents had done six shows in seven days, all in different venues with different acts.
It hasn’t been all easy for these promoters. “The venue landscape here in town had been unstable at best,” said Beck. They worked with the Eureka Theater, but then it closed for a while, and they have seen the prices at the Arcata Community Center rise. They bring quite a few bands to the Mateel Community Center. They said that even though it’s far away and it has its own problems, it’s worth it to bring in big-name bands.
When Passion Presents was first started, its mission statement had some people thinking Beck and Watts were setting themselves up for failure. It’s ambitious and altruistic, and not the format for a typical business.
Its mission statement reads:
“Created to fill the Pro-Audio void and compliment the existing infrastructure of our local music scene. Passion Presents Sound Division had been developed to meet the challenging contractual requirements of National Touring Performers, while continuing to adapt to those needs as well as providing much needed exposure for our talented local craftsmen … We work with, not against other local promoters and sound companies striving to facilitate a healthy local music scene.”
“We do it because of the passion for the community,” Beck said.
“There are so many ways to be regenerative. We are in a renewable service-based industry,” Watts said, meaning they aren’t producing a product that can be used and thrown away. It’s an experience.
Watts and Beck will play different roles for every show they do. Often Watts will step in on sound and Beck will handle the organization of the bands, but they both pick up where they need to.
“We are jacks-of-all-trades, both of us,” said Beck. “That’s how we are able to survive in this esoteric business. We get a lot of joy out of being multifaceted.”
They keep enough in-house talent and equipment handy so they can jump in if necessary. This gives them stability and is why they refer to themselves as a “full-service” promotion company.
The events they put on range in genre from hip-hop (MC Chris) to reggae roots (The Itals) to singer-songwriter folk (Jackie Greene).
“We have strived to appeal to all demographics of the community,” said Beck, “but it has to be reciprocal.”
They spend a lot of time, energy and capital to develop emerging artists. Passion Presents brought Greene to play in the area long before he was getting any national recognition. Now he’s on a major record label and still wants to play in the area because of the friendship and strong working relationship he has with Watts and Beck. Greene will play Tuesday at the Eureka Theater.
“We have a vision and we’ve seen a lot come to fruition,” said Beck, “but there’s a lot ahead of us.”
"Passion is a production company that is dedicated to putting Arcata back on the musical map by consistently bringing the best live acts around, into town."