Rick Booth has had a lot of memorable moments as president of the booking agency Intrepid Artists International. He's gone golfing with Dickey Betts. He's chatted with B.B. King on his tour bus. He's hung out backstage with Steven Tyler. But in a recent conversation, what the Charlotte-born booking agent raves about is the fact that he's been able to run a successful local company for 20 years. It hasn't always been easy.
Intrepid is responsible for bringing artists to venues around the world, handling the details of start times, money, travel and those infamous riders. They dabble in management, but it's mostly booking. About 10 years ago, two of Booth's best agents left within a four-month period. He not only had to worry about replacing them, but instilling confidence in his artist roster to stay with Intrepid.
"I had serious competition in the Carolinas and the vultures were circling," Booth says from his midtown office. "I had to let the artists know I would do everything I could for them. Every artist but one stayed with us and put their trust in me. That was a crucial turning point — every single artist could have left. Within a year, we were right back where we were and we've thrived since then. I knew there was no way I was going to let this fail."
Booth and the rest of the Intrepid family of employees — Jake Lankheit, Kevin Hopkins, Alex Kaminshine, Michael Deeb and Michelle Kiser — plan to celebrate the milestone anniversary at the Neighborhood Theatre on Feb. 7 with performances by a handful of their artists. Among those is a reunion by the band Tishamingo, along with Charlotte's own island rock outfit Simplified, Chicago rockers The Steepwater Band, Florida blues guitarist Selwyn Birchwood, blues and soul performer John Nemeth and others.
Booth's a proud Charlottean through and through. He was born at Presbyterian Hospital. He went to Charlotte Latin. While his office is lined with music memorabilia, there are also plenty of local sports bobbleheads, including Kemba Walker, Hugo the Hornet, Homer the Dragon, Cam Newton, Mugsy Bogues and Dell Curry. (He was an original season ticket holder of the Hornets and Panthers.) The only time he's really spent away from the Queen City was to go to college — down the road in Spartanburg, South Carolina, at Wofford College where he booked bands for his Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.
He returned to Charlotte to work at his father's hardware business, but it didn't work out. He eventually landed a job with Piedmont Talent, where he worked for nearly five years. In December 1994, Booth decided he wanted to start his own agency, one where he could work in an office and put customer service at the forefront.
"It was scary. I was 29 years old," Booth says. "I took off on a cold December with four bands — Jimmy Thackery and the Drivers, Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band. I also worked with Gigi Dover and Bill Noonan with the Rank Outsiders and Skeeter Brandon and Highway 61. I thought Jimmy was the greatest guitar player I'd ever seen at the time."
Thackery, who left in 1999 only to return around 2011, says he's glad Booth still has that same "nothing can stop us" attitude. "Chubby Carrier and I, along with my bass player at the time, the late Wayne Burdette, saw a youthful and positive exuberance in Rick that seemed lacking in other booking agents or agencies we had experienced up to that point," Thackery says. "It didn't take long for him to strike out on his own and start Intrepid Artists. It's very good to be back home!"
Booth has always been a fan of music. He remembers getting an Elton John's Greatest Hits album when he was little. He used to sneak into Charlotte-area clubs including the Double Door, Kidnapper's, Johnny Dollar's and the Yellow Rose. He'd sweat inside a packed Sandwich Construction Co. to see the Spongetones.
"When I got out of college, I used to do something in my backyard called the Backyard Bash. For nine years, I'd have 350-500 people in my Cotswold neighborhood," Booth says. "Even now, I'm doing a show in my neighborhood during the golf tournament. It's our fifth year."
Intrepid has always focused on blues artists — guitar-slingers, as Booth calls them. In recent years, that's broadened a bit to include "good music" and not just the blues.
"I started out booking anyone who could rip the neck off of a Fender Strat," Booth says. "We haven't gone away from the blues, but we now have roots-rock and bands — Nikki Hill, Carolyn Wonderland, Tauk, The Mantras, Simplified."
Charlotte island rockers Simplified have been with Intrepid for close to seven years. "All of our agents and representatives have worked really hard for us. They have helped us achieve a level that can be very difficult for independent artists to reach without representation," says Simplified guitarist Chris Sheridan. "I am personally grateful for the opportunities that Rick (and everyone at Intrepid) have provided for the band, and I am even more grateful for their friendships."
Booth can recall the days when everything was done by fax in the pre-Internet days, but at this point, they've booked every continent but Antarctica. Name a country and chances are they've booked someone there — from Russia to Dubai, South America to Africa. Guess which countries are the worst?
"Canada and the U.K. ... It's easier to get bands into Russia," Booth says. "There's just so much paperwork involved with Canada."
Booth handles about 300 emails a day and makes it a point to respond to every band submission he gets — as many as 15 daily.
"I was told that watching Spinal Tap was a requirement before I took my first booking job," he says. "I've lived that — from the bands complaining about teeny meats on teeny bread to people getting lost backstage."
Booth is a humble guy. You won't find him hanging around backstage navigating groupies or seeking autographs; he's got a life outside of the music business. He spends time with his wife of 17 years, Lee, and their two boys, Rick (11) and Cameron (8). He coaches baseball and stays active in the community.
His down-to-earth approach to business is what's kept bands loyal to Intrepid — or keeps them coming back if they ever leave.
"Almost every artist that has left has asked to come back — about 80 percent of them," Booth says. "I learned to treat people right from my dad. Do unto others. Treat people that way and there's a good chance you'll survive. There's also a chance you'll get eaten alive, but it's worked for me. It's been that way since day one."