Jason Pedone is a native of Jefferson City, Tennessee, which has a metropolitan population of about 15,000 people. As the new general manager of the John Paul Jones Arena, that’s about as many people as he’s expected to mobilize for every concert he hosts.
Before Jason Pedone came to the John Paul Jones Arena in 2007, he worked at SMG facilities in Houston, Texas. He feels prepared to take the helm at the arena, saying, “I understand what the community’s looking for. I know some of the history, and that will help, or should.”
Things have had a couple of weeks to fall into place after Larry Wilson announced this month that he would vacate the GM post for a bigger one in Jacksonville, Florida, so I checked in with Pedone last week to chat about the transition. Asked what his new job entails, Pedone says, “I can probably answer that a little bit better in a couple of weeks, but, by and large, it’s going to be a little bit more public image—being the person to answer the questions—and being the person to report to the university.”
But it’s less about the face he presents than the shoes he has to fill. Wilson is widely credited for successfully asserting wee Charlottesville as a viable tour stop for huge acts, courting several mega-shows like U2 and the Rolling Stones. Wilson counted among his personal connections people like Tres Thomas, Ivy resident and senior vice president of global operations for Live Nation, who helped arrange those events at the 60,000-capacity Scott Stadium.
“One of the best things Larry did, is that he’s not private with those types of things,” says Pedone, speaking of Wilson’s personal connections. “So yes, he did know a lot of people in the industry, but for the last three years, they’ve all been at least speaking with me, if not dealing directly with me.” Pedone has been assistant general manager since 2007. The connections, Pedone specifies, are no longer with Wilson, but with the arena.
Growing up, Pedone visited arenas in Knoxville, where he had memorable experiences at Eagles and Elton John concerts. But what’s striking about one of Charlottesville’s biggest culture-brokers is that, as a youngster, he was a bigger fan of alma mater University of Tennessee’s teams than most music. He is, in his own words, “a sports guy.”
And while the arena’s principal function is arguably to host the university’s basketball teams, the shake-up spells a major overhaul for local big-arts management, and not just at the arena. After The Paramount Theater lost two executive directors in as many years, it entered in a three-year management deal with SMG—a facilities management conglomerate that oversees some 220 buildings worldwide, including JPJ. That agreement expires in October 2011. As SMG’s local bigwig, Wilson was running the Paramount. Pedone says that, while it’s ultimately up to the SMG corporate office, the theater’s oversight will, for now, fall to its general manager Mary Beth Aungier. “I focus on the John Paul Jones Arena. Maybe that helps,” Pedone says. “This is my responsibility right now. Right now, Mary Beth’s taking care of the Paramount.”
In his new role as “the person to answer the questions,” Pedone enters the ongoing fracas over the arena’s controversial re-entry policy. Morgan Harrington, a Virginia Tech student, went missing after being denied re-entry to a Metallica concert at the arena in October and was found dead in January. Asked for comment, he says, “I would defer to the university’s release on [the re-entry policy]…I’ll have to respect that. But that statement really covers where we are with things. That’s not hyperbole.”
Pedone says that arena “has the responsibility to be the best it can be for its community,” but that the community has to hold up its end of the bargain. “You don’t get Lady Gaga to come to Charlottesville unless they’re confident that this market, which is a medium market at best, is going to sell the tickets.”
He concedes that the last couple of years have been tough as concertgoers have cut entertainment from their budgets in tough economic times. Things, however, are looking up. “They may not be willing to buy the ticket just yet, but they’ll go see them at the Jefferson when they’re just getting started, and catch them at the Pavilion as they grow a little bit. Then they’ll get them at the Nissan Pavilion when they’re a little bigger, and eventually they’ll play here.”
Freestyle film fest
How’s this for funny business? This year’s Virginia Film Festival, set for November 4 through 7, will not have a theme for the first time since it was founded in 1990. Director Jody Kielbasa says that a new open format “allows us to look at film through a contemporary lens, and continually engage our audiences in contemporary issues and topics.” It had been rumored since Kielbasa came in last summer, inheriting last year’s theme, that he wanted to do away with the themed programming.
Last year was a strong first run for Kielbasa. According to the folks over at the fest, they brought out 19,000 film lovers, and ticket sales topped $71,000, an 87 percent increase over 2008. Some highlights included seeing Alan Ball give live “True Blood” commentary, hearing Matthew Broderick talk to college students about what it’s like to be Ferris Bueller, and devouring free crab dip and Heineken at the gala in the JPJ lobby.
The Virginia Film Society (the fest’s year-round programming arm) has also been working hard to ramp up their off-season presence in the community, with their Academy-sanctioned Oscar Night America celebration earlier this month, and regular screenings at the Paramount.