AMP It Up!
Neal Copperman wants to tune you up. Not with brass knuckles or by crawling under the hood, but with music from all over the world. Copperman, the executive director of AMP Concerts, is a man with a vision. He wants as many people as possible in the Albuquerque area to sample an international palette of music genres spanning the globe.
According to its Facebook page, “AMP brings the best in folk, acoustic, Americana, international and eclectic music to Albuquerque and beyond. AMP prides itself in creating community through music.”
The collection of artists that all find room under Copperman’s aegis is ample evidence of eclectic—Allison Krause and Union Station, Paco de Lucía, Seun Kuti and Egypt 80, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Mala Maña, Hugh Masekela, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Philip Glass.
Why music as career? It just so happened that Copperman, a thin, wiry man with glasses and a ponytail, who, despite a degree in mathematics, loved a variety of sounds and bringing people together much more than formulas and algorithms.
Why ’Burque? It’s a love story. The former Air Force brat lived in a host of cities growing up, but nothing moved him liked the people of Duke City. “I was just there, floating, not really connected,” he says. “My family traveled all over while I was growing up. I never felt particularly rooted anywhere. The people here were so welcoming, so warm, I felt for the first time I had a place to belong. I wanted to give something back.”
His roots as a music entrepreneur are as grassroots as they come, starting with bringing musicians he knew to house parties and sporadic concerts in small local venues in his adopted hometown, shortly after his arrival from Baltimore in 2000. AMP Concerts took flight as a 501(c) 3 non-profit in 2007, after a three-year stint starting in 2004 as a for-profit music enterprise. The evolution seems to suit Copperman’s focus on collaboration and community over profit.
“We don’t want to compete with existing organizations,” he explains. “There were already great people bringing in punk and jazz, for example. We wanted to complement what was already going on.”
An example of that is the relationship with Santa Fe–based Health Productions, whose most recent joint promotional effort is the Krauss/Union Station concert. “We were approached to help secure the right venue and we were able to help bring it together at the Kiva,” Copperman says. Plans are in the works for more joint efforts throughout the year, including The Shins in October.
This promoter is a passionate advocate for the significance of the music, hoping that current and potential audiences will “expand their palette.” Instead of music lovers “staying with their comfortable favorites,” he wants concert goers to “open the windows, open the doors, et themselves be surprised. The job of the promoter is to connect the pieces.” Explaining the diversity of acts as a personal quest, he notes, “We’re always looking for what’s missing. We want to fill a void.”
AMP Concerts puts a fine point on building community anywhere it can. Their website has links to other promoters, musical groups and community organizations. There’s also partnering with unique ethnic restaurants to bring local foodies into the fold. One example was a ticketed dining night at Albuquerque’s only African restaurant, Talking Drums.
“It was the only one in town, and the food’s incredible,” he says. “Doing something like this is a way to reach out to people.” On July 8 at 6 p.m., there will be a Caribbean dinner party, held at the Caribbean Temptation Restaurant.
Aware of challenging economic times, Copperman strives to keep tickets at a reasonable price point, with many events free and many others coming in at 25 dollars a ticket. Fundraising and grant writing have also been tossed into the grab bag of things he does to keep the music coming. It’s all about personal sweat-equity for him, along with a committed board and volunteers.
“Part of what we hope to do is help people see that events like these can be a priority,” he says. “I know times are tough, but we hope people will begin to see coming to live music they can’t get anywhere else as important as money spent on cable, for example. It’s about offering a choice.”
One choice for avid music heads is an annual membership: $75 general and $65 for seniors, all Paypal-ready with plenty of perks. In line with the stated goal of “complementing the available music in town,” AMP offers a span of events to capture as many people as possible, among them a free monthly series at the Albuquerque public libraries; workshops with visiting artists; a series called Concerts and Conversations; and a free quarterly series that integrates developmentally disabled artists and the community at the N4th Arts Center.
This last initiative is another way that AMP sets itself apart from the music-strictly-for-profit pack. The N4th Arts Center, part of VSA New Mexico, provides education and exhibition opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities.
Copperman, working together with the N4th Arts Center day-program staff, booked high-energy bands at the venue, not only for program clients but also for the community at large. Once again, the driving wheel of bringing people together was at work.
“It was great,” he says. “We wanted a mixed audience, and the N4th Arts people loved to dance. It was fantastic. I will say the people from the community had a harder time getting on their feet.”
And if that wasn’t vision enough, AMP Concerts is one of the forces behind ¡Globalquerque!, the annual Albuqurque-based amalgam of world music and culture, held this year on September 21 and 22 and featuring the likes of Bettye LaVette, New Mexico’s La Familia Vigil, Plena Libre from Puerto Rico, and R. Carlos Nakai, who is premiering an ensemble with Mongolian musicians.
“Globalquerque will be their debut,” says Copperman of the Nakai group. “They’ll arrive in Arizona, then rehearse, come here and we’ll be the first performance.”
¡Globalquerque! includes a free Global Fiesta, an “afternoon of fun-filled activities and workshops” created in collaboration with the National Hispanic Cultural Center’s Education Department. As evidence of yet another partnership, the NHCC campus will be packed with dance, music and hands-on activities for both youth and adults. Tickets for each day are a ridiculously cheap $30. For this you can see ten acts from around the world perform on three different stages. It’s one of the best musical deals around and a must see event for world music fans.
When asked about a day in the life of a promoter, Copperman offers a wry smile. “It isn’t glamorous, I’ll tell you that much,” he says. “It’s a full-time job, and most of the time I’m answering emails and making phone calls. It’s not the life of a rock star. The day of the event, it’s from early in the morning to late at night.”
Details, details and more details consume his attention. From securing artists, locating venues, selling tickets, conducting media campaigns, making sure equipment gets unloaded and set up, coordinating the lights and sound and offering concierge services to performers, it’s clear he’s got one helluva full day.
But, then again, Neal Copperman is doing what he loves—and music-lovers of all persuasions reap the benefits.
To stay on top of AMP events go to www.ampconcerts.org and watch for their listings in localflavor.
story by Lisa Alvarado
photos by Kitty Leaken