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KATE MCMAHON: A ROAD WARRIER ADJUSTS TO THE STILLNESS

As EVP of Marketing for The Messina Group, Kate McMahon has been stadium-sizing country stars since country stars have been going to stadiums. An industry built around touring, country music has always relied on the road to build, maintain and connect with fans, and McMahon has worked with just about every artist of stature over the last quarter century.

In the ’90s, she helped Louis Messina architect the George Strait Country Music Festival. Since then, she’s played a key role in TMG’s shepherding of Kenny Chesney, Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran into stadiums, while paving the way for take-it-to-the-people arena-fillers Eric Church, Blake Shelton and Old Dominion and handling Strait’s Vegas residencies, stadium plays and isolated special events.

The Chicago native gets hands-on alongside her partner in crime and life, Rome McMahon, who can be found in KISS make-up on Halloween and tour settlements all summer—until this one, that is. A big believer in “figuring it out,” whatever “it” happens to be, the ever-laughing, ever-committed McMahon yearns to return to the country-music touring trenches.

How complicated is getting back to live going to be?
It’s going to be a giant team effort—how venues change the way they sanitize, how tour personnel interact onsite, how performers interact with their fans. What interactions can be touchless? Ordering food and beverage and merch might look really different.

What’s a typical summer for Messina Touring like? Will we ever see that again?
My husband tours, and he hasn’t been home during the summer in 20 years, so part of me is joyous. I get to have my whole family around, but most of me is off-balance. I should be insanely busy, and I hope I see that again soon. I have too much energy to be this still.

Now that live music is almost unheard of, how much do you miss it?
Every. Single. Minute. I miss everything about show day and toast the city I should be in every Saturday.

What are you sensing is the hunger for live music, now that it’s gone?
I sense the hunger for live music and everything it represents: the “night out,” the friends, the singing and dancing and maybe some buffoonery. For me, there’s nothing quite as interactive as a concert—not only are you having fun, but you’re surrounded by a sea of people experiencing that exact same fun in the exact same moment.

Do you see any signs of hope for beginning again?
I just keep my eyes on the prize. I’m listening to a philosophy podcast about the Stoics—clearly, I have a lot of time on my hands. But they were big on preparation; preparing and planning made them feel more in control of their fates. In that spirit, I have plans for dozens of different paths—it keeps me busy and keeps me thinking about what my next steps could be.

With your industry ground to a standstill, what kinds of things are you finding yourself doing?
I’m listening to so much music, and I’m doing it with my kids, which is super-eye-opening. You’ll be shocked, but they don’t like my music! But it’s fun to hear their opinions, and I’m excited that they can sing along to entire songs that I’ve never even heard before and know every word.

With streaming and social media now factoring, does that translate into ticket sales for those artists?
I love that there are artists with so much heat that don’t have any traditional airplay. Their popularity is mostly self-promoted via socials and streaming. Like I said, I’ve been spending a lot of time with middle and high school kids, and I’ve learned a lot. Ultimately, there is no formula—some folks get airplay and streaming, and they still don’t sell tickets. Our one constant remains merch sales: if a support artist is selling merch, that’s super-telling.

Are there any advantages or lessons that have come from this period of strange?
My disposition is usually annoyingly sunny—but this punch in the face has made me especially grateful for my family, my health, a job that I love and the people that I work with. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the weeds and get super-wound up about tidbits that ultimately really don’t matter. I’m trying to view this as a reality check.

What are you listening to? What new artists are catching your attention?
The cool high school kids in my posse turned me on to Parker McCollum. “Hell of a Year” seems to be our 2020 theme song.

How does Kenny Chesney keep that six-pack?
He probably has no problem walking away from the queso. I, however, cannot walk away from the queso—ever.

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