It always comes down to that final few seconds when the lights go down, the
crowd erupts in cheers and the performers make their way to the stage. All the
months’ worth of preparation lists – the licenses, contracts, special food and
fitness requirements, technical specifications and travel arrangements – have
been checked off for the last time, and all that remains is for the opening note
of music to ring out through the immense sound system and the spotlight to
illuminate the focus of the audience’s attention.
“For me, that’s the
moment. I still get goose bumps every time, whether it’s 50,000 people at
Hayarkon Park or a few hundred in a club,” says Shuki Weiss with a bemused smile
on his face, recalling the progression he’s experienced hundreds – if not
thousands – of times.
It might be Madonna, Red Hot Chili Peppers or
Depeche Mode who transcend the moment and bring the crowd to higher ground, but
it’s the 59-year-old Weiss who, for more than 35 years, has enabled it to
The Netanya-raised son of Holocaust survivors sits back in his
bustling downtown Tel Aviv basement office filled with framed and autographed
posters from dozens of memorable shows, by everyone from Radiohead, REM and Dire
Straits to John Cale, Nick Cave and Roger Waters. Aside from a nasty cigarette
habit, he doesn’t exude any of the A-type personality associated with
high-powered business deals and lowrent entertainment industry
Wearing a black T-shirt that accentuates his muscular torso,
Weiss is the strongman of the Israeli music scene, scrapping his way to the top
as the “dean of Israeli concert promoters” through years of hardnosed work and
in-the-trenches risks. He’s made enemies along the way, but has also earned the
respect of the local music industry.
The result has been good – for him,
with a thriving business and frequent trips abroad, and for Israeli music
lovers, who get to reap the benefits of his lifelong music
While other promoters have produced many of the colossal
musical spectacles of the last few years – from Leonard Cohen to Paul McCartney
to Elton John – he’s remained the one constant on the Israeli concert scene
through good times and bad, boycotts, wars and cancellations that have resulted
in substantial financial losses and extra gray hairs.
Still, he says he
remains addicted to producing shows not only because of the financial reward
that accompanies the financial risk, but also because of those goosebump moments
and because of the fanlike love of music he acquired as a child.
wasn’t a particularly good student, and I had two left hands when it came to
playing music, but I was very studious at listening to the music coming out of
international radio stations like Radio Monte Carlo and the BBC,” he says,
adding that when his parents split up and his father moved to New York, he would
spend summers with him.
“Every morning I would be at [record store chain]
Sam Goody’s when it opened and stay until they threw me out,” he
By the age of 14, he was working in a Tel Aviv record store
after school, managing its import section.
Following his army service, he
opened a chain of his own record stores called Massada, which became the go-to
place in the 1970s for imported rock albums from the US and Europe and emerged
as a hangout for young local musicians.
That connection to the local
scene encouraged his first foray into live music in 1977, when he recruited a
dozen young bands and rented out the 1,300-capacity Wohl Theater in Tel
“I wasn’t scared about losing money, but I did take a big risk
because I didn’t tell the whole truth to the theater management – I said it was
for a cultural event with public singing. So when the first band started playing
and the crowd began to stomp on the floor, the manager went nuts and wanted to
close down the show.”
Weiss was able to persuade him to let the music go
on, and the sold-out show proved to be an artistic – if not financial –
“I really had no idea how to calculate expenses then,” he says.
“I told the bands, if there’s money left over at the end of the night, you’ll
get some. If not, you won’t.”