Livin’ on more than a prayer

With Bon Jovi and other mega-productions, Guy Beser and Bluestone Entertainment take concert promotion to a science

Rishon LeZion's Symphony Orchestra Sings Bon Jovi's "It's My Life"
When the lights go down next Thursday in Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park and the members of Bon Jovi walk onstage to perform for thousands of Israeli fans, it’s unclear what will be louder – the crowd’s roar, the band’s iconic music or the sigh of relief emanating from Guy Beser.
The 42-year-old partner in Bluestone Entertainment, which is bringing the New Jersey rock superstars back to Israel after a sold-out show in 2015, has been working nonstop for months on every detail of the production, speaking daily on the phone with the band’s reps and preparing for all possible complications.
“It’s like building a city. We have nothing. We have grass, that’s it,” said a surprisingly calm, T-shirted Beser sitting in his Rishon Lezion office earlier this week.
“We have 20 people working full time building the venue from scratch. Gates, fence, backstage, a gym, showers, toilets, dressing rooms, a really big kitchen because there are more than 80 people just from Bon Jovi’s crew, as well as another 40 from our staff that need breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“You have to fly in equipment – two jumbos are landing here soon because not all equipment is in Israel. We are building a stage, more than nine floors high, and putting 600 meters of screens.”
For Beser, seeing such arduous tasks through is in his DNA.  Growing up in Petah Tikva, he was one of those kids who would organize the sound system and DJ for school parties – less a music fan and more of an organizational entrepreneur.
That rolled over into adulthood when he became chairman of the student union at the College of Management Academic Studies in Rishon Lezion and began producing shows and events for students around the country. That resulted in the establishment six years ago of Bluestone Entertainment, which today encompasses 13 companies that focus on everything from booking, production and marketing to ticketing and venue management. From shows like Bon Jovi’s in Hayarkon Park to end-of-year university parties and annual Lego Festivals, if there’s an audience and an attraction, Bluestone is there.
Formed in 2013 as a joint venture between Beser, Madonna’s Israeli manager Guy Oseary, Shay Mor Yosef and Gadi Veinrib, Bluestone has quickly become the biggest promoter in the region, producing their first international concert in 2013 with Rhianna in Hayarkon Park (“she was late by an hour,” said Beser). Since then, Bluestone has taken over much of the Israeli concert market, bringing to Israel a range of artists from Backstreet Boys and Enrique Iglesias to Aerosmith and Major Lazer. As a sign of their determination to become the one-stop shop for artists considering a show in Israel, the company was acquired in 2017 by global concert giant Live Nation.
“We have seen a considerable demand for live entertainment with the shows that Live Nation has brought to the market over the last few years and have been very impressed when working with Guy, Shay and the rest of the Bluestone team,” said Alan Ridgeway, Live Nation’s president of international and emerging markets, at the time of the acquisition.  
THAT’S NOT to say that the international concert market in Israel was a vast wasteland before Bluestone. Major artists have been appearing here for decades, among them Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, U2 and The Rolling Stones. Veteran promoter include Shuki Weiss has long been a mainstay in the industry, bringing major concerts to Hayarkon Park and quality artists like the Pixies, Nick Cave, R.E.M., David Bowie, Morrissey and Madonna. Other high-profile promoters include Gad Oron, [Jerry Seinfeld, Bob Dylan, Justin Bieber and Elton John], Udi Appelboim and a number of established companies like 2B Vibes Productions, which have consistently brought high-level productions to Israel and helped to establish the country as a viable destination for touring artists.
But Bluestone, the new kids on the block, have raised the stakes in the highly competitive field. Beser steers the ship in an out-of-the-way, nondescript building on the campus of Rishon college, the same location he started out in. Of course, now he owns the building. You have to go past security at the campus entrance, look for the Super-Pharm store, walk past a burger joint to a building entrance that leads to a lobby.
Upstairs, though, it’s anything but low tech. Evoking a start-up vibe, the office is a flurry of activity. Mostly young and attractive workers hunch around computers, confab in conference rooms and drink espresso on the spacious outside patio. The only indications that this is Israel’s biggest entertainment provider are the framed concert posters on the wall of Bluestone-produced shows, including Bon Jovi, Rhianna, Guns ‘N Roses and Britney Spears.  
Besides the Bon Jovi show, staff members are also busy preparing for upcoming shows like J Balvin, who’ll be appearing at the Coca-Cola WOW Festival in the Rishon Lezion Live Park on July 30, Ozuna, the Latin prince of reggaeton, and looking a little ahead, legendary guitarist Jose Feliciano for two shows in September.
But for Beser, bringing back Bon Jovi four years after their 2015 show is one of his crowning achievements.
“Jon Bon Jovi was here for three days, and he told me that he wanted to stay for another five. Before he left, he told me that he would come back. He loved everything about the country” said Beser.
“On this tour, he chose to close it in Israel and it’s the only show they’re going to film. They just played at Wembley in England with around 80,000 people and they picked Israel over it.”
According to Beser, this time around Bon Jovi is going to stick around and tour the country with his family, the band and an entourage of friends, from the North to the Sea of Galilee to Jerusalem.
“This is a great example of how an first-time artist in the market becomes an ambassador for Israel, and chooses to come back. They say ‘we love Israel we don’t care about the politics.’ He’s received more than 5,000 letters from BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] activists who are against the show but he said ‘I chose Israel and I’m coming, no one will cancel my show.’ This is an example of an old school artist that isn’t afraid about his career,” said Beser.
REGARDLESS OF political beliefs, concert promoters are thrown headfirst into the world of hasbara just by their task of promoting Israel as a desirable destination for artists. Beser said that he sees Bluestone and all other promoters in Israel as being on the front lines of defending the country against would-be boycotters. He works closely with the American-based Creative Community for Peace, an entertainment industry advocacy group for Israel that includes Disturbed frontman David Draiman (whose band recently performed in Israel and wore its Israel allegiance on its sleeve) on its advisory board.
“We spend a lot of money on flights to go all over the world to see managers, artists, lawyers, agents to educate them about Israel. We explain about BDS, and explain that after the first 48 hours of a media attack on artists for coming to Israel, it disappears,” said Beser.
“We find that when you explain beforehand everything that’s going to happen, and what they’re going to see in social media, it minimizes the gaps in the understanding and prevents them from canceling. Of course, someone like [New Zealand singer] Lorde canceled [in 2018] after getting two letters. Sometimes BDS has an immediate effect, but usually we’re able to get ahead of it. Speaking about Israel is an ongoing task for us.”
According to Beser, once an artist performs in Israel and sees the country as it is, they are transformed, whether it’s in relation to the audience or what they experience.
“Every artist that eventually comes to Israel is amazed by the audience, from their warmth to their participation in the show. I was standing next to the manager of [American hard rock band] Avenged Sevenfold when they played at Live Park last year, and he was crying on the side of the stage because the crowd was singing along to every song like it was a football stadium. It’s emotional for the artists,” said Beser.
“Artists that come here love the country, the beaches, and especially the food. They speak with other artists, managers speak to other managers and that’s how you create a positive image.”
Part of that image is being above board with the artist and crew about the realities of the country and the conflict with the Palestinians, and not hiding it.
“If someone wants to visit Bethlehem or meet Palestinians, we arrange it. We want them to understand the issues and why it’s important to perform in Israel, despite the conflict,” said Beser. “We tell the artists that if they have a statement about politics, they have a stage here to say what you want. Everyone will quote you, you’ll get your headlines... and you’ll still be playing for your staunch fans in Israel.”
ALTHOUGH HASBARA (public diplomacy) may be a key element in concert promotion, it still takes a back seat to the bottom line – profit. Beser says that Bluestone eyes each potential show with a critical, unsentimental eye.
“We determine the potential of an artist like buying a stock market share. We analyze all the data, including worldwide ticket sales, how much buzz there is on social media, how often their songs are played on the radio. We crunch all the data into a self-created algorithm which calculates the margin of potential. Then we can start the process of negotiations,” he said.
Everyone thinks it’s easy to put on a show, but it’s a science, we have a marketing team, a production team working around the clock. The day before Bon Jovi, we have another show with Ozuna, so we have a lot to do.”
According to Beser, Bluestone has changed the concert industry in Israel over the last six years by bringing down prices and setting a new standard for production, while in the process producing 65% of the international concerts in Israel.
“Everyone is looking to us to put offers on the artists who have the best potential for the market,” he said.
However, a partner in a competing promotion company downplayed Bluestone’s influence and effect on the local concert market, saying that the variety and quality of the shows in Israel hasn’t changed very much.
“Everyone thought that with Bluestone becoming part of the Live Nation group, it would bring more and better shows to Israel and that never materialized for sure,” said the promoter.
“Bluestone has a certain advantage in booking. As a large and well-funded organization they can bid high and bring an artist with no expectation of profit with the explicit goal of not letting other promoters promote that show. Then that is balanced out by other larger profitable shows.”
Beser admitted that relations with other promoters can get strained, but insisted that there are enough artists and shows to promote to go around. Every successful show only helps everyone else, he said.
As stressful as promoting a show can be, with huge sums of money at stake (according to one report, production costs for shows like Bon Jovi and Rhianna reach NIS 16 million)  Beser said that he can only recall one concert that caused him anguish.
“I had a fight onstage in 2017 with an artist who decided to play past the hard police-enforced curfew,” he said. “Shay and I told him that we could be pressed with criminal charges if he continued playing. But after performing his last song, he then went to his piano and started to play another long song. Two policemen came over to Shai and myself and said that either we had to pull the plug or we’d be arrested. We pulled the plug and the artist came over and started yelling at us. We yelled back, ‘This is our stage, get off!’ Sometimes, you have to rely on the Israeli approach.”
So far, that seems to be working just fine for Beser and Bluestone.

Bradley Levin contributed to this report.