Five years ago, when Rick Booth’s Charlotte-based blues booking agency Intrepid Artists International celebrated its 20th anniversary, he wasn’t sure what to expect. He was tentative when he rolled up to Neighborhood Theatre in a limo that night.
“I’m praying that somebody’s in there,” the Charlotte native recalls, sitting in his office overlooking Kings Drive. He needn’t have worried. “The place was packed with my buddies from high school and college. It was an epic night.”
Given the success of Intrepid’s 20th, Booth is upping his game for the agency’s 25th anniversary with two nights of live music from many of the musicians on Intrepid’s roster.
Booth’s love of rock and blues began in childhood, when his godmother gave him greatest-hits albums by Elton John and John Denver (although he usually leaves Denver out of the story). At 7 p.m. each night, he tuned into 610 “Big WAYS” and later 95Q to hear their classic-rock blocks.
“Classic rock was my thing. I was a freaking encyclopedia of classic rock,” Booth explains. “When I got into blues, I found what I related to in the blues and became a blues guy.”
As a teen, Booth changed the “5” in “1965” to a “3” on his driver’s license, in order to sneak into clubs to see bands like the Spongetones and the Vandals. The legal age to buy alcohol was 18 at the time, but he wasn’t interested in drinking. He just wanted to see live rock music. He once tried to climb a fence to get into a sold-out George Thorogood show.
When Booth was at Wofford College a couple years later, the Carolinas raised the drinking age to 21 and his fraternity enacted a BYOB policy for parties. With him as the house’s social chairman, the money that had previously gone toward booze was funneled to his live-music budget.
“We had bands every weekend. Those parties were infamous,” Booth says.
It was his booking skills and the people skills he picked up working at his father’s hardware store that helped him secure a job at Hit Attractions (which became East Coast Entertainment). His family wasn’t sure what kind of work he was doing.
“My grandmother thought I worked at a record store. My parents thought I managed bands,” Booth says with a laugh. Less than a year later, he went to work for the now-defunct Piedmont Talent agency, which specialized in blues and Cajun artists. He stayed on for 4-1/2 years before leaving to create an booking agency of his own.
He started Intrepid in 1994 with a handful of artists, including Jimmy Thackery and Chubby Carrier.
“We booked the hell out of them. We’d booked three-month tours. That was my calling card,” he says.
Today, he has a view through the wall-sized window of his first-floor corner office of a very different Charlotte skyline than the one that existed back when he started out. Intrepid employs five agents and office manager Michelle Kiser, who keeps the ship sailing and “is always right,” Booth says.
While the entertainment industry has weathered countless changes in the past 25 years — from the internet to behemoth promoters like Live Nation — Booth says the key is to charge ahead.
“With the economy or the stock market crash or natural disasters, you need to be smart and don’t take your foot off the gas.”