Sam Koester is a rare bird in the aviary of the Quad City region’s music biz.
The friendly, 41-year-old Muscatine native now resides in Moline, owning and operating River+City Collective. RCC is an entertainment production company producing shows primarily in and around the Quad City area.
Koester started getting into music at 13, playing in bands, and began booking shows locally shortly after. He moved to the QC in the summer of 1998 and jumped into the hardcore/punk DIY music scene.
Koester began booking national tours for bands in 2000 and continued to tour until 2006. After his son was born in 2006, Koester took a break from music until 2010 and got back into playing in bands in the Muscatine area.
Koester started the band HeavyWeight in 2012 and booked shows in the Muscatine area. Koester launched the annual benefit River City Throwdown in 2015, joined Still Standing in 2016, and started River+City Collective in late 2018.
“Sam is great to work with. We’ve been a venue space for his band as well as the others he’s managed to draw to the area since 2013,” said Bob Rebitzer of Bierstube in Moline, which will host an RCC concert Saturday, Nov. 13. “He consistently brings in high-quality professional entertainers with high energy and a positive spirit for fans.”
The Blackhawk Room is off the beer garden at Bierstube, with a capacity of about 100, and HeavyWeight will be one of the Saturday bands in a lineup starting at 6:30 p.m.
It will be ten years since the four-person rock/metal band has played all original music in January. They recorded their fourth album in late 2019 at Flapback Studio in Lone Tree, Iowa (outside Muscatine).
“We shelved it because we didn’t know how long this was gonna take,” Koester said. The Saturday show is not a CD release party but features the headlining band Fathom from Cincinnati (which calls its style “blackened deathcore”).
Other acts are Drowning Life (deathcore), Vestige (metal), and Crimson Clean Sweep (goth metal from the QC). Online tickets are only $8 and $10 at the door.
Koester had three big shows scheduled in 2020 for the Village Theatre (a frequent RCC spot), which had to be canceled or postponed. One of the shows scheduled for June of 2020 moved to the Rust Belt this past Sept.
“It was great,” Koester said of the 650 tickets sold for Hawthorne Heights. The Rust Belt (which has a 4,000 person capacity) is by far the largest place Koester has booked, and he’s glad to have his foot in the door there.
“He was well-prepared, had a great lineup, and I am looking forward to working with him again in the future,” said Kyle Peters of Rust Belt. “It’s a tough business, and I think Sam has the right attitude for the industry.”
Koester puts together an expense sheet for each show, including a rental fee for the venue and guaranteed payment for the bands. He determines security, sound, and other costs, including catering, and ultimately determines the ticket price with the bands.
Sometimes, Koester will give back up to 85 percent of profit to the band. “That’s usually where we start, and I can back them down to 50-50,” Koester said. “In most cases, their agent will look out for the promoter. They want to make sure I’m making something.”
In his expenses, he usually adds a 10-percent fee for himself, “I haven’t dealt with an agent so far that’s tried to take that away from me,” Koester said.
Koester will charge $20 in advance for tickets and $30 at the door for most shows.
“I put on numerous shows at Village Theatre before COVID,” he said. The first show after COVID was a circus freak show at the Village in June, and it sold out.
Mastering the business side of music
“I’ve always enjoyed the business of it,” Koester said. In the late ‘90s, his first tour was in New York City at 19, at bars and house venues for two weeks.
When he first moved to the QC, he booked many shows at Peabody’s in downtown Moline. “It was something I always liked doing,” Koester said,
He started River City Throwdown to support the Muscatine domestic violence shelter since he had a friend who worked there. Koester had them at the Pearl City Station, on the river. He used to play shows there in high school.
“What started as this one-off thing, I’ve done five of them,” Koester said, noting all proceeds have gone to the shelter (they were not held in 2020 and 2021). The biggest year they had was raising $1,400.
Koester has cut back playing drums and is concentrating more on the booking. His full-time job is warehouse/shipping supervisor at Sterilite in Davenport on nights, working 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. two days on, then two days off.
“I had friends that were agents and bands that did their own booking,” Koester said. “I had my foot in the door at Blackhawk Room, RIBCO, Skylark. I’ve got all these friends that own venues, run venues, and they want me to bring stuff in.”
Skylark has a recording studio and performance venue in a former church at 4401 7th Ave., Rock Island. “It’s got this amazing stage, amazing recording studio, but he kept like the church. He took all the pews out, but all the stained glass windows, he kept all that,” Koester said. “I’ve had a handful of shows there, and it’s a really nice venue.”
“Sam at RCC is a great promoter. He has shows booked all over the QC,” said Skylark’s Justin Farley. “The bands he books at Skylark are professional and super talented. You can tell they respect him. He knows people all over the country and has tons of connections. Side note, he’s a badass drummer as well.”
“We recorded his band Heavyweight at the old Skylark in Davenport. Can’t wait to hear him play in the new facility,” Farley said. “Sam’s an awesome promoter, and he’s a huge reason the local music scene is still thriving.”
“Me working nights actually makes all this more possible,” Koester said of booking shows. “Plus the fact that nights, we get way less trucks, and it’s more laid-back. I can actually work on this stuff while I’m at work when I’m on breaks.”
On show nights, Koester is the point of contact and usually is working the door. “I’m very hands-on,” he said.
Though Illinois has had a mask mandate, some venues like the Rust Belt are not enforcing it among patrons, especially since it would be challenging with house lights off and people drinking during concerts, Koester said.
“I wear one at the door,” he said. “It went from at the beginning; it was a very scary time. But at this point, I think people are just tired of dealing with it. I’m vaccinated. I think it’s at the point now where people are just ready to move on.”
“At Village Theatre in Village of East Davenport, masks are not enforced, but many patrons wear one,” Koester said.
Some bands Koester has scheduled for 2022 require people to show proof of vaccination or recent negative COVID test.
“I think everyone in Hawthorne Heights had a mask on,” Koester said. “Whenever I was around them on stage, I wore a mask.”
The Saturday show will be HeavyWeight’s last show of the year, he said. It’s unclear when their new record will be released.
Koester would like to do a show at Moline’s Spotlight Theatre since his landlord Adam Bain is co-owner of the Spotlight building.
“The capacity jumps drastically from the Village Theatre to the Rust Belt,” he said. “I’m going from 250-300 to 4,000, so I gotta find something in between.”
Bain was very encouraging about booking more music at the Spotlight, which mainly has hosted theater, burlesque, improv comedy, children’s shows, and private events like weddings.
The popular band Knock Loose wanted to do small venue shows, and Koester got them for the Blackhawk Room in 2019. After he announced, the show sold out in 11 minutes.
“They wanted the show there. Any band that’s played a big show has played a show at some point in front of 50 people,” Koester said. “They wanted that type of buzz about them, in a very confined space.”
Koester could have moved the Throwdown to a bigger venue, but he wanted to keep that same feel from when he was in high school. “I wanted to bring in bigger bands but put them in confined spaces,” he said. “It’s kind of a high energy to it all.”
The recent tragedy at the Astroworld concert in Houston (where eight young fans died in a crush of surging fans) may not affect concerts in the QC since there aren’t shows that attract crowds that size (in the tens of thousands), Koester said.
“I’ve watched bands stop mid-song because someone fell in a mosh pit,” Koester said, noting most bands lookout for fan safety. “I don’t think it’s going to affect things here because we don’t have shows that big.”
“We’ve stopped shows,” Koester said. “Most bands, when they see something go awry; we stop it. I’ve never seen anyone fall at one of my shows and not get back up.”
Jonathan Turner loves music and loves writing, so The Echo is a harmonious marriage of his twin passions. A pianist for 50 years, his undergrad and grad degrees are in music from Oberlin and Indiana, and he’s an accompanist for Zion Lutheran Church, Davenport. Turner has covered the Q-C arts and culture scene since 1995, including for the Dispatch-Argus and Quad-City Times, and for QuadCities.com and WVIK since March 2020.