The “My Music Row Story” weekly column features notable members of the Nashville music industry selected by the MusicRow editorial team. These individuals serve in key roles that help advance and promote the success of our industry. This column spotlights the invaluable people that keep the wheels rolling and the music playing.
At Wasserman Music, Nashville-based agent Keith Levy has developed a distinguished roster that includes Tyler Childers, Caamp, Shakey Graves, Bob Weir, Blackberry Smoke, Sierra Ferrell, Nikki Lane, Natalie Hemby, Langhorne Slim, The Milk Carton Kids and Madi Diaz, among others. Levy has helped Childers and Caamp grow into festival headliners in a few short years, and has worked with Shakey Graves for more than a decade, building him into a perennial strong ticket seller who spans genres and audiences.
A Vanderbilt graduate, Levy previously worked at C3 Presents, the Nancy Fly Agency and New Frontier Touring before joining Paradigm Talent Agency in 2015; he remained with the company through Wasserman’s acquisition of Paradigm’s music division in 2021. A musician in his own right who booked his high school band into Baltimore’s Recher Theater as a teenager, Levy was named to MusicRow’s Next Big Thing Class of 2022 and Leadership Music’s Class of 2024.
MusicRow: Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland.
Were you musical?
Yep, my whole life. I’ve been playing the drums since I could walk and then guitar at 12 or 13.
I started playing in bands and writing songs and all that kind of stuff. There’s always the person in the band who seems to book the shows or do the business stuff, and that was me. At age 14, my dad would drive me to local venues around Baltimore—like The Recher Theatre in Towson—and I’d go talk to the booker and they would give me hard tickets to sell at school or wherever I could sell them. You had to come back with a certain amount of money to be able to get [a gig]. So I’ve been doing that since I was 14 years old.
Where did you go to college? What did you study?
I went to Vanderbilt. I had visited a few schools and was very attracted to Vandy in Nashville because of how much music there was. It was Rites of Spring weekend—I’m sure it wasn’t a coincidence that it was also visiting weekend for prospective students. I saw Derek Trucks‘ band and a band called Bang Bang Bang who became American Bang and are now The Cadillac Three.
I came down here without a plan of what to study beyond liberal arts in general. At Vanderbilt, you can design your own major if they don’t have an existing one. They didn’t have a music business major, so I designed a music management and communications curriculum with the help of the Deans. I minored in Spanish. I spent a summer living in Madrid with a Spanish family.
How did you start your career?
I started interning when I was a junior for an alumnus who had his own record label called Severe Records. I did that for a semester, and it was like a crash course in everything not to do.
It’s funny looking back, because I remember this very vividly. He would say to me, “You should work at an agency, not at a record label.” It sort of piqued my interest. I was taking this business of music class [at the time] taught by Jim Foglesong. Every week he would bring in either a manager, a publicist, a publisher, a songwriter or an agent, so we learned what these people did. It clicked for me that these people have jobs and fairly regular lives, families and stuff, and they get paid to do this.
I always thought the idea of having your own roster was really cool—and I realized an agent has his own roster. I started paying attention then. I was also playing in bands the whole time I was in college—I had a cover band called Shotgun Sally made up of mostly fraternity brothers of mine. We would play at the fraternities, but then we would go downtown and look for bars that were empty. We would go in there [and ask the manager], “Can we play two Thursdays from now? We’ll bring 300 people.” Eventually one of the bars agreed—it was called Jesse Zane’s. We would put a pledge at the door, charge five bucks a head and we’d make like $3,000 on a Thursday night. So that was when this went from hobby to [realizing] there’s a real business here.
I went to South by Southwest during spring break of my senior year. I just thought it was the coolest thing in the world. I saw a hundred bands and acts I’d never heard of. That was one of those light bulb moments where I realized, “Wow, there’s all these people doing this in all these different capacities. I need to get into this.” So I moved to Austin when I graduated. It was almost like a gravitational pull.
What did you do in Austin?
I kept playing music and I was in a band down there. That was my entry point into meeting promoters at clubs. At age 21 or 22, I was cutting deals to play these shows—$500 versus the door or a hundred percent of the door. I didn’t know there was a language for that, I just kind of did it.
I started bartending at a Mexican restaurant and was playing with the guys I had moved down there with. It took me three or four months, but I got an internship at C3 Presents. I did that for like a year and a half. That was unpaid, so I kept bartending and playing shows. They eventually would pay me as a contractor to work some of their festivals and events. I was a runner at [festivals like] ACL or Lollapalooza. I would run catering in a golf cart. That became a real entry point into making some relationships that I still have today.
I was still trying to get into the agency side of things. Huston Powell, who’s the Lollapalooza booker, I would walk into his office, sit on his couch and read him names of agents. I’d be like, “What do you think about this person? Can you make a phone call? Can you get me an interview?” He would do it. He pointed me in the direction of like 10 people in Austin who had real businesses. And one of them eventually called me back. Her name was Nancy Fly. She had a small agency that she ran out of her garage. She had about 15 artists, and she offered me a job one day.
She wanted me to come in and do marketing stuff for her acts. We went out to dinner and sat there for a couple hours. By the end of it she was like, “Why don’t you just come be an agent? Talk to these friends of yours that are in bands and see if they’ll let you be their agent and book all their shows?” So that’s what I did.
What was that chapter like?
I signed a band called Uncle Lucius. I ended up working with them for six years. I was their first agent and I was their manager for three or four of those years. I would go to the office every day and I would log into Pollstar or Celebrity Access and just try to learn as much as I could about who’s who, who books what, who the promoters are and what’s a venue in Boise, Idaho to get from Utah to Seattle. Very elementary stuff. I worked for her for a year and a half. Eventually, I went to Nancy and said, “Can you help me find a job at at a bigger agency?”
She made some phone calls and she helped me get a couple interviews, the first of which was with Paul Lohr who owns New Frontier Touring in Nashville. So I interviewed with Paul, I interviewed with Steve Levine at ICM in Los Angeles and then Huston from C3 helped me get a couple other interviews—one at WME in L.A. I got offered a job in the mail room at WME in L.A. or to come back to Nashville and book a territory for Paul Lohr at New Frontier—so that’s the job that I took.
What was coming back to Nashville like?
It was the very beginning of 2011. Paul books a band called The Avett Brothers and they were starting to go into arenas and amphitheaters, and getting very busy. He was very focused on that, so he had divided the rest of his roster into territories. He had me and three other younger guys like me that were booking the rest of the roster in territories.
So [we were booking] the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Darrell Scott and Paul Thorn. Paul let me bring Uncle Lucius and he was very supportive in us signing acts. There weren’t really a whole lot of rules as long as you showed up in the morning when he wanted you to and got your work done. I did at least one of those things.
I was 25-years-old and I was an agent with a territory. We had a lot of freedom, so it was really fun. It was a learn it by doing it atmosphere. The fifth or sixth act I signed when I was there was Shakey Graves, who I’ve booked for over 10 years now. Paul was great because he let us fail on our own, and subversively, he let us succeed on our own. That’s kind of what happened with Shakey. That’s an artist that I had seen when I was living in Austin that I kept in touch with. It took a few more years, but I was watching closely and paying attention, and eventually we decided to work together. Here we are today 10 years later, and that’s been a very fruitful, successful relationship.
By 2013, I had signed some other artists like Willie Watson and the Band of Heathens. I had an artist named Cody Chesnutt who had success in a previous life with a song called “The Seed.” I started trying to pick my head up and figure out what was happening around me. That led me to some other conversations with other agencies and agents, primarily with Jonathan Levine.
What happened next?
Jonathan and I had met before, but in the summer of 2014, we met up at Newport Folk Festival. We had a beer and we talked for like an hour. I knew who Jonathan was because one of my all time favorite bands is The Black Crowes, and he was the agent at the time. Beyond that, I was raised on the Grateful Dead. Jonathan was the agent for Bob Weir and Phil Lesh—he’s still their agent and I get to work on Bob with him now, which is very much a dream come true.
At that time in Nashville, there were not a lot of agents or agencies that were doing non-country stuff, so I was paying attention to what Jonathan was doing. He had signed Sturgill Simpson around that time. That led to other conversations and lunches and eventually a job offer. I went to work at Paradigm—which is now Wasserman—in 2015.
When did you pick up Tyler Childers?
February of 2017. I had been at Paradigm for a couple years at that point. I had brought Shakey with me and eventually Willie Watson. I signed a couple acts. I had been a fan of Tyler’s. I was introduced to him through some friends of mine from college, one of whom is from Kentucky and he would play him around the house all the time. I just became a fan. I brought a video of Tyler into a meeting one day Paradigm.
Everybody reacted positively, but Jonathan pulled me aside after that meeting and was like, “Hey, we need to keep our eye on this. Sturgill is a fan of his and wants to be more active in producing records. Let’s keep our eye on this.”
This went on for six or eight months. Tyler and his manager, Ian Thornton, would make quarterly Nashville trips. I would help him get shows—I got him a slot on AmericanaFest before we were working together. We just got to know each other. We met in my office, the three of us, and we talked about the future and their goals.
Eventually he made Purgatory. I heard the record and thought it was really good. Jonathan was getting all this info from the Sturgill side as it was happening. We spoke to each other at the beginning of 2017 and said, “Let’s do this.” So that’s what we did.
And boy, has it taken off.
Yeah! That was seven years ago, so it didn’t happen overnight. It did happen quickly, relatively, but we didn’t skip steps and we built a real foundation for Tyler. There was a pandemic in the middle there, which certainly delayed things, but at the same time, the way streaming consumption started happening in bigger numbers during the pandemic, it accelerated a lot of things too. We just announced an arena tour with 12 arenas that all sold out in 30 minutes or less. That’s two nights at Madison Square Garden and two nights at Bridgestone and The Forum. It’s an awesome place to be.
What is the most fulfilling part about what you get to do?
The most fulfilling part is going to the show. That doesn’t matter if it’s at the Echo or the Forum, at Mercury Lounge or Madison Square Garden. It always feels good when the artist is in a position to win. The nature of my job is asking: What’s the venue? What’s the ticket price? What city are we playing in? These are the things we can control. When we get it right and the show sells out and it’s the right venue at the right time, you put the artist in a position to win and thrive. Being there in that moment is super rewarding.
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