By Matt Bennett
Kay Willson’s late ‘80s punk band Unauthorized Personnel, like most original acts, did not make it very far in the music business.
“We toured college towns for a couple of years,” said Willson. “I loved it but we had no idea what we were doing.”
Regularly performing in Gainesville and Tallahassee, Willson also studied event planning at Florida State University. After her group’s members had parted ways, however, Willson began focusing all of her efforts on booking bands at intimate venues as well as working for major music festivals like DeLuna and Voodoo and along the way discovered her newfound passion – artist management.
“It’s fun for me to find a band, even if it’s not the type of music that I would gravitate toward, and recognize their talent and potential,” said Willson.
Once while vacationing on a cruise, a certain musical act from Dahlonega, Georgia, a town with a population of a little over 5,000, performing on the boat randomly caught the attention of Willson. Right when the ship docked, wasting no time, Willson immediately called the owners of the venue she was booking for– Seville Quarter in Pensacola – and told them they must get an act by the name of Zac Brown Band. At the time, years before their major-label debut, the southern musicians only charged $800.
Willson’s keen ear for budding bands paired with her knowledge of experience from booking and promoting artists prompted the official creation of her local company, Blondefire Productions, in 2012.
“My passion is local music and trying to expose Baton Rouge musicians to the rest of the country,” said Willson. “I love booking. I love introducing the bands to a new venue. I love sending their CDs out.”
A former punk rock lead singer herself, Willson definitely understands the different personality dynamics involved among band members and often their hesitancy for being controlled. For these reasons, Willson, incredibly friendly yet candidly honest, works carefully with clients on a case-by-case basis.
“The first thing I do is sit down with either the individual musician or, if it’s a whole band, I prefer to sit down with all of them at once and make sure everybody is on the same page,” said Willson.
Whether the group wants work playing popular cover songs at local weddings or exposure performing their original music on a national tour, Blondefire Productions gladly handles booking, marketing, graphic design and numerous other efficient services for musicians.
“It’s a very tightknit community,” said Willson. “I know people in almost any city where I would want to book that could connect me and I know musicians from working music festivals that are very helpful,” said Willson.
Recently, Blondefire Productions presented an acoustic night with Louisiana’s own Denton Hatcher at the Guru on Government Street and the event, so successful, will see another installment featuring Ben Herrington and Peter Simon of Minos The Saint on January 3.
While Willson loves showcasing already established local talent, she also hopes Blondefire Productions helps form new bands in the Baton Rouge area. For this reason, once a month, Willson hosts an open mic night on her home’s balcony conveniently located on LSU’s campus.
“I invite any LSU student who is a musician, whether they sing, play the violin or whatever it is to come up and they just jam together,” said Willson. “I’m organizing a concert in March where I am going to have the guys from the acoustic night on the balcony open for a couple of other bands like the local act Humble Kind and we’ll do a free concert at LSU.”
Still a punk rocker at heart, Willson tirelessly fights for Baton Rouge’s music scene and local artists. Only this time as authorized personnel under the name Blondefire Productions.