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Rams Head Live sold to major entertainment company

Rams Head Live sold to major entertainment company
The Bayside Tigers perform at Rams Head Live, which was recently sold to AEG Live, in January 2014. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

Rams Head Live, the popular downtown Baltimore music venue, has been sold to AEG Live, a Los Angeles-based live-entertainment company known for running massive music festivals and admired venues across the country, the companies announced Tuesday.

The sale of Rams Head Live, located in Power Plant Live, to a large, well-regarded music promoter promises to revitalize the venue's schedule.

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"It still does good business, but it used to do great business and we think we can get it back to that place," said Shawn Trell, AEG Live's chief operating officer.

Since opening in 2004, the 1,500-seat Rams Head Live has been one of the city's most significant music venues, with acts such as the Beastie Boys, Jay-Z, Ed Sheeran and the Black Keys playing the venue. But ticket sales have fallen in recent years, Trell said.

The sale comes a month after the former president of the Rams Head Group was sentenced to 90 days in jail in a peeping-tom case. Kyle C. Muehlhauser, 37, admitted that he secretly videotaped women using the toilet at the family-owned chain's restaurant in Savage. He pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of visual surveillance with prurient intent.

At his sentencing, Muehlhauser's attorney, Jason Shapiro, told the court the family's chain of venues and restaurants had taken "a huge hit" financially after Muehlhauser was charged. Muehlhauser also faces two separate civil lawsuits connected to the alleged voyeurism.

"We have actively been pursuing a sale for years, narrowing in on AEG for the past year," Erin B. McNaboe, president of Rams Head Group, said in an email.

The decision was not affected by the case against Muehlhauser, she said. Trell confirmed that negotiations began before the case.

Muehlhauser's father, Bill, founded the company in 1989, and it still owns and operates two music venues in the area: Rams Head on Stage in Annapolis and Pier Six Pavilion in Baltimore. The company also owns four restaurants: Rams Head Taverns in Annapolis and Savage, Rams Head Roadhouse in Crownsville and Rams Head Shore House in Stevensville. The company employs more than 400 workers.

McNaboe and Trell declined to disclose the purchase price. The sale closed Monday, McNaboe said.

McNaboe said the sale would allow the group to pursue its mission of working with small, intimate music venues. For example, she said, the company recently started booking concerts at a small theater in Key West, Fla.

AEG Live promises to bring more and better acts to Rams Head Live, Trell said.

"The former operators, they weren't in the concert business like we are," he said. "It's something they did ancillary to other business. So when they had some turnover in their staff it had a dramatic impact on their show buying."

The venue sold nearly 96,000 tickets in 2014, according to the live-entertainment trade publication Pollstar. The sales ranked Rams Head Live 35th on the magazine's annual "Top 200 Club Venues" list. (The 9:30 Club in Washington was ranked second.) But in 2013 and 2012, the venue sold more than 130,000 tickets each year, according to Pollstar.

Trell said Rams Head shows would now be arranged by the same person who oversees booking at Mid-Atlantic venues like the National Theater in Richmond.

Other than better booking, the new owners weren't planning on changing much, he said. Even the venue's name will remain the same.

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Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of Pollstar, said the purchase of Rams Head Live signals that AEG Live is "investing in high-quality assets."

"More often, the deals that make noise are when you take over an arena or amphitheater, but AEG is also a player in the club game as well," Bongiovanni said. "They've got the money to spend if they can find a reason to do it, and they've been quietly acquiring marquee assets like Rams Head."

In the competitive world of concert production and promotion, there are two significant players -- Live Nation and AEG Live -- and then the rest, Bongiovanni said.

"Live Nation is a global behemoth that dwarfs everyone else," he said. "After AEG, there is an enormous drop-off to whoever is No. 3."

AEG Live is a unit of Los Angeles-based Anschutz Entertainment Group, which is a global music and sporting event producer. It is owned by the Anschutz Corp., the Denver-based holding company for billionaire Phillip Anschutz, who made his fortune in drilling and railroads, but now also owns interests in several NBA and Major League Soccer teams among other businesses.

In recent years, AEG Live has been best known for producing successful music festivals such as June's Firefly Music Festival in Dover, Del., the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in California and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. AEG Live has recently worked with major touring artists, including Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, J. Cole, Kanye West, Paul McCartney and Alicia Keys.

The purchase follows AEG Live's recent acquisitions of two Virginia venues: the National Theater in Richmond and the NorVa Theatre in Norfolk. The company now owns 35 venues.

AEG Live was interested in Rams Head Live because its size "fit nicely" among its portfolio of other 1,500-capacity venues, Trell said. He added that the venue had good sightlines and wouldn't need much, if any, renovation.

"One of the attractive things about the deal was that there wasn't much need to do anything," he said. "You put the right band in there and people will be excited to come."

Trell said the venue would also appeal to artists looking for practical tour routes. The company can "bundle offers together" for a convenient string of Mid-Atlantic dates, he said, and present it to the musicians.

"You just have a more compelling offer to talent when you are able to pool similarly sized, regionally located, conveniently located venues like that," Trell said.

The effect on Rams Head Live staff is still being evaluated but likely would not be significant, Trell said.

Paul Manna -- a veteran independent concert promoter in the Baltimore scene -- said he does not have a relationship with AEG Live at this point, but he hopes to continue to put on shows at Rams Head Live. Since 2005, Manna estimates, he has put on more than 500 shows at the venue.

He expects AEG Live to attract more star power in terms of musical talent.

"They certainly have the ability to bring in the shows. The question will be, 'Will they?'" Manna said. "I think they're going to fight to get as many quality shows as they can to Baltimore. I think that's the whole point of them taking over the venue."

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