He played golf with Mikhail Baryshnikov, witnessed David Copperfield’s magical secrets behind the scenes, and persuaded Bob Dylan to buy the Orpheum Theater.
For five decades as an entertainment promoter in Minneapolis, Fred Krohn has featured everything from âThe Lion Kingâ and âRiverdanceâ to Liza Minnelli and Kathy Griffin.
Krohn helped save and renovate the State, Orpheum, and Pantages theaters on Hennepin Avenue. He has co-produced a feature film (“Renaldo & Clara” by Dylan) and a Broadway show (“Much Ado about Everything” by Jackie Mason). He has promoted over 7,400 live events in the Upper Midwest, primarily the Twin Cities.
Krohn has stories to tell – and some cannot be told out of politeness or for legal reasons – and he does so in “Standing in the Wings”, a self-published memoir (available at fredkrohn.com) with a foreword by Gordon Lightfoot, which he has performed in concert almost 100 times.
Under Krohn’s watch, a young David Letterman bombed while opening for jazz singer Nancy Wilson. Prince jumped on stage during a Patti LaBelle concert. Krohn was kicked out of a Beatles press conference as a teenager, but then nudged Ringo Starr ahead of a 2015 concert (“a germophobe, even before COVID”).
Krohn, who grew up in Hinsdale, Ill., Says he was a dazzled teenager sitting in Judy Garland’s locker room in Chicago, having used a fake press pass to interview her for a non-existent publication while her mother was waiting in the car.
After being “president of high-profile events” as a student at Carleton College in Northfield, he used this bogus press pass to date Aretha Franklin in 1968 at the Minneapolis auditorium, speaking to her for a while. hour because her choristers asked her to keep her awake.
Krohn, who has a law degree from the University of Minnesota, also made a brief detour into politics, working in the administrations of Minnesota Governors Harold LeVander and Arne Carlson.
And it gives readers a personal taste of the Vancouver Olympics, where his niece, skier Lindsey Vonn, won gold.
It’s not all sun and lollipops. The soft-spoken, introverted promoter berates Michael BublÃ© and Carol Burnett for their lack of loyalty after first promoting them in the Twin Cities. And he shares his falling out with figure skating champion Dorothy Hamill when her expensive show at the Orpheum failed. (Ice cream in a theater?)
Krohn offers nearly 100 pages of appendices chronicling every event he has promoted with the gross proceeds from ticket sales – a whopping $ 394,331,896 (over $ 600 million in 2021 dollars). His ROI was very respectable, showing a profit on 80% of his promotions.
Handy with everything, Krohn used to pick up his artists from the airport and drive them to their hotels. He often had a drink or had dinner with them.
In 1974, Ella Fitzgerald left her $ 60,000 Russian sable coat at La Haberdashery, a bar in downtown Minneapolis where patrons threw empty peanut shells on the floor. Krohn returned to find him.
“It was ankle-deep. It was the most beautiful fur coat I have ever seen. So find it under the table covered in peanut shells? When I returned it to her the next day, she didn’t mind. not at all .”
Krohn, 75, retired in 2018, fed up with how companies like Live Nation and AEG had crowded out small promoters and the business had become less personal. “It just wasn’t fun anymore,” he said in a neutral tone.
In an interview this month at his Minneapolis apartment, decorated with show posters, Krohn shared more than a few stories.
Negotiate with Dylan
In 1977, Dylan’s brother David Zimmerman, then working at an advertising agency in Minneapolis, turned to Krohn to help produce Dylan’s film “Renaldo & Clara”.
Krohn recalls, “Bob would always say, ‘Do you understand what I’m trying to do with this movie?’ I was always like, “Frankly, Bob, I don’t know. It lasts four hours, the music seems to be on the editing room floor, and I don’t understand your story. “”
Fearless, Krohn took the film to the Cannes Film Festival but couldn’t sell it to more than half a dozen countries because Dylan didn’t show up at Cannes. The film was ultimately reduced to two hours but failed at the box office.
Another challenge was to persuade Dylan to buy the Orpheum Theater at around the same time. Krohn wasn’t sure Dylan was “thinking logically.” But he was surprised when they gathered at the Bard’s Farm in western Hennepin County with a multi-page proposal that Krohn had prepared.
âHe had an incredible understanding of real estate and he knew the questions to ask that were my Achilles heel,â Krohn said.
Most of the time, however, Dylan was “pretty secretive,” Krohn said. He remembered the icon playing five shows at the Orpheum in 1992.
“You would be waiting at the stage door at 10 a.m. of 8 for a show at 8 p.m. Bob wasn’t there. The band was ready to go. He pulled up, drove into a car, and parked- you in the Orpheum parking lot and hand out a setlist for that night. “
Driving the Dietrich
After hiring actress / cabaret artist Marlene Dietrich in 1974, she personally sent “Fred Krohn, impresario” (her words) detailed notes on how to produce her concert. The rehearsal schedule, the specific microphone, a special European lighting gel (she wrote a refund check), etc.
When he picked her up from the airport, she looked stunned. “Why do you want to work with the Dietrichs? You’re too young to know me.”
There were a few hiccups. She dismissed the champagne at the hotel as “mouthwash” and he struggled to release his seat belt in a borrowed Lincoln Town Car (she ended up crawling).
But he was able to see how the 73-year-old would age with a wig, makeup and dress she was sewn into.
Over the years he has booked many old school stars including Mickey Rooney, Carol Channing, Johnny Mathis, Tony Bennett, Cab Calloway, Nina Simone, Peggy Lee and Gregory Peck, who he said were “so likable. and likeable as anyone could be. “
âI probably should have been a promoter in the 1940s,â said Krohn, who grew up in vintage movies and TV variety shows. “The Charlton Hestons, the Gregory Pecks, they were my heroes.”
Be an outsider
At the time, concert organizers operated regional fiefdoms where they controlled the action and the performers. So, going back to the 1970s, Krohn turned to less traditional artists like Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton, and Manhattan Transfer.
Often, however, the newcomer could not convince the agents to return his phone calls.
“I got on the plane to Los Angeles, I went to Sunset Boulevard, I knocked on the [agent’s] door and said, “Give me 10 minutes and I’ll explain why Manhattan Transfer should play in Minneapolis.” âHe got the reservation.
Krohn even cold called famed New York producer Joe Papp himself, which ultimately led to Orpheum’s first Broadway show, âA Chorus Line,â in 1979.
In 1997, The Orpheum presented the world premiere of “The Lion King”, which became a hit on Broadway.
At the after-party, Krohn’s teenage niece Lindsey had the audacity to approach Disney’s poobah Michael Eisner at his private table.
âShe’s always been a brave little girl. I’ve babysat her many times. She always had a crazy idea. Like driving a car at age 14. Or go karting. Or ride bareback on a horse. Or put it on. one of her younger triplet siblings on the horse, and the horse pushes her away and breaks her arm.
” Speed. You never wanted to follow Lindsey if she was driving somewhere because she took the corners a little faster than me. “
Art for trade
“I booked everything I wanted to see. If you looked [ticket sales] themselves, you would be horrified. But if you look at the bar tabs, ticketing fees, and other sources of income, it makes perfect sense. “
One crucial factor: Krohn was able to keep the money from the early ticket sales, thanks to the deal he made with Ticketmaster.
With Broadway shows typically going on sale a year earlier, Krohn could have $ 10 million to $ 15 million in box office revenue to invest. “It was almost guaranteed 2Â½ percent” in annual interest, he recalled. “Back then, it was very rewarding. Those days are gone.”
Krohn was open to unusual presentations like “The Nutcracker on Ice” featuring Olympic figure skating champion Dorothy Hamill in 1989.
âThe first year we couldn’t sell tickets fast enough,â he said. âThe second year we brought the exact same show and people didn’t want to see it again. We put in hundreds of thousands of dollars because Dorothy had to hire her great skaters, there were sets and we had to bring ice in the floor of the Orpheum. “
Krohn refused to pay Hamill his full fees, a message he delivered ahead of the final performance.
âIt was painful,â he said. “And I don’t think Dorothy Hamill will ever speak to me again. Worse things have happened.”
Highlights of Krohn’s career
First show: Gordon Lightfoot, January 23, 1972, O’Shaughnessy Auditorium.
Last issue: Max Raabe, April 21, 2018, Pantages Theater.
The most profitable: “Riverdance”, presented for 10 races between 1997 and 2016.
Biggest loss: $ 150,000 for Dorothy Hamill’s “Nutcracker on Ice” in 1990.
Best concert artist he presented: Tom is waiting.
The biggest thrill: World premiere of “The Lion King”.
Most Unforgettable Character: Broadway press agent Horace Greeley McNab. “He was short, mustached, and dapper, and came to town for ‘A Chorus Line’ in 1979 with more wardrobe changes than any other cast in the series.”