“Is it happy hour for you yet?” Drew Jameson asks me as a way of offering me a drink at 4 p.m. on a Friday night at the new Central Stage concert venue in Grand Center. (The answer: Yes.) Jameson is sitting inside the venue’s front room — a space that serves as a bar, ping-pong battleground and waiting area for the concert space in the back. It’s three hours before doors open to the public, and Jameson is prepping for the evening’s show, Sean Canan’s Voodoo Players’ John Hartford tribute.
The 140-person-capacity Central Stage, on the first floor of the Larry J. Weir Center for Independent Media, the building that also houses KDHX, is the latest live-music hub for Jameson, whose Jamo Presents has become a game-changer in St. Louis concert promotion and venue management.
It was Jameson, after all, who organized the Lot pop-up events — outdoor, pod-separated shows next to Busch Stadium, on Laclede’s Landing, in Tower Grove Park and at City Foundry — that gave concert-starved St. Louisans access to live music in the thick of the pandemic. Last year, Jamo Presents started producing shows at the Big Top, across the street from Central Stage, including a George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic throwdown, named by the RFT the Best Concert of 2022.
As the beers come out during our conversation at Central Stage, it’s easy to see why people like to work with the 35-year-old Jameson. He exudes the hirsute spark-a-fatty affability of a lifelong jam-music fan but also flashes an intelligence, business savvy and work ethic that has kept him on a path of music-scene success both on-stage and off.
That path was partially paved by his father, Dan Jameson, an ardent Deadhead who indoctrinated his son early.
“I was probably in third grade before I was, like, really into the Dead,” Jameson says without irony, as though eight-year-old Grateful Dead aficionados were a matter of course.
While Jameson was attending Ladue High School, his parents fostered even more musical edification. “When I turned 16, instead of getting a car, I got a Gibson SG,” Jameson says of his first guitar, which he would soon play well enough to gig at venues like Off Broadway while still in high school.
Moreover, his father owned and operated Lucas School House, the Soulard concert venue that closed in 2008, where Jameson barbacked on weekends as a teen and received an in-the-trenches education in the live-music business.
Despite such lineage, Jameson’s father forced him to find his own way. “He told me that I needed to go learn the concert business from somebody else,” Jameson says, describing his father’s efforts to broaden Drew’s influences and to discover if he truly wanted to follow his father into the music biz.
Taking that advice, Jameson bolted for the University of Vermont to major in business and marketing, but mainly to immerse himself in the scene that spawned Phish, one of his favorite bands. Before long, he had formed his own jam band, making a splash with the beard-in-the-bongwater scene in Burlington bars, including the legendary Nectar’s, the club where Phish got their start.
But just as Jameson was cruising along as a guitar picker, he hit a speedbump: He developed thoracic outlet syndrome, a nerve dysfunction that left him with severe pain and numbness in his shoulder and arm, forcing him to give up the guitar. Like a true St. Louisan, Jameson clarifies, “It’s the thing [Cardinals pitcher] Chris Carpenter had.”
The health setback opened a different door at Nectar’s: Jameson took an unpaid internship with the venue, which eventually led to a full-time position booking bands and promoting shows, a move that also yielded a permanent leave of absence from the university.
“I had 15 credit hours to go, and I just bailed. Because I was already doing what I wanted to do,” he says.
Still barely in his twenties, Jameson proved to be a marketing natural, going from intern to head of Nectar’s publicity and local talent buying, and later to producing seasonal outdoor concerts at Nectar’s sister venue on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts — an experience that would prove invaluable back in mid-COVID St. Louis.
That 2012 move back home was, in fact, due to Jameson’s mercurial success behind the scenes at rock shows. “Burlington got a little small,” he says. A wider range of opportunities awaited him in St. Louis, having accomplished his dad’s earlier directive to seek industry tutelage elsewhere.
By then, his father was booking shows for patchouli-centric venue 2720 Cherokee (closed in 2018) and then for the Gramophone, Roo Yawitz’s club in the Grove neighborhood, where Jameson joined his father to form Jamo Presents to handle booking and promotion.
Taking the lead at talent buying, Drew brought in artists like New Riders of the Purple Sage and Twiddle, and hosted the first-ever St. Louis appearance of country renegade Sturgill Simpson. Despite still having to work full-time in hospitality jobs elsewhere, Jameson handled all aspects of artist coordination for the Gramophone.
“I picked up Anaïs Mitchell from the airport, and I didn’t know that she was pregnant,” Jameson remembers. “And I showed up in this little two-door vehicle, but she was super charming about it.”
As busy as Jameson was putting people on the stage, the itch to be up there himself never left him, despite his arm injury. When local mandolinist Gerard Erker came calling, Jameson picked up the guitar and played through the pain: Drew and Gerard, as they were billed, gigged hard around town as a progressive bluegrass duo specializing in hippie-grass covers and improv meanderjams.
After losing to like-minded bluegrassers Old Salt Union in a battle of the bands to play the 2012 Del Yeah! festival, Jameson and Erker realized they needed more people in their band. Along came singer/guitarist Neil Salsich and bassist John Hussung, and the band that would later become the Mighty Pines was born.
Calling themselves Acoustics Anonymous, the group grinded it out in the bars, establishing a Thursday-night residency at Pat’s Bar & Grill in Dogtown, developing a following among local newgrass lovers and touring regionally. However, Jameson’s arm condition continued to deteriorate.
“My arm was gone,” he says. “I finally had to stop playing guitar completely.”
To stay in the band, Jameson switched to percussion and taught himself to play the harmonica, peeling off John Popper-style, note-frenzy solos and continuing to share lead vocals with Salsich and Erker.
In 2015, the Gramophone converted from music club to sandwich joint and sold their entire music structure — from the PA to the wooden dance floor to Jamo Presents’ services — to Atomic Cowboy down the street. At a crossroads, Jameson had to decide to stay with the band or to work full-time as Atomic Cowboy’s music director.
“The guys wanted to be full-time musicians, and I went the other way,” Jameson says, noting that he left the band right after its name change to the Mighty Pines. “Thankfully, they didn’t replace me,” he jokes.
At Atomic Cowboy, Jameson filled the stage with bands like Sierra Leone’s Refugee All-Stars, Goose and Billy Strings, whom Jameson booked after seeing the flatpicking wunderkind in YouTube clips. Soon, Jameson was bringing in acts too big for the venue, using his old Martha’s Vineyard experience to build outdoor block parties in the Grove featuring acts like JJ Grey & Mofro, Jonny Lang, Snarky Puppy, Lettuce and Stephen Marley.
When the pandemic shut down live music in 2020, Jameson again proved to be a master of adversity-induced pivots. Working with the City of St. Louis, Jameson put together a 30-page health plan that allowed him to create the Lot, a series of outdoor, socially distanced concerts that marked the first return of public live-music events after months of lockdowns.
With nine-foot by nine-foot four-person turf pods, temperature checks, roving drink deliveries and full-scale stage productions, the Lot was a massive endeavor and a significant risk.
“I could’ve lost my ass, honestly,” Jameson says. “But the nostalgia of that time is going to live with me forever. It felt so good to be doing it.”
The Lot concerts — featuring local legends like Dr. Zhivegas and Jake’s Leg, alongside newer artists like the Burney Sisters and Aaron Kamm & the One Drops — proved so popular that people were literally climbing the fences to get in as the shows sold out every night.
“It still wasn’t enough, by the way,” Jameson laughs. “It’s very expensive.”
After restrictions eased, Jameson partnered with the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, owners of several Grand Center spaces, including the Big Top — the imposing circus tent on Washington Avenue that allows for an open, fluid concert space and can accommodate 2,000 guests. Jameson remembers the sold-out Galactic concert at the Big Top as another turning point.
“It was the night everyone was willing to hug again,” he says. “It was an amazing way to reintroduce that property.”
Of the events Jameson produces, he prides himself on thorough quality control.
“I call [Jamo Presents] a venue management company as well,” he says. “I’m very hands-on with our work. We’re going to make sure that you like your drink. We’re going to make sure that you like the staff at the event. Our team really does well when we’re controlling the whole thing.”
In that spirit, Jameson double-tasks throughout our conversation, periodically conferring with Jamo’s right-hand gal, Izzi Stone, a twenty-something blonde whose rock & roll demeanor is complemented by a Rolling Stones tattoo on her right arm and name that sounds like she’s a member of Guns N’ Roses. Stone is one of three full-time Jamo employees, and on this night she wears several hats at once — managing the concert space, working the door, and tending bar.
According to Jameson, Central Stage, which opened in November, helps keep employees like Stone working year-round in addition to filling a unique niche for artists. A warm, handsome space of artfully contemporary decor and superior sound, Central Stage allows for the kind of cozier experience by which Jameson cut his teeth back in Vermont.
“I think it’s an important room for the local scene. It fills a void in a room this size,” Jameson contends. “Magical things can happen that are unique to this small space given the intimacy of these shows, where it’s raw and new and you don’t know what to expect.”
Jameson has Central Stage shows lined up through May, including upcoming showcases by Brother Francis & the Soultones, Clusterpluck, River Kittens and others. “We’re having a blast,” Jameson says of the venue, noting that he looks forward to this year’s warm weather when the Big Top concerts can spill over into after parties at Central Stage.
Speaking of Grand Center parties, Jameson is also a member of the booking committee for Music at the Intersection, the two-day, multi-stage festival that will see its third incarnation in September. As impressive as that festival’s sprawling lineups have been so far — headliners have included Erykah Badu, Gary Clark, Jr., Kamasi Washington, Buddy Guy, etc. — Jameson is confident that the 2023 lineup will continue the trend.
“We’re in a really good spot with that lineup right now,” he says. “It’s going to be really impressive. People are going to be happy.”
And, as the 10-year anniversary of Jamo Presents approaches in April, Jameson is ready for even more. As a passionate believer in the St. Louis music scene, he wants to be a major part of bringing the best experiences to artists and fans on increasingly larger levels.
“I want to be there every step of the way to the top,” he says. “I want to create a full-scale musical ecosystem that we can hold within Jamo Presents.”
On a personal level, Jameson is likewise in the thick of it. He and his wife are raising their first child in their south city home, and surgery and much healing time have Jameson easing back into playing guitar again. “You know that scene in Star Wars where Luke Skywalker’s hand is twitching? That’s what my hand is like all the time,” he says. Still, he says his arm is at 80 percent and hints that one of his old gummy-grass bands, Grass Fed Mule, may be coming out of hibernation soon.
Once the Voodoo show starts inside Central Stage, the packed dance floor, the flowing libations, and the musical revelry signal another successful celebration for Jamo Presents. And as the party continues deep into the evening, Jameson sits alone at a table near the front door, working on his laptop, quietly planning the next one.
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