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Many go to college with dreams of glamorous careers, but by the time Peter Kernan had left his home in Michigan to attend the University of Notre Dame, he had already launched his career as a concert promoter. But even he couldn’t have realized how far that would take him. As president of his high school class in Gross Pointe, Kernan was in charge of booking bands to play at school functions. Naturally he turned to local talent to fill those bills, but in Michigan that talent was just a bit better than the average garage bands. Groups like Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes, the Bob Seger System, Brownsville Station and the MC 5 were among those he booked, which provided a pretty deep list of contacts when he served on Notre Dame’s concert committee. Having rubbed elbows with some of the biggest names in music, it’s not a surprise that Kernan stayed in the business after graduating Notre Dame – and remains in that business to this day.
His efforts are still felt throughout Indiana and Michigan, with many of the shows booked in Kalamazoo, South Bend and Fort Wayne going through Kernan’s Pacific Coast Concerts.
But from the beginning, Kernan also diversified, handling not only concert promotions, but ticket sales, merchandising and record sales via his chain of stores, River City Records. The 1970s and 80s were a good era for a music entrepreneur before larger corporate entities took over those areas.
“It was the pre-Ticketmaster era, so I would sell tickets at various locations, dropping them off for sale. That was before online sales, so getting those tickets out helped get them to people.”
In a 2007 interview (also for whatzup), Kernan told the story of when he first met Mick Jagger following a South Bend concert, an encounter that would have far-reaching implications in Kernan’s career.
“It was Mick’s 32nd birthday, which tells you how long ago that was,” recalled Kernan. “He walked up to where I was standing, and I wished him a happy birthday and told him the next time they were on tour, he should come to South Bend. He didn’t know where South Bend was, so I told him it was where Notre Dame was. He said, ‘I’ve heard of Notre Dame, but I’ve never heard of South Bend. But don’t mind me, I thought Bloomington was a department store.’”
Eventually Kernan began handling merchandise sales at Rolling Stones concerts, a role he also served with the Allman Brothers some years later. But nearly a decade ago Kernan, who had moved to the West Coast to be closer to the hub of activity in the music business, was ready to settle down a bit.
“I had been on the road for 40 to 45 weeks a year representing bands interests with merchandising and such, but I had hit 50 and didn’t want to be on the road anymore. I was tired of all the driving and flying and crazy hours. I still wanted to do something related to music, but I didn’t want to still travel like I did before. I was also tired of all the ridiculous traffic problems in L.A. It would take two hours to get to Dodger Stadium, and life’s too short to deal with all of that.”
Kernan found a way out of that rat trap by returning to South Bend and focusing on the areas he had before in Michigan and Indiana to establish a way to bring music to his own backyard. Locally, Kernan was able to bring bands to the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum as well as the Embassy Theatre, making the most of two very different venues to bring in a variety of talent to the area. In the last couple years, he has been particularly helpful in stepping up the efforts of the Fort Wayne Parks & Recreation Department as they plan their annual Summer Concert Series at the Foellinger Theatre. He says his contacts with bands that had already appeared at the Foellinger helped him realize what potential the stage had.
“A couple years ago they had booked Kansas and Chicago, and I know some of those guys and asked them what they thought of the Foellinger, and they said that they liked what they saw. It’s a nice venue, and the artists really like it. So last year I worked with them to book some of the bands that appeared.
“Mike Love of the Beach Boys said it was like playing inside the Spruce Goose, which was Howard Hughes’s plane. But he said great things about it, and Styx, REO Speedwagon and Foreigner all thought it was a great place. I took a lot of pride in having those shows at the Foellinger last year, and the people at Fort Wayne Parks are great to work with.”
The outdoor aspect has been especially appealing to not only the performers, but concertgoers who get to enjoy summer weather while being protected from the elements.
Kernan is involved in the lineup just announced for this year’s Foellinger series, including a return by the Beach Boys who will share the bill with the Temptations, a remarkable blend of historic musical talent. He’s also working with Wooden Nickel to sell bus and ticket packages for the upcoming Rolling Stones show at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the Fourth of July. Having parlayed a gig booking shows for his high school into a career which allowed him to hang out with some of the biggest names in music history, Kernan still clearly enjoys what he does and is grateful for the experiences the job has afforded him.
“I’ve had the opportunity to see the world,” he says. “I’ve been to China, I’ve been to Europe eight times, I’ve been to Australia, not to mention all over the United States and Canada. It’s also been rewarding to have artists that I’ve worked with go out of their way to make note of the work I’ve done. I worked with Steely Dan, and both Donald [Fagan] and Walter [Becker] called me to thank me for a job well done. When performers who are at the top of their game take the time to recognize you for your efforts, to tell me that the work that I’ve done has been good, that’s very rewarding. It’s not an easy job, but it has definitely had its rewards.”