The Spawn of Slatkin

Introducing Justin Michael, Promoter of Music, Son of
Felon

by Drew Mackie

Justine-Michael.jpgThere’s a lot that makes music promoter
Justin Michael remarkable. Most noticeably, his face began popping
up at Santa Barbara clubs with such frequency in the last six
months that even those who rarely make the nightlife rounds have
probably seen him. But it’s something you haven’t noticed — the
fact that Justin Michael lives with dual identities — that makes
his story worth telling.

You see, Justin Michael, who earlier this year became the head
promoter for downtown restaurant and venue Rocks, has a family
history in Santa Barbara that stretches back much further — and
much more notoriously — than his recent days of booking
singer/songwriters. His birth name is Justin Michael Slatkin, which
makes him the son of EarthLink co-founder Reed Slatkin. And
Slatkin, in case you’d forgotten, is one of Santa Barbara’s most
infamous and despised criminals, the slimy shyster whose Ponzi
scheme bilked buku bucks from investors all over Southern
California — to the tune of nearly $600 million, according to some
estimates.

After his father’s 2001 arrest, Justin Michael refrained from
speaking with the press. Now, however, as he focuses on enlivening
State Street nightlife with live music acts that he says are sorely
needed, Justin Michael said he’s interested in fusing back together
the two parts of his life: his existence as Reed Slatkin’s son and
his return to Santa Barbara with a plan to help the city find its
soul.

“It’s like having a double life,” he said. “I’m promoting bands
as Justin Michael, but I feel like a lot of people don’t realize
who I am.” He’s careful to explain that legally dropping his last
name wasn’t just to distance himself from his father, with whom he
still speaks. Michael began billing himself without the Slatkin
surname years before his dad’s arrest, in hopes of sounding more in
line with the other members of his former band Jet Pack Heroes.
“It’s not hiding. I put everything out there. There are pages and
pages of depositions out there documenting my whole life,” he
explained, adding proudly, “Even Ralph Lauren used to be Ralph
Lifschitz.”

Stage names aside, 26-year-old Michael acknowledges that his
father’s arrest and conviction propelled his life in a different
direction. Whereas he had previously been concentrating on
promoting his own music career, he now hopes to use that energy to
help establish the careers of others. “I don’t condone or approve
what he did. But I do wake up appreciative of the fact that I’m
free,” he said.

And what a wake-up it was when FBI agents raided his family’s
Hope Ranch home in May 2001. “I hear this pounding at the door, and
I think it’s my younger brother,” he recalled. “And I tell him not
to knock on the door so hard, but when I open the door, it’s these
FBI agents and I’m in my boxer shorts.” With that, family life
changed drastically. His father was in prison. The family’s
financial resources were drained. But music remained an outlet.
Since arriving in Santa Barbara at 3 years old, Michael had always
been involved with music — from playing in Isaac Jenkins’s jazz
band at Santa Barbara High School to a one-year stint at the
Manhattan School of Music. Following his departure from Santa
Barbara after his father’s arrest, Michael played with the band
Clockwork on Next Big Star, an Ed McMahon-hosted talent showcase in
the vein of Star Search. Eventually, various
circumstances — including an inspirational dream that left Michael
waking with the notion “I’m a promoter” — convened in a way that
brought him back to his hometown.

It’s here where Justin Michael, who has no formal training as a
promoter, embarked on a mission to put some life back into live
music. His relatively limited resources sent him to MySpace .com,
where a 10,000-deep friend request marked the beginning of a social
network that Michael uses to post info for Rocks shows. This,
coupled with a print advertising campaign that projects paintings
and pop culture icons onto images of his face, have earned Michael
enough visibility to earn him a parodist clone of his MySpace.com
profile that mocks his sudden omnipresence. “You’re nobody until
somebody loathes you,” he joked before noting that he feels his
status as a figurehead is crucial to uniting Santa Barbara
musicians in the effort to increase their overall visibility.

From Michael’s perspective, Santa Barbara nightlife currently
suffers from an overabundance of corporate pop, DJ-fueled culture:
“There’s the saying that video killed the radio star. Well, we went
from artists like Bob Seger to Britney Spears — from meaningful,
spiritual stuff to something more candy-coated.”

Michael believes that a city where the live music scene once
thrived with big-name bands such as Dishwalla and Toad the Wet
Sprocket should be able to reclaim that glory. An important aspect
that he finds currently lacking — as do most music fans in
town — is an all-ages venue. “The heartbeat of a city is when a
13-year-old kid with a guitar can go out and see the kind of show
that will inspire him to make his own music,” he said.

Through Rocks and freelance promotion for other
venues — including a benefit masquerade ball for the Westside Boys
and Girls Club on Friday, October 6, at El Cielo — Michael hopes to
elevate the standard of going out in Santa Barbara, and for the
long haul.

“My dream is to stay here. I want it to be L.A. or Nashville or
New York,” said Justin Michael. “People tell me that I’m wasting my
time here and that I should be doing this in L.A., but I wouldn’t
stay if there wasn’t a compelling reason to.” Those who are headed
out this weekend should look for signs that Justin Michael has been
there or even scan the crowd for a young man shaking hands and
working the crowd like it’s his job. It is — or at least that’s how
he sees it. “I’m looking to give Earl Warren a run for its money,”
he said, expanding on his long-range plans for the city. “I want to
catapult all of us to a higher level.”

4•1•1 Justin Michael is promoting
the Lunar Masque, a benefit for the Westside Boys and Girls Club at
Hotel Andalucía’s El Cielo rooftop bar, Friday, October 6, from 9
p.m.-midnight. For tickets, call 705-7077. For the rest of his
shows, see justinmichaelmusic.com.

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