With 20 concert seasons and 460 shows in the bag, Sam Scranton is finally calling it quits as executive director of the Santa Barbara Bowl, which he helped save from economic ruin while turning it into one of the most celebrated venues in modern rock ‘n’ roll history.
“I think it’s time,” said Scranton, who first worked as a general manager at the Bowl during the 1979 season and then, with friends Patrick Davis and Steve Cloud, started the nonprofit S.B. Bowl Foundation the following year, which rescued the Santa Barbara County-owned property. “For the better part of the last 30 years, I’ve been working on this project.”
After years of fundraising via legendary New Year’s Eve parties, political wrangling, and a return to the general manager job in 1991, Scranton’s team took over management of the Bowl in 1994 after the long-running Old Spanish Days lease expired. The foundation under Scranton’s leadership has since raised and spent nearly $25 million on renovations and improvements to the 4,000-seat venue, including the installation of a new roof, remodeled bathrooms and dressing rooms, and the creation of the VIP terrace.
Because of those changes and the already spectacular setting of the Bowl in the foothills beneath the Riviera, the venue is frequently considered one of the best in the country, and is frequently nominated as best outdoor venue under 10,000-capacity by Pollstar. “These artists that don’t need to come to a tertiary market wouldn’t do it unless we were perfect,” said Scranton. “If there were any glitches in this operation, that would be a good excuse not to come to a smaller venue. On the contrary, we are so good at what we do, it’s the pleasure of the artists to come in and enjoy the fact that we have these secret weapons.”
After turning 60 in July, Scranton realized the job still needed the energy of a younger man, so 40-year-old Rick Boller – the current assistant general manager – will be taking the reins. “Everything is hard here, and it’s always gonna be,” said Scranton. “It’s not a situation where you can look forward to a day when it all settles out and becomes calm. That’s not the nature of this business.” Among other challenges, Scranton said that the music business itself is stressful, that dealing with being a nonprofit in charge of a county facility within the Santa Barbara city limits can be tough, and that dealing with the surrounding neighborhood always has its difficulties. “I’ve always felt that having rock ‘n’ roll in a neighborhood is a bit of a miracle,” admitted Scranton, “but we’ve pulled it off.”
Boller knew that Scranton’s retirement was coming sometime, so that “the surprise wasn’t complete,” but that “we definitely weren’t expecting it this year.” Boller, who said “we’re gonna miss him for sure,” is looking forward to the challenges of the job, which will be very much like what he already does. “We’ve got a capital campaign going that we’ve been working toward in the face of these economic times,” said Boller, who’s essentially been the business manager for the past decade. Though he said that he doesn’t have a “finite answer” to when the improvements will be complete, Boller is excited about the overlook project that will be worked on in this coming off-season.
Of all the shows he’s seen, Scranton can’t name the best one. “When you’re looking at 460 shows, you’re seeing a lot of names that figured into the soundtrack of my life,” he said, citing Aretha Franklin, James Brown, The Eagles, Sting, and more. “And some are people I’ve played with.”
As a former professional producer and recording artist himself, the next step, although unknown, will most likely involve music. “I look more forward to returning to the stage,” said Scranton, who once played with Jackson Browne, Kenny Loggins, Bonnie Raitt, and other greats. “That I would enjoy.”