It was a few minutes past 4 p.m. on a Thursday and Mike Kessel somehow managed to look completely wiped out and attentive at the same time.
We met in the dimly lit bar of Whiskey Dick's nearly three weeks ago. At first he was hunched over the table with his arms crossed before adjusting his posture. Kessel's eyes were heavy, which led me to believe he had a long day, perhaps a longer week.
He revealed to me that he had just gotten off work at his day gig as a sales support employee at Fastenal, and three days prior he had finished a tour with his metalcore band Goodbye Old Friend. On top of all that, Kessel was getting over being sick and there was still work to be done as a concert promoter, chief operations officer and branch manager at Aorta Music and Management Sioux City. He planned to give himself just a day or two of rest before getting back in gear.
After working in nearly every aspect of the music scene, the 24-year-old musician is used to functioning off of little sleep. He laughs it off and shrugs.
"It's a challenge," he said. "Time management is huge. It's honestly super stressful. I've had to stop and slow down sometimes and take a breath and be like, 'Hey, I need to take some time for me.' I get so into it."
His motivation is knowing how difficult a field it is to make it full-time. Kessel is headstrong. He knows he wants to be involved in music promotion. "I've known that for a long time," he added.
'MIKE' OF ALL TRADES
Kessel certainly isn't afraid to keep himself busy. In addition to playing guitar in the Le Mars-based band Goodbye Old Friend, he also serves as the band's manager. He also works at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City as a stagehand and Street Team coordinator and occasionally functions as a video technician for KES Productions and as a talent buyer for Shiny Top Brewing in Fort Dodge.
All that, and Kessel still finds time to book bands for upcoming shows under Aorta Music & Management Sioux City. This job in particular is of great importance to Kessel. He's knows this is the field he wants to thrive in. The experience he's gained through playing in bands and working in other areas in the music scene will ultimately help him improve as a promoter.
"Once I started touring a little bit, I got to see what these musicians were going through on the road," he said. "It's that much more important for me now to help them when they're coming through town."
Every job, he continued, ties together. For instance, the things he learns as a promoter help him as a manager for his band and vice versa. "If you've done their job, you know what their expectations are going to be," said Kessel. "You're going to know what they're looking for and it's going to be easier to work with them whether you can satisfy their needs or not."
As a stagehand, Kessel learned the ins and outs of productions and what some advancement contracts are like. As a promoter, he's learned what some of the other booking agents are asking for.
"I've also booked tours, so as an agent I know what the promoter is looking for and what they're dealing with," he said. "I've been in bands so I know how to talk to a band member if we're having a smaller show or something and I need to explain that. It makes it a lot easier when you've been in those shoes. You can really level with a person."
Kessel began booking shows about four or five years ago as a necessity. He took up the promotion responsibilities while playing in his first band, the Sioux City metal group Beauty Killed the Beast. The first show he booked was at Morningside College in the middle of the Yockey Family Community Room at the Olsen Student Center.
He had no idea where to start, but since members of the band attended all three colleges in Sioux City -- Morningside College, Briar Cliff University and Western Iowa Tech Community College -- Kessel figured they promote the old fashioned way by posting as many flyers as they could on each campus.
"We just put flyers on all the dorms and invited everybody we knew," said Kessel. "We probably made it out to be a bigger deal than it was because we probably sucked since it was our first show. We got lucky, I think. We had, like, 150 kids there the first show I ever booked."
Looking back on the experience, Kessel is proud of that accomplishment. "That's great for a town this size," he said. "I didn't know how to promote a show. I was kind of blown away. Didn't expect that at all."
Continuing to book shows out of necessity for Beauty Killed the Beast led to a stint of freelance booking. Kessel was learning as he went along, not fully sure of what he was doing at first. Slowly over time, he started to take it more seriously.
Eventually, Kessel moved on to booking shows at the old Legion Hall on Geneva and then eventually The Chesterfield. At the time of the latter bar's closing, Kessel had nine shows booked and needed to be rerouted to places like Vangarde Arts, the Sioux City Conservatory of Music and Whiskey Dick's, a place that has held numerous Aorta Music & Management shows.
That hectic time allowed Kessel to network with a lot of other venue owners in town, as well as other prominent figures in the Sioux City music scene that he hadn't been involved with before.
There was a time before he joined the Aorta Music & Management where Kessel was booking shows on his own and had even begun to start his own company called White Knuckle Productions.
"That only lasted for two or three months because Aorta started seeing what i was doing and they hit me up and said, 'Hey, you should come talk to us. We're interested in working with you,'" said Kessel. "I've been doing the same thing for a long time, just under different names."
At the Woods Unsigned Battle of the Bands 11 in October, Kessel was given the Young Blood Award by fellow promoter Mike Woods, who wanted to recognize Kessel's work in the Sioux City music scene. To get an idea of how many concerts Kessel had been apart of, he tallied the each one onto a piece of paper.
As of Nov. 16 Kessel has helped run production for 36 shows, promoted 60 shows between Sioux City and Fort Dodge, booked 56 shows as an agent and played 28 concerts as a musician. If there was no overlap, Kessel would have worked 180 shows in 2017.
Despite the accomplishments and recognition from his peers, Kessel said it is still a stressful gig. There are moments where he felt like he would quit. "More often than I'd like to admit," he said with a laugh. "It wears on you. But it comes and goes. I stop, I take a breath or take a break. But this is what I want. This is why I'm here. I've done this for long enough, so there's no sense turning back."
At those moments, Kessel takes time and assesses his situation. This week was tough. Last week was tough. The week before was tough.
"I'll stop and I'll look back six months or a year at a time and go, 'Holy crap! Look at all the stuff that I've done,'" said Kessel. "That's what motivates me.
"I look back at all the bands I've helped and all the people I've made relationships with. I got to play Saturday in the Park this year, I worked my fourth year of Sturgis, I got to go on tour again after joining a new band, I've helped countless touring acts through here, I've started booking at that brewery.
"I look at all those milestones and it's a lot of motivation. I gotta stop and think about those things."