If you were a student at Washington and Lee University in the mid-1980s, chances are the live bands you danced to on a Saturday night were booked by Brandt Wood '88. He remembers the first group he brought to W&L — the Charlottesville-based blues-rock band Indecision. "That was, and still is, one of my favorite bands," said Brandt. "I'm still good friends with many of the original members all these years later."
Other bands included Guadalcanal Diary, the White Animals, as well as the up-and-coming Dave Mathews Band. "I was on the Executive Committee for three years, and one of our responsibilities was to provide money to other student organizations for on-campus entertainment. I also booked a lot of concerts for my fraternity, other houses, producers in Charlottesville and for Zollman's Pavilion. At W&L, I had the chance to cut my teeth on promotion and booking concerts and got the bug to keep on doing it," he said.
Brandt has since moved on to even bigger groups and bigger venues. Right now, he's putting the finishing touches on a two-day music festival — The Pilgrimage - to be held in Franklin, Tennessee, on Sept. 26 and 27. The line-up includes some pretty impressive names: Willie Nelson, Wilco, Sheryl Crow, Weezer, Band of Horses, Dr. John and Preservation Jazz Hall Band.
When Brandt graduated from W&L with a B.S. in business administration, he went into business with his brother, Brady, owning and operating several nightclubs in Dallas. "My brother and I have been business partners since we were kids," he said. "In the last 25 years all these various companies we've had have all had this duality of real estate and entertainment. I happen to be an entertainment-minded entrepreneur and he happens to be a real estate-minded entrepreneur, and we've tried to be strategic and make those two forces work in a complementary way." Many of their ventures have a New Orleans' vibe. "The city inspires all of our work — whether it's a bar, restaurant or festival, it's going to have a New Orleans angle because I'm a big fan of the New Orleans culture and approach to life. We like to infuse our projects with that sensibility."
It seems to be working well. The brothers' current company, WoodHouse, has developed several big-time events, including the national live-music program at Harrah's Entertainment, the Trees Outdoor Music Festival, and Live at the Drive-In Music Series with Jimmy Buffet. They also developed the Gypsy Tea Room featuring multiple-stage live-music events and a New Year's Eve fireworks show and a concert for Dallas' millennium celebration.
"My c-school degree has been an excellent foundation for my line of work," Brandt said. "But it was studying in a liberal arts environment that had a more profound impact on me. My economics and accounting classes were important, but my classes in English, history and architecture shaped me and helped me understand the world. I've been in the entertainment industry a long time. Reaching this level and staying consistent in my career goes back to the values and hard work I learned in my classes, as an EC representative and as a track athlete. Keeping eye on the ball, developing relationships, believing in those relationships and staying with them when things got tough. That all goes back to my time at W&L. It was a very positive experience, and I have a deep appreciation for it all."
As The Pilgrimage music festival deadline looms, Brandt's thoughts are focused on what still needs to be checked off his list to accommodate the 15,000 attendees he expects each day. "Franklin is a lot like Lexington," he noted. "It has a strong connection to the Civil War, a beautiful and fascinating main street, historical markers and a pride of place. When we thought about the kind of festival we wanted to present, we spent a lot of time carefully curating the kind of music, food, venue and atmosphere that would match the roots and character of Franklin. We want the music festival to be come a tradition in Franklin, just like the New Orleans Jazz Fest has become a mainstay of New Orleans."
He added, "I know what I want the patron experience to be — great food, great hospitality, great music, great beverages and a great venue. It's like throwing a massive dinner party at your house — you fret over all the details, and if you do it right, everybody has a good time."
- by Louise Uffelman