Blake Dowling: Somewhere more familiar: The 1999-2015 tech revolution

I headed to D.C. this summer to attend the wedding of a former colleague of mine, Ryan Newell. Ryan plays guitar in a band called Sister Hazel. They were a local bar band when I was in college and I got to know them as I went to a bar once, just that once, and saw them play. I got to know them even better as I booked them to play the fraternity house a couple of times (part of my grueling job as social chairman).

As fate would have it, right around the time I pried a degree out of the university’s hands, Sister Hazel was hitting the big time with their Universal Records platinum-selling album, “Somewhere More Familiar.” Their team extended me an opportunity to join their management company, which had relocated from Florida to Atlanta, and they were growing (with new clients like Dexter Freebish and others).  I had a great run at what the Hazel guys called “Where’s the Party Management” and to relive those times at the wedding was a blast.

The wedding was great, the W (the old Hotel Washington with rooftop views of the White House) was an ideal if not spectacular place to set up shop. A new group of old friends came in each day. Needless to say, the wine flowed heavily for many minutes, many hours and many days as I got caught up with my old pals.

Sister Hazel’s original manager, Andy Levine, and I got to spend a lot of time talking shop. He morphed his artist management business into a floating music festival company called Sixthman, and when it came to technology he had this to say: “All roads lead through our IT Team.  Whether it’s how to offer our guests more flexibility to pay for their vacations or giving them the ability to select their own concert seating. Our goal is to make our guests feel like we are family and we have used technology for years to do this.”

I couldn’t help but look back on our old venture, it was 1999 and we had huge Nokia mobile phones and the largest phone plans available were 1,500 minutes a month, which we would bust through often as we traveled constantly back in those days to Los Angeles, New York or Texas back. Company websites were just becoming common — if only I had an iPad then.

We used to pow-wow often with our team in our office in the Capricorn Records building (Widespread Panic and the Allman Brothers label, they were solid landlords) and often brainstorm new ideas on how to do something unique for our clients and their fans.

It’s a lot easier today to get a unique experience to your audience using tech. For example Andy mentioned that they had Ryan Newell record “Happy Birthday” on slide guitar, and on your birthday, you got an email from Sister Hazel wishing you a good one with a video of Ryan playing the song. How cool is that? That is like sitting next to Vince Neil at the Havana Club in Beverly Hills kinda cool (which is very, very cool).  Like free crab legs from Publix cool!

I still have my Gold and Platinum records on the wall in my office from the old days and I always laugh when I see the cassette in it. One of our interns last year even stared at the cassette as if he had no idea what it was. “Cool Gold Record, old man.” Kids today! Times have certainly changed.

Whether you are in the artist management business or the luxury car business, Andy’s quote really sums up where the business world is. Without technology you are out of business. This may sound like a laughable point, but to think of how fast this has come to be is revolutionary. All things mobile, wireless, fast and online is the norm. It certainly was not 15 years ago. The tools we have at our fingertips every minute of each day is so easy to take for granted. A five-second delay in anything seems like the end of the world. I mean, can’t these signals get to space and back and around the country and world faster? Jeez.

Weddings are always a time of joy and this one was no different. It was a classy spring break for adults, Washington-style. This wedding proved to be a lot of things for me, a great vacation for me and Mrs. Dowling, a wonderful reunion with some cool people and a fond look back at the beginning of my career.

Blake Dowling is chief business development officer at Aegis Business Technologies. His technology columns are published monthly by several organizations. Contact him at [email protected] or at His column is dedicated to Mr. and Mrs. Ryan Newell: Congrats. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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