When Justin Kobluk left Spokane for college at UW in 1985, the new president of WestCoast Entertainment thought he might become a professional musician like his father Mike was before working for Expo '74 and leading the city's entertainment venues for 28 years. "I learned early on that no one was going to pay me to be on stage," Justin Kobluk says. "But I also love the business of entertainment and what goes into putting on an event, so I got into that in college and after college jumped on the road with a number of groups. One of my first things out of the gate was going on tour with the Rolling Stones."
The 51-year-old father of two returned to Spokane 25 years after leaving, having worked in everything from venue management to event promotions, and has since booked concerts at Northern Quest before targeting touring Broadway shows with WestCoast Entertainment. We talked with Kobluk about the upcoming Best of Broadway season and what art means to a community. The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
INLANDER: What's your oldest memory of live theater?
KOBLUK: My father was an entertainer back in the '60s and a relatively large name (he played in the Chad Mitchell Trio). And so I kind of grew up in that forum. I grew up with celebrity, I grew up with people around me that were somewhat famous. I mean, when I was born, my father was on tour. So I don't remember a time when I didn't see shows or be in that atmosphere.
How much of a Broadway fan would you say you are? And what's your favorite show?
People ask me what my favorite music is and my iPod is ridiculous because I've got something that's about from every single genre in the world on my iPod. And the same thing with Broadway. I think RENT probably would be my number one favorite. I say that only because it's so powerful, the music in it, and I'm a music guy first.
Drawing entertainment to Spokane, whether it's a big concert or big show, what's the most common challenge?
We're not the biggest market in the world. Hamilton is a perfect example, people were screaming for Hamilton for years. Well, Hamilton plays a half-dozen markets in a year. They sit in one space for a month, or two months in some larger cities, and we're the 73rd-ranked market size-wise in the country, I think, right around there. So it's going to take a while. For us, we've got to outperform a lot of bigger markets. And that's true for even one-off concerts. If you're looking at a Keith Urban or Brad Paisley, they're going to do 60 days in a year, right? And those 60 days don't have to be here. They make more money going to bigger markets. So we have to really kind of swing over our head a little bit to land some of the bigger shows. And we do in Spokane.
What do you think bringing Broadway shows to town adds to a community's life?
Art in general, whether it's music, whether it's art, whether it's what's at the museum versus what's live, it all adds. The greatest thing is experiences that you could take away, whether you're seeing a show for the first time or seeing a show that you saw 20 years ago with your parents who maybe aren't alive anymore. Or sharing it with someone on a date night. It just adds so much to the culture that's around. ♦
WestCoast Entertainment recently announced its 2019-20 Best of Broadway season, find details at wcebroadway.com. Hamilton arrives in the 2020-21 season.