Smile Politely

Mike Armintrout taught me optimism

There’s very much a distance that exists between the artists performing on stage, and the people that put them there.

The structure is pretty simple. In a professional setting, artist employs management. Management employs agent. Agent engages Promoter. Promoter negotiates with Agent. Agreements are made. Contracts are signed. Tickets go on sale. Promotion ensues. Load in. Soundcheck. Doors. Performance. Merch. Load out. Settlement.

Rinse. Repeat. Cross your fingers that everyone comes out ahead.

It doesn’t happen every time.

Champaign-Urbana is going to miss Mike Armintrout. It doesn’t likely know it, because there will still be shows at The Canopy Club, and elsewhere. The community will not see the loss immediately, because the mark he’s leaving in town here will be present for the coming year, and in some ways, for years to come.

It’s rare that anyone spends 15 years and more, day in and day out, booking talent and working the same spin cycle, over and over again. But Mike Armintrout finds himself in the Hall of Fame, around here. And in a city that lifted arguably the most powerful man in the history of rock music, that’s no small feat.

When he arrived here, a graduate of Bradley University in Peoria, to work for Jay Goldberg Events and The Canopy Club, in different capacities, he’ll tell you that he didn’t know all that much, except that he loved music and loved to work around music. One of his first jobs was hosting Open Mic Night on Tuesdays, in its heyday, while college kids slugged $2 Long Islands and tried their best to get their mack on, as they called it back in those days. Ian Goldberg, the son of Jay, was ready to pass along his knowledge to a protege, and he mentored him into becoming who is he is today, and made a best friend in the process.

The shows you’ve seen at The Canopy Club over the past decade and a half, while not all booked by Armintrout, were running through him. I had the honor of working next to him for over six years. We were a great team. I handled indie rock and local shows and he brought in the big name jam bands, metal, progressive, EDM, and more. 

I can state with certainty that there are few more loyal people in this industry than “The Arm” as we’ve called him.

He honors his word. He strikes a fair deal. He’s sympathetic, to a fault, at times. He’s kind.

Today marks his very last day at the company, and booking shows for all the rest of us to enjoy, or criticize, if that’s your thing. He actually cherishes that, even though he’d never say it. Makes him work harder. There’s no task that he’s not up for.

And that’s why Purdue University is stealing a gem, in this case. Most times, the Boilers tap a basketball recruit right out of Illinois’ backyard. In this case, they are getting so much more. In his new role as Associate Director of Convocations, the land grant University in the state to the east is getting a consummate professional.

A quick story for you all, a behind the scenes moment, that literally no one knows about, except for me, I believe:

In late 2008, things at the Canopy were not well. The business was doing better than ever — we broke records that year — but relationships were hurting, staff was confused, loved ones were terminally ill. We were all sort of dazed at that time. I walked into the office early one day, and heard Mike on the phone as I went to go wish him a good morning. But as I approached, I could hear that his voice was funny. Shakey. Choked up.

I am paraphrasing here, but what he said has stuck with me ever since.

“I’m not sure how everything is going to turn out. With this or that. But I wake up every day and I know that my job is meaningful. To me. And to my boss. And to this community. That keeps me level. That keeps me sane.”

I went into my office and considered what he’d said, through tears, in the midst of what I would consider to be one of the hardest years I’ve ever seen another man face, both personally and professionally. I had no idea to whom he was speaking. Didn’t really matter. 

Ian Goldberg (left) nd Mike Armintrout (right)

I’ve learned a lot from more than a few people in my years as a promoter, and as an agent, and before that, as a performer. HUM and Poster Children taught me how to perform. Ward Gollings and Ian Goldberg taught me how to buy talent. Adam Voith and Ryan Craven taught me how to book tours.

But Mike Armintrout taught me self-reliance and control. Mike Armintrout taught me optimism.

Mike Armintrout taught me how to be a PRO.

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