MARQUEE - Wilson keeps the music playing in Walla Walla

Over the years, and despite a tough market, music promoter Jay Wilson has worked to bring audiences and bands together.

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A fan of the band AFI backs his group with a studded and pined jacket at a Christian rock concert organized by music promoter Jay Wilson in College Place. Wednesday, April 21, 2010

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A sound technician uses the light from a cell phone to work the boards at a Christian rock concert organized by local music promoter Jay Wilson. Wednesday, April 21, 2010

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As fans steadily filter in, music promoter Jay Wilson organizes the final performance details before taking the stage to introduce the bands at a Christian rock concert in College Place. Wednesday, April 21, 2010

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College Place and Walla Walla youths socialize inside and out during a Christian rock concert in College Place in April. Wednesday, April 21, 2010 MZ Photo

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Music promoter Jay Wilson takes the stage to start the show and introduce the bands at a Christian rock concert in College Place in April. Wednesday, April21, 2010

Jay Wilson is a familiar face around town. He is also one of Walla Walla's busiest people. When he is not promoting or booking the next artist, he is downtown, going from business to business, putting up posters or giving out stacks of event tickets.

Wilson is the founder and namesake of Wilson Promotions. Billing itself as Walla Walla's premier entertainment business, Wilson Promotions has spent the last decade carving out a comfortable little niche for itself in the Valley as the go-to company for bringing in and promoting Christian, rock, country, hip-hop and indie musical acts.

Chances are, if you have lived in Walla Walla for the last decade you have been to one of Wilson's events. Wilson Promotions has also made possible a number of benefit concerts during the last year, where a portion of the profits have gone to local charities like Habitat for Humanity or the Christian Aid Center.

Wilson was born and raised in Walla Walla and has been working as an event promoter in the area for the last 12 years. During that time Wilson has worked with more than 200 bands and has enjoyed promoting a variety of different events and meeting the excited fans.

"I love it," he said. "I just absolutely love it."

Wilson grew up with music all around him. His uncle, Ron Overman, is bass player for the The Gems, a popular Northwest rock band in the 1960s that recently reunited.

"I grew up listening to him play with my mom and my aunts late '60s, early '70s," Wilson said. "He was a regular on 'The Dick Clark Show' and 'Where the Action Is.'

"I basically became a music lover and found out all I could about it."

Wilson took booking and management classes in Texas and Missouri. He was a radio DJ in Key West, Fla., and he also managed Miami band "King Bria," which opened for Hootie and The Blowfish and played with other notable bands in the 1990s. He recalled buying a $65,000 motor home and taking the band on tour. All told, he said he has spent more than 20 years in the music industry.

"There's nobody in their 40s around here who knows more about music than I do."

Wilson explained that it is difficult to attract top level talent to the Walla Walla Valley because of the lack of large venues.

"We need theaters," Wilson said. "We need a convention center. We've talked about that with the Chamber. It doesn't have to have 5,000 seats, it could be 1,500 seats, but it's tough to do a concert on 80, 90 tickets."

However, even without a venue like Tri-Cities' Toyota Center, the value of Wilson Promotions in a mid-sized town such as Walla Walla can be seen in the quality of the performers. In the past year alone, Wilson Promotions has brought a host of top level artists to the Walla Walla Valley, including Martin Sexton, Quarterflash, Tal & Acacia, DecemberRadio, Chris Trapper and the up-and-coming R&B star Debra Arlyn.

Last summer, Wilson Promotions hosted one of its biggest events of the year, Backyard Bash 4, at the Walla Walla Wine Incubator Park, when groups such as Micky and the Motorcars and The Refugees performed while families picnicked under the warm evening sun. In addition, as part of their 10th anniversary concert series last year, Wilson Promotion, in cooperation with the Marcus Whitman Hotel, also hosted "Music at the Marc." Both Sexton and Oregon-based young piano sensation Brady Goss performed at the historic hotel on several occasions.

Wilson Promotions is about to enter the busy season, beginning when Brady Goss plays in Walla Walla on May 28. Then on June 25, The Gems, who packed Sapolil Cellars last time they were in town, and Rick Mugrage will play on July 16.

Wilson is now working with Three Rivers Winery to promote their music events.

"I'm currently looking to get on with any company, winery or organization that needs help with booking and promoting their business," he said.

Due to the recession, money is tight for many small businesses, and the entertainment scene in Walla Walla is no exception.

Wilson said, "My favorite part (of my job) is when somebody calls me up and hires me. It used to be putting the show on."

Wilson said 10 or 15 years ago, a person could go anywhere in Walla Walla and see music. Now, he said, people must go to the Tri-Cities to see a good, classic rock band.

"Right now, I'm doing more business out of town than in town," he said. "When you're doing more business out of town than than in town, it takes a bite out of it."

Because of that, Wilson said he is considering relocating his operation.

"With tight budgets, people wait, and if they have a leaky faucet, they can call a plumber, but if they want free entertainment, I can't do that."

He said, the music scene here is still on a small level, but venue prices are on a large-market level. "I can't pay $2,300 to rent a 300-seat room.

"Without cooperation from the venues, the music business is dying on the vine here," he said. "You look at Maryhill. We don't have anything like that. And it's discouraging. If anybody wanted to come in here and get it started, I don't care if it was a small House of Blues or a Knitting Factory, I don't see any reason why a total entertainment music house wouldn't work.

For more information on Wilson Promotions -- including ticket information, concert schedules, booking and more -- contact Jay Wilson at (509) 240-4229 or email wilsonpromo@gmail.com. You can also go to www.wilsonpromotions.com.

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