I first heard about Mark Nussbaum in high school when I was dating a guy in a band. I kept hearing about the shows some kid from Guilford named “Manic Mark” was booking, and was impressed by how ambitious an undertaking it was for a teenager. My boyfriend, of course, wanted in.
That was over a decade ago. In the meantime, Nussbaum’s booking and promotion company, Manic Productions, has become a mainstay on the Northeast music circuit. Headquartered in New Haven and regularly producing live shows across the state (including at New Haven’s BAR, pictured above during a recent Manic-produced event), local bands still want in—indeed, now more than ever.
Splicing together bills featuring both credible national acts (like Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel fame, Andrew W.K. and Converge) and deserving local talent takes its own credibility and talent. Over the years, Nussbaum has helped develop the music scene between New York City and Boston into one that artists of all pedigrees shouldn’t ignore. Giving local artists a platform to shine builds up the scene’s credibility, too.
And then there are the fans. Not having to drive or train into NYC or Boston to see our favorite underground bands isn’t the only reason to cheer on Manic. The company also insists on affordable admission costs for its shows, and, by curating rather than merely booking, Manic bills are a good way to discover someone or something new and good.
Head maniac Nussbaum is a genuinely humble guy in a notoriously cutthroat and glad-handing and preening industry. “I hate interviews,” he says with a laugh over breakfast at Cafe Romeo. Seemingly surprised at his own success, he fills me in on his high school beginnings.
“I had lunch with a few friends one day—these guys were in a band called The Flaming Tsunamis and I started going to their shows. That’s how I got into underground music. I eventually started doing merch for them and seeing a lot of shows, which got me into everything. I started booking shows for them and some of their friends’ bands and it took off from there.”
Now, at the riper age of 29, Nussbaum leads his team—consisting of one assistant, several volunteers and interns and various events staff—as they sift through submissions and emails, and, of course, put on great local shows. Averaging about 15-20 productions per month (according to the Manic website, an impressive month of 25 shows is slated for June), the workload is heavy but rewarding.
Career highs have been very high—booking Dinosaur, Jr. (a favorite of Nussbaum’s since he first listened to Nirvana way back when), and booking Jeff Mangum, which is the biggest show Manic has done to date. Shows like those have solidified Manic’s stellar calendar, featuring spring dates with The Guru and High Pop at Urban Outfitters downtown; Black Francis (a.k.a. Frank Black from The Pixies) at Spaceland Ballroom just last night; and sugary 8-bit rockers Anamanaguchi tonight at the Space, plus summer shows with David Byrne & St. Vincent, The Mountain Goats and The Melvins.
Though he’s booking bigger acts than ever before, Nussbaum keeps Manic true to its roots and mission: to support and spotlight up-and-coming local bands while showcasing Connecticut as a major tour-de-force for live music.
An early show-goer and supporter, musician Donovan Fazzino recalls Manic Productions’ grassroots beginnings. “You could see an amazing band at a tiny venue for less than $20, three or more times a week. The appeal for me was the fact that Mark brought the musicians to the fans’ level—literally and figuratively. I remember most of the early venues he worked with didn’t even have stages.”
Bringing musicians to the fans’ level is something that can also be seen in the Manic Productions website. The interface is clean and easy to use, and it smartly sells tickets directly to users via TicketFly. (Those who want to avoid a service fee can purchase tickets at Redscroll Records in Wallingford.) Extending from the site’s impressive calendar layout, it’s easy to get intriguing information on the bands you may or may not know much about. Hovering over a calendar entry gives you a teaser; clicking “read more” lets you do exactly that.
After 11 years, Nussbaum finds himself singing a different tune than he was at the beginning. “This whole thing really just started off as a hobby in high school—at that point, it was one show a month.” He notes, with a shrug and a smile, “It’s a lot more now.”
(203) 747-2499 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Tickets can be purchased online or at Redscroll Records (24 North Colony Street, Wallingford)
Written and photographed by Courtney McCarroll.