Huntington resident Joe Eddins makes a living in show business
By DAVE LAVENDER – Herald Dispatch, Huntington WV
HUNTINGTON – The election might be a year and a half out but Huntington has already got a new president.
Well, at least a new president of fun.
Whether it is working in the shadows backstage at every show at the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center, or out in the blazing sun with such festivals as the recent 33rd annual Heintz & Becker De Soto Seafood Festival in Palmetto, Florida, Huntington native Joe Eddins is there. And now the 36-year-old who has been with the company since he was a teenager is president for the Huntington-based MPE (Media Promotion Enterprises).
While you may not necessarily know the name, chances are, if you’ve been out of the house anytime in the past 47 years, you have been to a show that helped produce.
Founded in 1971 by Bill Heaberlin, who has handed over the reins to Eddins, MPE provides national entertainment and production services for more than 100 clients a year including just about any festival you can name including: Barboursville Fall Fest, The WV Coal Festival, WV Italian Heritage Festival, Charleston’s Rod Run and Doo Wop, the Wheeling Port Heritage Sternwheel Festival, and many more.
Eddins, who was a music business major at Belmont University in Nashville, and received a bachelor of fine arts degree from Marshall University, said he is ready to begin a new chapter with MPE as it continues to grow and expand the “busy season.” “This is the 47th year of MPE and I am taking over the reins of that with the intent of continuing it that much longer,” Eddins said in a recent interview. “That is the cool thing to me. There are not that many companies that old that are doing well, especially in this business. Bill is staying on and probably is not ever going to retire. He is working on special projects for corporations and producing the recent seafood festival in Florida and other projects, like he started the idea of the West Virginia Coal Festival with the president of that festival in his dining room. They brought it to life and it is a great thing for the community in Madison, because not a lot of entertainment goes through there. He will be working on things like that, but I am trying to get him to go on vacation more, because he has been doing it all of the time for 47 years.”
Working all the time has become part of the entertainment producing game in this modern era.
“Our company has really developed and we used to be really super busy. June, July and August, then suddenly it was May, June, July, August and then it was September and October, and then we started doing Christmas parties and now it is all the time,” Eddins said in a previous interview. Although they work all over the country, MPE is known for quite a bit of quality work in Huntington, where they have have worked for years helping the Marshall Artists Series.
“We produce the Marshall Artists Series, Penny (Watkins) buys the talent and that is pretty much a year- round thing, and we find out who is playing and we advance everything with the companies – do they need specific sound and light, and some need gases and dry ice, and crazy stuff,” Eddins said in a previous article. “We also get staff to do the hospitality and shopping and all the transportation and pick them up from the airport. It’s all the nuts and bolts of doing a show so somebody doesn’t have to farm it out to 10 different places which is the beauty of our business. We are one of the only companies that does it the way we do it and for festivals it is a complete turn key production. We take care of everything so they can worry about selling their tickets and marketing and getting sponsorships and taking care of that part of the festival. Otherwise people can get in a real bad place if they are trying to do it themselves.”
MPE just got through working on a bunch of shows in a row at the historic Keith-Albee. First there was a flurry of Spring Semester MAS shows that included the massive, “Cinderella,” production (which had four tractor trailer loads of gear), as well as some landmark shows including a sold-out performance with Steve Martin and Martin Short, followed by a film festival, then the season-wrapping metal musical, “Rock of Ages.” The MAS shows were followed by a string of three building rentals (Tri-State Stars, Chase Rice and Ella Mai, 6lack and Mahalia) within a couple of weeks.
“We had just finished that show with Chase Rice and Brad Bucklad from Young Life. Every time he called me and we had these fast paced phone calls trying to get everything done and he was like ‘man, I am worn out just from this one show. I don’t know how you all do this every day,’ ” Eddins said. “I said,’ well, it is just like anything else you just get used to it and into the rhythm of everything. I think it takes you a solid 10 years in any business to get the rhythm down but you once do you can hammer it out pretty quick.”
Since Rice came to Huntington for the first time to do a benefit show for his former youth pastor, Eddins said it took a minute to figure out when the rising country star could physically do the show.
“Brad and Chase wanted to do that show, but it still took a year to put that together and to find the right date, the right partners and to kind of marry everything together, but it couldn’t have been any better. They are already talking about doing it next year,” Eddins said. “We had people drive in from Columbus, Cincinnati and all over Kentucky for the show. There were right under a 1,000 people who came. Chase was just great, he has one of the best teams from his band to his tour manager.”
Not only was Eddins just appointed president of MPE, but he is also one of the new board members of the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center Foundation. Eddins said he couldn’t be more honored to be named to that board.
“I was graciously invited by the board of the Keith-Albee to be on there. They voted me onto the board and I am very pleased to be there. There are a lot of talented people there from people who fund raise to obviously the co-presidents, Sen. Bob Plymale and David Tyson. There are a lot of new people on the board now at the Keith-Albee which is good. Everybody brings something to the table. For me, and for MPE, it helps to shed light to the board members, what it takes to do a show there. A lot of boards don’t have a production person, but it is good to have someone with the technical knowledge and that is what we want to bring to the table for the board. We obviously want to promote the name and we talk about the Keith- Albee wherever we go throughout the country.”
He continued, “There is not a show that we do, fair or festival or college or different theater we work in, where we don’t talk about the Keith-Albee. We do care about it because it is in our hometown. I want to see the Keith-Albee prosper. A lot of work has been done to that place and it is going to take that and 10 times more to get it fully restored but it needs to happen. It would be a shame for the Keith-Albee to not exist like most of the other properties that were designed by Thomas Lamb. We need to keep it around,” Eddins said that sentiment of love for the Keith was echoed during one of his favorite moments in Keith- Albee history. Just a couple of years ago when Tony Bennett stopped in with his band, he told the crowd how beautiful the theater was and how it was made acoustically for voices on stage. To prove it he laid his microphone on top of the piano, had his band take a break while he sang “Fly Me to the Moon,” a cappella.
“Tony Bennett, he kind of spelled it out for people, and I hope they paid attention,” Eddins said. “He said I heard there were people who want to restore this theater but I think you should leave it exactly the way that is is.” Eddins said at first, road crews for traveling shows come in and shake their heads at what has to go where and how. “The production people always freak out like ‘how are we going to do this?’ Once they get over that little hump they start commenting about how unique and cool the theater is and the sky,” Eddins said. “There are not too many atmospheric theaters. People don’t get to play in a lot of those places.” Eddins said he hopes the recent successes translate into more rental shows at the Keith-Albee so that the Foundation can help build the coffers for the rest of the needed improvements.
“From April to May there were three rentals in a couple of weeks, so I hope we can continue to get more shows,” Eddins said. “Programming is challenging to say the least, but I think there could be a lot more smaller shows there, where you don’t have to use the balcony, you can just use downstairs which is 900 seats. You can have a smaller show, acoustic coffee house style, or like the big, giant shows that we do all the time with the Marshall Artists Series. It can be difficult to do those big shows but it is possible and we have it down. We know the limitations and we know what we can’t do. When you can play Blue Man Group in there you can play just about anything.”
Eddins said that limitations at the Keith can sometimes be overcome thanks to the redevelopment of downtown and all of its downtown hotel properties.
“For the big shows, we have to tell people there are no real dressing rooms or no real furniture but there are ways to work it out though. I think it is great how downtown has gotten revitalized and now we have a Hilton property going in and a Marriott property across the street so we have some legit hotels going in. If you have a nice hotel property they will just hang out there. The rooms of the Keith-Albee are starting to be refurbished though. We have five new roofs, a new fly system on stage and new seats going in. It is like owning a house there is always something to work on.” Eddins said one cool thing about being a part of shows in downtown is how blown away touring bands and acts are with Huntington.
“I hear people say when we first heard we were coming to West Virginia, we have heard things on the news and we are just coming into another small town U.S.A. When they get here, every single person says how cool Huntington is and how they were walking around and how pretty it is and how pleasantly surprised they were. I think the artists who come in the day before and walk around and try to go to those places like The Market and Backyard and The Peddler, and just everything local like Old Village Roaster.”
Eddins said although he would love to see more shows at the Keith for MPE to work it may be a slow train coming since he sees a small market that is close to saturation giving the number of shows in Ashland, Huntington and Charleston.
“Our market for our size has a lot of entertainment of all kinds, we have great shows that come through here, like Chris Robinson playing at the V here in a few weeks,” Eddins said. “There is the possibility of more programming here at the Keith but you have to get everything in sync with the venue. You have to have certain infrastructure there. We see these deals every day where we are like man if we could put those into the Keith-Albee. It takes a long time to book acts. It is just a process and you don’t want to over saturate the market. We have a lot of entertainment here for a small market, but I think the Keith-Albee can develop its own niche. Just like the Big Sandy Superstore has developed a niche for the big rock shows and country. We can develop a niche from Broadway to coffeehouse acoustic and rock and roll. You know everyone from The Doobie Brothers and ZZ Top to Taylor Swift has played The Keith-Albee. There needs to be some more shows there because that is what will help it stay around. Thank goodness for the Marshall Artists Series. They are keeping the place going as it is going through all of the renovations.”
Eddins said he encourages everyone to make sure they are coming out to support live performances at the historic theater, which is currently under review to possibly be designated a Historic Landmark.
“I just encourage people to go to the Keith-Albee to see shows from an arts perspective whether it is the Marshall Artists Series or a country concert or a talent show or a progressive EDM and pop act or a film festival,” Eddins said. “Go out and do it, go out and experience these shows. You never know when you are going to say, man I wish I would have went out and seen Tony Bennett when he was at the Keith-Albee, or like Steve Martin and Martin Short – that was one of the best experiences ever.”
Joe Eddins AGE: 36 FAMILY: Wife Erin, and children Stiles, Jolie and Quinn. Eddins is the son of Huntington residents Jody and Linda Eddins.
EDUCATION: Studied Music Business at Belmont University in Nashville, BFA in Graphic Design from Marshall University, and 2000 Huntington High School graduate
JOB: President – MPE Entertainment and Owner – J.E. Design. Eddins was named vice president in 2015. He has worked for MPE for more than 20 years since he was a teenager.
HOBBIES: Still enjoy playing guitar and performing out on special occasions
ABOUT MPE: MPE will work with more than 100 acts this year. Founded in 1971 by Bill Heaberlin, MPE is a full-service national entertainment and production company providing services to fairs, festivals, special events, corporations, arts organizations, and commercial concerts. Based in Huntington, MPE has a wide range of clients across the country producing live entertainment shows on a national level.
ON THE WEB: www.mpe-entertainment.com and www.facebook.com/mpeentertainment