Alex Bennett wants to tell you a story. And if you listen, mile by mile, you’ll hear it. As the vice president of operations, Bennett is charged with booking all of the headline acts for the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon Series. Do the math … 30 events each year times 26 bands per event (one per mile) equals 780 musical acts each year. As a musician (he’s third from left with his band Creature Feature back in the 90s) and a runner, he has combined these loves and has been intimately tied to the industry for more than two decades.
Q: What’s your best band story for Rock ’n’ Roll?
We booked Snoop Dogg for the Vegas event and a few weeks before—it was a daytime show—he realized he had other obligations, so we had to scramble to get a big act to come in. Vegas is our Super Bowl. We were able to get Macklemore to play the show. He came in and played a great show and Snoop came back last year. That’s the hard thing with the music business. They have other obligations and things change. That’s probably the best G-rated story I can tell.
Q: How challenging is it to balance 780 bands each year?
It’s one thing to close down roads at six in the morning. It’s another thing to put a band outside of somebody’s house. The biggest challenge we have—especially as cities become more and more dense—is putting something appropriate out there. Some cities say you have to be acoustic until 8:30 in the morning. Ironically, a marching band is acoustic.
There is a balancing act of putting appropriate music on the course and also an act that’s going to inspire the runners. We do a lot of outreach with the community. We want to be able to come back next year and not change too much, so we’ll spend a lot of time coordinating with the neighbors and community leaders. We’ll go a quarter-mile out from the band stage to let them know.
Q: How do you go about selecting headliners?
I’m very much aware of trying to make sure we’re putting on an act that makes sense for that market and the size of the event. In Las Vegas, we’ll try to find a top-tier act, but we don’t always have the budget to do that on some of the smaller races. But we can still tell a good musical story.
One year in Seattle we had Sir Mix-aLot and The Presidents of the United States of America play as a dual headliner. They are both from Seattle. They both have a great Seattle story. We wanted to be able to entertain people and tell the people traveling in—or even the locals—hey, we’re highlighting some of Seattle’s musical past.
We did the same in Brooklyn last year. We picked some up-and-coming bands from the Brooklyn scene, which is very strong right now. We wanted to highlight what you might not hear on the radio, but this is very Brooklyn. You try to highlight the region you are in.
Q: How do you go about getting the right band for each city?
I think it’s fun. It gives us some creative flexibility to say how can we really have fun with this and tell a good story. The hard part is the scheduling. You try to put the pieces together and still have a great event that is true to that city. We’ve had a lot of great up-and-coming bands that have gone on to bigger things. We’ve had some great course bands that are a lot bigger now. Macklemore played on course. Lady Antebellum played on course in Nashville. We’ve been lucky enough to have some bands that were just local bands at the time go on. I think that shows we’re really doing our homework. Part of the fun for us is helping runners discover these bands.
Q: How do you integrate your musical background into what you do now?
The reason why this is such a great fi t is I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston and I sat at the marathon finish line for years and was inspired by people throwing up on themselves. Which I did without having to run. Knowing I could be healthy and do the same thing I was doing, I’d put my Chuck Taylors on and run around the Charles River and it stuck. After college I ended up working in the music industry. My first marathon was the L.A. Marathon in 1994. Then I moved to Seattle to open Experience Music Project, an interactive museum there. As I continued to work on the music side of things, I kept running so it makes sense that I ended up working for Rock ’n’ Roll.
Q: Do you listen to music when you run?
I do. I do a lot of analysis of beats per minute, especially when I’m training for something and find something in my cadence as a runner. I sometimes run without music, because I think that’s also healthy. I mix it up. But there is always music in my head.