Retiring Miami Regionals concerts director leaves a legacy

Series brought in acts ahead of the curve.

Howard Epstein has served as the director of the Miami Regionals Artist Series for more than three decades. Under his leadership, he not only helped to carve a niche for some of the best concerts in the region, but he has devoted himself to bringing in acts before they were discovered in the national spotlight. The success of the series will continue for many years to come.

Howard recently retired from his post on Aug. 1. Although, he won’t work with the series daily, his legacy and commitment to the Miami Regionals Artist Series will continue.

In retirement, Epstein says he plans to spend more time traveling and with his family.

For 33 years, Howard’s position with the Miami Regionals Artist Series was a part-time position. He also taught from 1975 to 2010, and served at Miami for 35 years as a professor. Throughout his tenure, he taught educational psychology and special education courses. He took over as the director of the Hamilton concert series in 1984, and later went on to oversee Middletown’s concert series.

We talked to Epstein to reflect upon the success of the concert series.

Q: You took it over directing the concert series in 1984. How have you been able to put your own spin on it?

A: I always put my passion into it. In any situation, when someone new takes over, you have to develop your brand. We did a number of different things, we explored, and I concluded that if we were to be successful in Hamilton, we needed to find a niche that other places weren't filling, and that tended to be bluegrass, folk, and what's called Americana, today, with some jazz mixed in, and occasionally something a little more classical. We did a few theater pieces here and there, but I think I concluded that we had to be viewed as number one, or number two in the area to be successful, and we had to draw ticket buyers from the entire tri-state area to fill 450 seats, and later on in Middletown, more than 600 seats, or even the first year, before they renovated, 749 seats. So, I think that became my philosophy. I would put new acts on the concert bill as openers, and then for the acts that would be the headliners, I was always trying to find acts that had a following, so we didn't have to spend as much on advertising, because our funds were limited.

Q: Do you have a favorite concert that comes to mind? If so, why was it your favorite?

A: There's a lot of them. Over the years, I produced over 300 concerts. I guess, New Grass Revival on November 4, 1989, because the group was announcing that they were going to break up in their current form, and we were able to get one of their final dates. That was a big one. The Bluegrass Sessions with Bela Fleck, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas and others on the show. We did three shows in two nights. We had people from 15 different states come to town for those shows. In Middletown, Hugh Laurie was a great get for us, because it sold out in five days. He brought a great band with him. Like I said, there's a lot of them. Those are three that stand out to me. Los Lobos and Alison Krauss are a few others. Jerry Seinfeld was there at one point. There have been a lot of great shows.

Q: What are you most proud of as far as the success of the series?

A: I think I'm most proud of a couple of things. One would be identifying talent before they became bigger stars. People like Alison Krauss, Diana Krall and Ben Harper and many others that have played the series. The Milk Carton Kids played our series last year, and now they are playing at the Taft Theatre in November. So, identifying talent, sometimes, a little too early in terms of ticket sales, but finding that. And, two, I think trying to make people happy. We have people that have been coming to the series for 25 and 30 years, their loyalty, and their trust in my judgement. Sometimes, they would say, 'We don't know everybody on the series, but we trust your judgement. So, we are going to keep buying tickets.' I think I'm proud of the fact that people go home happy. Everybody comes and forgets about their troubles, and listens to an evening of music.

Q: What will you miss the most about overseeing the series?

A: Seeing the people the night of the shows, and talking with them. And, meeting with the artists. Artists like Sam Bush and Bela Fleck have been performing at the series for 28 or 29 years, under various situations. I consider them as friends, and I think they consider me as a friend. But, also, the people that come to the series that have been so loyal. The contracts, dealing with offers, and deadlines, I'm not going to miss that.

Q: If there’s one thing you’d hope to leave behind, what would it be?

A: This year, we are doing a reduced series, and because this is a transition year. We thought that would be better. … When I took over, I appreciated the fact that I was able to develop my own vision. I think anybody who is in that place should develop their own vision. It shouldn't necessarily be my vision. Now, it's hard to follow someone, who has been doing this in Hamilton for 33 years, because the audience expects a certain product that's going to be put on the stage.

Q: What was your vision? Did it stay the same?

A: There were some things that stayed the same, but I was always open to try new things. About three years ago, we did a concert with Huun Huur Tu. Every so often, I guess I'd call them my guilty pleasures. I wasn't so sure that they would sell tickets, but I wanted to present something different to the audience, and see how they would respond to it. That was my dirty little secret of 'Hey, I want to hear these different people, and I have people that support what I'm doing, so I can go ahead and do it.'

Q: What are some of your plans for retirement?

A: My wife, Connie, and I wanted more time to travel. We also wanted to spend more time with our granddaughter.

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