Her show, Kidstock, patterned after the generational icon Woodstock, was so successful that while it was being staged, national media organizations took note. It landed Kohns event in Billboard magazine.
For Kohn, it appeared her biggest worries would be selling tie-dyed T-shirts and coordinating the musicians schedules for the remainder of Kidstocks run. But the events success not only caught the eye of a national audience, it grabbed the attention of the creators of Woodstock, who had recently purchased the trademark rights to the Kidstock name.
So with a few weeks left in Atlanta, Kohn found herself on the phone with one of those owners, who wanted to talk about the event.
Of course, I freak out, she recalls. I call my attorney (and say), Oh no, they caught me. Im using their name.
That phone call could have led to the end of Kidstock, but it didnt. Instead, it took Kohn to New York, where the door opened to an extraordinary opportunity which the soft-spoken, artistically driven Clevelander never imagined.
A few years earlier, Kohn, who also works as the director of event production for Eventworks Inc., was mired in the business of producing benefit parties.
She was mildly successful, but it wasnt until she met David Jack, a childrens entertainer looking for bookings, that she hit her stride. Jack couldnt afford to contract Kohn to act as a full-time booking agent, but he was willing to pay an agents fee for any shows she arranged.
He wanted a marketing promotions person, she says. I knew nothing about booking talent, but I was up for the challenge. I started to do a lot of research and spent a few years learning the childrens entertainment business.
Kohn traveled around the country with Jack, attending conferences and putting on shows.
We did conferences. We did schools. I met more artists, she says. A lot of them said, If you can book him, book me.
But it wasnt as easy as she thought. Kohn quickly discovered that booking childrens entertainers in a world geared toward adults was akin to finding the latest toy craze for your five-year-old on Christmas Eve.
It was a very hard business, she recalls. People are not geared toward spending money on childrens entertainment. You can go to a big fair or festival where they have huge talent and a childrens stage, and theyre spending $1 million on all the big talent. And for the childrens stage? There, they have a budget of $500.
In the summer of 1997, Kohn decided that rather than book performers for other shows, she would leverage her expertise to produce a show of her own. She founded Dream Team Inc., and chose Chicago as a launching point. With the support of the citys Childrens Museum and the financial backing of Sears, in early 1998 she staged a successful show. That prompted her to take the show on the road to as many cities as she could book.
I called it Kidstock, Kohn says. During the course of all this, I decided to trademark the name. I went to a trademark attorney and he said, You cant use the name, its taken.
That didnt sit well with Kohn, who put herself in an interesting situation.
I have to use the name, she explains. Im basing this whole thing on Woodstock. I ordered tie-dyed T-shirts. I ordered peace sign necklaces. Its based on Woodstock. Each singer gets up there and they do 20 minutes, then they get off. Its continuous. Just like Woodstock.
But Kohns attorney didnt budge. He had done a trademark search and found a woman in Minneapolis owned the name, but wasnt using it.
He said, Find another name. I didnt like the answer, so I called another attorney, explained the situation and he said, Let me look into it.
The new attorney discovered that the Minneapolis woman had sold the name to the original producers of Woodstock, but they werent using it, either. So Kohn and her attorney came up with a plan.
He (the attorney) told me, Were going to trademark it in Chicago. He said, Lets get through this first show and then were going to give you the state mark on it.
The plan, Kohn says, was to trademark the Kidstock name state by state.
Eventually, we could appeal and say, Were using this and theyre doing nothing with it, she says.
Around the same time, Sears expressed an interest in backing shows in Houston and Atlanta, then returning to Chicago. For the entrepreneurial Kohn, it was like a dream come true. Her business idea was being brought to fruition.
In the summer of 1998, the month-long show in Atlanta finally gave Kohn some of the press shed been looking for. And with it came that fateful call. But as it turned out, the trademark owners werent going to put the kibosh on Kohns show.
They hold the trademark, Kohn says. They wanted to do something with it. They didnt want to stop me; they wanted to work with me.
So Kohn hopped on a plane and met with John Roberts, Joel Rosenman and Michael Lang, three of the original producers of Woodstock. They were impressed with Kohns work and had some ideas.
I thought (her event) was delightful, says Lang. It was just scratching the surface of what we envision it could be, but she had a real feel for it.
The trio saw a much broader event, Lang says, a sort of a kids expo.
Lang, Roberts and Rosenman agreed to allow Kohn to produce her smaller shows, but she would also help them create a Kidstock festival which followed in the footsteps of its musical elder. To give it the right feel, it would be held on the original Woodstock site. But before they held that concert, the trio wanted to bring Kidstock to Woodstock 99.
Although the Woodstock 99 producers were not encouraging children to attend, they knew many attendees would bring their children. Kidstock was set up to run six hours a day during the event to entertain those children and their parents.
The first day that they opened up, kids overtook our stage, Kohn recalls. Our stuff got overtaken. The third day, after much stress and turmoil, Michael (Lang) put us on the third smaller stage. We performed Sunday, for one day. We were supposed to be there for three. (It was) nobodys fault.
If it comes as a surprise that there was a Kidstock at all at Woodstock 99, it should. Kohn wasnt allowed to publicize that part of the show because the producers didnt want to promote children at the event.
But that was then, Kohn says. The focus now is on a Kidstock-only festival with a target date some time during the summer of 2000.
If we do this festival, itll be the best thing, she says. I think its the way Kidstock should be. The way Im doing it now, its expensive and its hard to sell. People arent geared toward childrens entertainment.
For all its promise, the mystic aura surrounding the original Woodstock still carries power, Kohn says, which continues to spill over into other ventures.
When I went with Michael to the original site of Woodstock last May, I had based the show on Woodstock, Kohn says. I had read their book about it and learned all about Woodstock. I became really knowledgeable to plan this show.
Even the best laid plans, extensive research and business experience didnt prepare Kohn for the feeling that rushed over her that day when the two of them stood and surveyed the event location.
There I was on the original site with the original producer, she says. He was saying Thats where we got our water from, thats where the stage was, those were the fences that were up for four minutes before they knocked them (down). If nothing else, I did all this and it brought me here with him. To me, it was really cool. And thats why Im hoping that this festival takes off.
With more than a fistful of event planning experience under her belt, Kohn knows there is, indeed, a viable market for childrens shows. Kidstock, she says, is proof.
I think there are so many geared to adults that I keep saying to (Michael) that this is going to be successful and its going to be easy. Ive told him Im here to do it, all you have to do is get me started. I can take it from there and you can sit back.
And if all goes the way Kohn expects and Kidstock takes off, she, Lang and the others will bring music to the ears of a new generation.
How to reach: Beth Kohn, Dream Team/Eventworks Inc. (216) 575-0177
Daniel G. Jacobs (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior editor at SBN.