joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com
Lane Rosen, left, and Bo Henry are into their sixth year of bringing an eclectic array of events to the State Theatre.

joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com Lane Rosen, left, and Bo Henry are into their sixth year of bringing an eclectic array of events to the State Theatre.

ALBANY -- Some time in the wee hours of New Year's Day 2005, reality smacked Lane Rosen upside the head.

Rosen, along with fellow owners Bo Henry and Sandy Farkas, had just seen the first-ever event at the revitalived State Theatre go off without a hiccup. The venue had been packed, the bar did steady business and there had been no long lines at the bathrooms.

The Dave Matthews Cover Band had gone over well, and Rosen was ready to reap the rewards of what had been a two-year-long labor of love.

"I was on Cloud 9," Rosen, a real estate developer by trade, recalled last week. "It had been the perfect night, down to the last detail."

But after all the entertainers and the vendors and the sound crew and the workers were paid from the night's receipts ... well, that's when reality kicked in.

"After all was said and done, there was about $600 for Bo, Sandy and me to split," Rosen says, laughing wryly at the memory. "I wanted to cry ... literally. I was crushed. I started asking for the gas can. I told them they could either keep me from getting to the gas can or get out of the building because I was about to burn it down.

"After all that hard work ... I could have quit right then."

To the eventual delight of a new generation of Southwest Georgians who actually do like to leave the four walls of their homes now and then, Rosen didn't quit. He and Henry -- Rosen eventually bought out Farkas -- are into their sixth year of bringing an eclectic array of events to the State, which has slowly gained a reputation in the entertainment industry as the one go-to place in a community whose penchant for non-support has all but killed its standing as even a secondary market.

That's why Rosen was so pleased that country artist Tracy Lawrence made a recent stopover at the Pine Avenue venue as an add-on date to his tour.

"Financially, we didn't do great, but we had a big crowd, and the show went off without a hitch," Rosen, a fifth-generation Albany resident, said. "It was a milestone for the theater because it helped legitimize us, showed some of the right people that we are doing business properly."

During the first year of the State's existence, the theater went over like gangbusters. During what Rosen calls "our honeymoon period," the shows were frequent and well-attended. Then came the tragic announcement -- as far as the State was concerned -- that local alternative radio station 97.3 was changing its format.

"That really hurt us," Rosen said. "We'd get calls from promoters in Hawaii who had artists coming through, wanting to know if they could do a show here. They saw in Pollstar magazine that there was a 100,000-watt Clear Channel radio station in the market, and they knew there was the potential to reach a million people.

"When they changed their format, those calls stopped coming in."

But Rosen and Henry adjusted to the changes. They altered their business plan, cut unnecessary costs and quit going out in search of the "perfect show."

"What we've learned is that it's to our advantage if the artists call us," Henry said. "If a stopover works into their schedule, we can usually get them here for about a third of what it would cost if we called them and set up a date for them to come to our place.

"That's part of the reason we've been able to keep the State self-sustaining. We went in with big dreams and hopes, but we understand now that we're not going to get rich. We've just kept an open mind to the tons of stuff we can do here."

Like a recent graduation party. Or the Bid for Bachelors benefit to help build a facility for autistic children. Or the wedding/reception this past weekend. Or the semi-regular Thursday-night Albany State University fraternity party. Or the annual Turkey Jam starring country music star Luke Bryan.

"We're extremely lucky here that the Lost Trailers and Luke Bryan and Dallas Davidson ... all those guys are from here," Rosen said. "They're about the hottest thing going, and our association with them has helped get the word out around Nashville that there's a place in Albany that will work with you and treat you right.

"A lot of times artists are at the mercy of the promoters in places where they book shows that they've never played before, and they sometimes get screwed. Our reputation is that we'll do what we tell them, we'll pour on the Southern hospitality and we'll pay them. That's probably the bottom line."

As he thinks back over his and Henry's run at the State, Rosen mentions the Jagermeister alternative rock tour, Bryan's first Thanksgiving show, the Lawrence concert, a visit by Gov. Sonny Perdue for a state Chamber of Commerce event, and performances by current country stars Dierks Bentley and Zac Brown among his favorites.

And while many have said the city of Albany's failed efforts to revitalize downtown have hindered the State's growth, Rosen's not buying into that theory.

"Don't get me wrong, I want very badly for downtown to succeed," he said. "But I see this place as separate from downtown. We actually need Southwest Georgia to succeed. People talk about the division between East Albany and West Albany, but I don't buy into that. I've never seen a wall dividing the two.

"We're all from Albany. We have events that originate with organizations in west Albany, just as we have the fraternity and sorority shows that originate at Albany State on the east side. And we've been fortunate because we haven't had problems at any of them. I think we've become this generation's Jungle Jim's ... a place for folks to hang out and have a good time."

And then there are the intangibles.

"We get feedback on our facebook page from people who say they were among those complaining about there being nothing to do in Albany," Rosen said. "When they thank us for providing it, well, that makes this worth it.

"We get to see people come in here to forget about their daily problems and then leave happy. Music is often the common denominator. That's pretty cool. It's taught me something about myself; it's helped me to realize that what we do is not just about dollars."