Tomorrow night (October 14, 2023) Audacy’s annual We Can Survive show will make its east coast debut after nine years at L.A.’s Hollywood Bowl. Maroon 5, OneRepublic, Kelly Clarkson and David Kushner, as well as Opening Act winner Izza, will launch the east coast version at Prudential Center in Newark.
I spoke with Audacy’s Michael Martin, Senior Vice President of Programming and Music Initiatives, about why the decision to move the show to New Jersey after nine successful years in L.A., putting together this year’s bill, how Katy Perry helped create We Can Survive and more.
Steve Baltin: Do you feel like moving We Can Survive to the East Coast will have a very different energy and mentality than it would at the Bowl?
Michael Martin: I think so. Look, because like you said, every room, every city, every venue, every stage has a different pulse about it and a different heartbeat about it. And even when we did the nine years in Los Angeles, we talked about, “When do we go east or when do we go west and east? When do we debut We Can Survive east and west?” We’ve had these conversations and of course that will always come down to artist availability, and the number of artists that we can get to do these shows. But I’ve wanted to take the show to New York for a while, to get in front of that New York audience that we love. And to be honest, we haven’t had a big tentpole event like this in this format lane in New York. And I think that we deserve to do it there.
Baltin: What made it start in LA to begin with?
Martin: Well, the whole We Can Survive started with Katy Perry. We had an opportunity with Katy. Katy is very LA entrenched, both musically and with all of her TV shows and whatnot. And we had an opportunity to do something with her. And we sat down with her one night at a dinner and just curated the idea. “What if we did a show and you helped actually curate the lineup?” And she actually did that that very first year. She sat down and said, “These are the artists I love. Can we go chase them?” So that’s why it was originally birthed in LA, because of Katy.
Baltin: Was it an easy decision or was it difficult to move it? ‘Cause again, people associate We Can Survive with the West Coast.
Martin: Number one, none of these decisions like this are easy because there’s a love for both markets. So it isn’t an easy decision, but yes, We Can Survive Los Angeles has nine years of history behind it where there is a expectation and there’s an audience familiarity there with that show. And We Can Survive, yet, doesn’t mean anything to the New Yorkers. So it’s up to us to launch the show, present the show, execute the show, and show them what this event means to them. So it’ll be a new experience. It’ll be great. It’ll be different, but it’ll be fantastic. And without saying anything negative about any other shows, this show has always, we’ve always tried to curate it with a little bit different DNA, it’s always for a special reason. And we’ve tried to thread the show a very certain way. And even with the initial lineup and the others that will be announced, I believe we’re doing the same thing with this lineup in New York as well.
Baltin: Were you looking for artists that reflect the New York mentality a little bit more?
Martin: I understand your question and I believe that there’s a lot of validity to that in cases. I think that Maroon 5 and OneRepublic, and even Kelly, they’re so universal. Yes, we could correlate Adam [Levine] and Ryan [Tedder] with LA because they live there, but we all know their music and their performances spread far beyond LA in general. So it wasn’t curated from a standpoint of, “Ooh, these artists feel New York.” These artists are very popular in New York, just like they’re very popular in LA, just like they’re very popular everywhere. So that location wasn’t really a decision in who do we go after. It is a reflection also of the cluster of our radio stations that we have in New York, and we have WNEW sitting there, a really big megaphone who plays Maroon and Kelly and OneR and whatnot. So it can speak to that audience as well. And that always is under consideration, which is why like last year in LA, you know, we pivoted, we pivoted, and that’s why we chose Alanis and Garbage. And we went this direction, threaded it with Halsey because we knew that that lineup threaded could speak to a few of our radio stations. So that’s why we curate the lineup that way. It’s what everybody tries to do. You try to curate the lineup to fit not only whatever the biggest hits of the time are, the pop culture moments are, but also our cluster, who are our megaphones.
Baltin: I was at the first one that Katy curated, and obviously that was a benefit for breast cancer. Is the cause this year suicide prevention?
Martin: For a long time it was for breast cancer. But we made a very conscious decision to slide over to American Federation of Suicide Prevention for mental health.
Baltin: Alanis [Morissette] and Shirley Manson have both been long time friends, so I know how involved they are in different causes. If an artist feels connected to a cause, they’re just going to be so much more of an emotional participant in the show.
Martin: When we’re asking the band to play the show, we let them know the headline isn’t that this is just another radio gig. We very much put out in front, this is why we’re doing the show. This is what the show is all about. And again, the good thing is with Maroon and with Ryan and OneRepublic, there is a history there where they do understand that this show is cause-based. Yes, the cause shifted a couple years ago. But they understand that this does have a cause behind it. And we do our research. We all do our research. I think that there’s a beauty in the fact that the artist community have been so much more outspoken about mental health issues. So we know it’s important to them. And I am glad at the fact that there is less of a stigma around it where people feel like they have to hide. Artists and everybody, I think, feel more comfortable in talking about it. So the artist community is embracing this with open arms because they can relate, they understand, and they know it’s happening.
Baltin: Talk about the format for the night.
Martin: Maroon has a lot of hits. Kelly has a lot of hits. OneRepublic has a lot of hits, and to just get them up there in that 20-minute cycle and just rotate the stage, rotate the stage, rotate the stage, with artists like that, I feel like I’m shortchanging them a little bit. We’ve done bills before with seven, eight artists and it definitely does slice down the performance time with these artists. I think we’re gonna land at six.