Alum Profile: Jeff May
What happens when a large crowd gathers at a concert, sporting event, or even a riot? Have you ever felt that powerful surge of energy? What drives powerful group emotions? This phenomenon has a name -- collective effervescence -- and Jeffrey May (BA with High Distinction and High Honors in Sociology, 2010) has always been intrigued by it. Yet it wasn’t until his sophomore year in a Sociology of Music class that he could put a name to it and learned he could actually study the phenomenon. “In my Soc of Music class with Terry McGinn sophomore year, something clicked. I wanted to explain the phenomenon that I was seeing at shows,” May shared. McGinn would end up serving as May’s mentor and Honors thesis advisor. May wrote his thesis about how people interact with and interpret group emotion at concerts and what that means to them, if anything. “The thesis process was pivotal in helping me understand collective effervescence and made me realize that, whatever I do, I want to help bring that feeling to people.”
Even before graduating, May was involved in the Ann Arbor music scene. In addition to his field research with bands at national festivals for his Honors thesis, May and a friend started a concert promotion club called Live Music Alliance (LMA). Together they brought six shows to campus in May’s senior year at well-known establishments such as the Blind Pig and Necto (formerly The Nectarine Ballroom). They also put on the Dance Think Triathlon, a three-part concert with a pre-, main, and post-show at the Michigan League. “I wanted to see more concerts on campus and if no one else was going to bring them, I thought we should!” May put on the DJ series for Ann Arbor Summer Festival and had an internship with Fleming Artists, an Ann Arbor-based artist representative agency, during his senior year. As part of his thesis research, May toured with My Dear Disco (later named Ella Riot), whose lead singer, Michelle Chamuel, was the runner-up on the fourth season of NBC’s The Voice.
Only a month and a half after graduation, May was offered a regular position at Fleming Artists, which he was excited to take. In February 2011, Macpodz, an Ann Arbor based funk-fusion band, reached out to May; they needed someone to help manage their tours. May agreed and spent the next eight months traveling to the east coast, Colorado, and across Michigan and the midwest, managing the tour and helping to manage the band. Just when Macpodz was going into a period of low activity, an opportunity came up for May to return to Fleming Artists. As of fall 2013, he has been back for two years.
At Fleming Artists, May is a booking agent. “It’s easiest to think of it as a performance broker. I represent the artist and get paid to negotiate live performances on behalf of the bands,” May explained. The agency has been around for more than thirty years and was influential in Ann Arbor earning the title “Folk Capital of the US.” Fleming Artists traditionally worked with folk artists, but has lately diversified. Their mission has remained the same, though. “We develop and grow exposure for our artists, building careers and lifestyles. The fans of the artists we represent are people who really love interacting with the music and are the people who will keep coming back because they really like the music,” May said. “Because of that, you also really have to like the people and music you’re representing!”
“I’m enjoying it. There’s intense competition, but the artist teams I get to work with right now, I’m very excited about. [They are] exactly the kind of artists that I would want to work with to do this long term,” May shared. Fleming Artists now has a partnership with a company in Australia and they specialize in booking events in Canada. May is part of the booking team for Pearl and the Beard, Lisa Marie Presley, David Cook (American Idol Season 7 winner), Crystal Bowersox (American Idol Season 9 runner-up), and Gregory Alan Isakov.
May worked with the Honors Program to bring Pearl and the Beard in for a special Lunch with Honors. Pearl and the Beard performed at The Ark for the free student welcome show on September 5, 2013. Earlier that day, they did an exclusive acoustic performance for an Honors crowd of nearly 100. They played some of their songs and answered questions in between for an exciting and interesting lunch hour. May said, “I loved Lunch with Honors! I made it to a majority of them when I was a student. I thought that this was a way I could kind of give back.”
May enjoys his work at Fleming Artists so much, that he has also been producing and promoting in Ann Arbor and Detroit on the side. “Once the student group went defunct, I revived LMA.” May brought the Mickey Hart Band (Hart was a member of the Grateful Dead) to the Majestic Theatre in Detroit and Talib Kweli to the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor. One of May’s life goals is to throw his own music festival someday. “I don’t know where or what type of music, but I want to curate a gigantic musical event.” Jeff May Presents: Lunch with Honors is clearly on a smaller scale than he is hoping for, but it was a great event nonetheless. We thank Jeff for giving back to the Lunch with Honors series and we look forward to his music festival one day!