In memory of Alex Cooley

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Alex Cooley and one of his many, many rock 'n' roll friends.
Alex Cooley and one of his many, many rock 'n' roll friends.

Alex Cooley and one of his many, many rock ‘n’ roll friends.

On the eve of the Alex Cooley “Celebration of Life” event at The Tabernacle, Peter Conlon, president of Live Nation Atlanta, penned an obituary for Cooley, his close friend and former business partner.

Alex Cooley was born in Atlanta in 1939. He graduated from Grady High School and attended Georgia State University.

In 1969, after attending the Miami Pop Festival, the 29 year old Cooley decided to stage the first Atlanta Pop Festival in Hampton, GA which featured performances by Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin. The festival was successful with approximately 150,000 people attending.

In 1970, Cooley presented the 2nd International Pop Festival in Byron, GA. This festival featured headlining performances by the Allman Brothers Band and Jimi Hendrix with almost 300,000 people in attendance.  The event was so successful it backed up traffic on I-75 all the way to Atlanta. Since the event was a success, Alex took the profit and spent it staging a free Grateful Dead concert in Piedmont Park.

In 1975, Alex produced concerts to benefit Jimmy Carter’s Presidential Campaign. His concerts were  needed for cash flow to sustain the primary race.  Upon Alex’s death, President Jimmy Carter said, “Georgia has lost a great promoter, and I have lost a great friend.  His generosity extended well beyond the music industry.  He will be missed.”

Also in the ‘70s when the Fox Theatre was threatened with demolition, Alex produced benefit concerts that ignited the “Save the Fox” campaign. He also began using the venue for performances including his “Midnight Concerts at the Fox.” Prior to this, the Fox was primarily a movie theatre.

In 1977, Billboard Magazine ranked Alex Cooley Presents as the #6 largest promoter of concerts in the United States.

Alex had established himself as a bona fide promoter. He opened the now legendary “Electric Ballroom” in what is currently the parking garage at the Georgian Terrace Hotel. Acts such as Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and others played there as their first Atlanta performance.

Following the Ballroom, Alex opened the Great Southeast Music Hall in the Lindbergh Shopping Center. Jimmy Buffett, Willie Nelson, Billy Joel and Steve Martin were frequent performers but the venue is best  remembered as the site of the first US date of the Sex Pistols which garnered international attention for Atlanta.

Alex’s presence in the Southeast grew and he became a national force in the concert business with the Texas International Pop Festival and Mar Y Sol International Puerto Rico Pop Festival.

Billy Joel credited Cooley for helping him be discovered by putting him on the Puerto Rican Pop Festival. After Joel’s performance of cover tunes, a man in the crowd handed him his business card and asked him to give him a call. That man was Clive Davis.

The inimitable Alex Cooley. Photo: Kay Hinton, Emory University.

The inimitable Alex Cooley. Photo: Kay Hinton, Emory University.

The Capri Theatre in Buckhead was the next venue Alex opened and ran. Years later, the Capri would become the Roxy Theatre. He also successfully ran the Cotton Club in Midtown.

In the 1980’s with his partner Peter Conlon, Alex established the still popular concert series in Chastain Park Amphitheatre. Promoting acts such as James Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Willie Nelson, Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, The Kinks, etc. Cooley and Conlon became the largest promoter of concerts in the Southeast.

All while establishing these venues, Alex developed Atlanta into a nationally and internationally recognized market.

In the 1990s, Alex and Peter were promoting in excess of 400 events a year.

Then came Alex’s International foray with the Willie Nelson tour of Australia, the Highwaymen Tour of New Zealand and Australia and the Highwaymen Tour of Europe.

In the 90’s Alex and Peter went to Moscow to oversee the first US tour of the USSR’s Red Army Chorus. The tour started in Carnegie Hall in New York and ended months later at Kennedy Center with the President of the United States in attendance.

In 1994, Alex decided to again enter the festival business by starting the Music Midtown Festival in an urban environment. Alex felt that a festival of this size needed infrastructure with mass transit and also loved the idea of music against a cityscape. The festival grew from 25,000 people the first year to over 100,000 people per day  for 3 days in 1996, making it the largest music festival of its type in the US.

As a member of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, receiving the NARAS Hero Award and being asked to speak at the G8 Summit at the request of the Governor of Georgia, Alex was recognized by his industry as one of the greats.

In 1997, Alex and Peter sold their company to SFX. Alex remained with the company but corporate life didn’t suit him so he retired in 2004.

Alex later re-entered the business by purchasing Eddie’s Attic and continued to operate it until his death.

Alex Cooley is one of a few pioneers who invented the concert industry. His legacy in Atlanta is that he built it into a major market. Every artist that plays Atlanta in the future is due to Alex’s endeavors.

It is impossible to gauge the political and economic impact Alex generated for Atlanta over the years. His venues, concerts and festivals generated tens of millions of dollars for the City of Atlanta and the state of Georgia.

Alex Cooley died peacefully at the age of 75 on December 1, 2015.

On Jan. 4, 2016, the Atlanta City Council declared by Proclamation the date “Alex Cooley Day” in Atlanta. Mayor Kasim Reed also referred to Alex as the “Mayor of Music” in Atlanta. Reed also presented the Phoenix Award in Alex’s name; it is the highest honor the city can bestow on an individual.

He has a pristine national and international reputation as an impresario and personally hated being called a “legend” but in the end that is what he is.

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