You may know UrbanAZ as the company that brings the hottest comedians and musicians to the Valley. But did you know this company is run by a former NFL player and his loving wife? Derek and Vivian Ware started UrbanAZ in 2004 after turning a Super Bowl lemon into lemonade.
Prior to the 1996 Super Bowl XXX held in Tempe, a promoter asked Derek, a former Arizona Cardinals tight end, to invest in Super Bowl party. Everything did not go as hoped and the he did not get a return on his investment. But the promoter gave him a percentage of profits from other club events. Derek followed up on his investment; he began to learn the business.
“Once I got my money back, I ended up investing that back into a show. I think the first show was IMX, Immature,” said Derek.
Over the years Derek and Vivian worked with other promoters and learned more about the business before establishing UrbanAZ in 2004. They started bringing acts to nightclubs and evolved into putting on concerts at Celebrity Theater.
Throughout their career, the Wares have done business and developed a relationship with several entertainers. They agree that Keith Sweat is one of their favorite artists to do business with.
“He always makes money and he’s easy to work with,” says Derek. Vivian also mentioned Genuwine’s camp as a favorite. “There’s never a problem. I think that’s just because they’re seasoned professionals.”
Aside from business, they each have musicians that they’ve loved watching perform.
“New Edition, definitely. Miguel, I definitely enjoyed his show,” says Derek. Vivian enjoyed Ne-Yo and Mint Condition. The couple agrees that D’Angelo was one of the best concerts. “That was my most favorite concert ever. Everybody was on their feet the entire time, it was amazing,” says Vivian.
Unfortunately, not every encounter with an artist is a good experience. Derek says working with B2K was not easy. “They were taking their own time getting to the venue. They were already an hour late and they had no rush to get to the venue, at all. And it seemed like no one was in charge, like the kids were in charge,” says Derek.
Vivian says the hip hop artists generally cause the biggest headaches because they do things on their own time instead of adhering to schedules.
“Usually they’re professional if they’ve got a good road manager with them and they communicate. But typically rappers do their own thing,” she said.
Vivian says one of the most unforgettable moments was when Katt Williams gave $5,000 in cash to a veteran in the audience. Even though Katt Williams is known for some of his crazy antics during performances, she says the gesture did not surprise her at all. “He really does genuinely have a great heart, a heart of gold. He would literally give you the shirt off his back,” says Vivian. The Wares have known Katt Williams for a long time and he is their son’s godfather.
If they had the opportunity to work with any musician, dead or alive, Derek would choose Charlie Wilson or Prince. Vivian would choose James Brown and R. Kelly. Even though R. Kelly’s last Valley performance was cancelled without any notice or refund, that would not deter the Wares from working with him in the future. “If that was something UrbanAZ had been involved with or if that was our show, it definitely wouldn’t have went down like that,” says Vivian.
Working with your spouse can be challenging. “Ok here’s my wife, but then I ask her to do something as if she was working for me …she may not feel like doing it at that time, so it’s kind of having that balance,” said Derek. “The good part is I can turn to her and ask her ‘what do you think about this show?’ and I know she’s somebody who will give me an honest answer.” “It’s interesting. There definitely has to be one boss and he’s the boss but we do work together. It’s all about compromise,” says Vivian.
Derek said booking artists is actually pretty simple. He contacts an artist’s manager or their booking agent and provides an initial offer, which includes a date, venue, and the price he’s willing to pay them. It may also include specifics about catering, hotel stays, and flight arrangements. Then negotiations begin; sometimes a deal can be reached within 24 hours and other times it may take a couple of weeks because booking managers will try to plan other performances in nearby cities.
Derek generally books acts he’s interested in seeing but he has been open to suggestions. Vivian really enjoys neo-soul artists and their son DJ will suggest artists that Derek has never heard of, such as Bryson Tiller. “I didn’t know who Bryson Tiller was but we ended up booking him … come to find out he’s hot.”
In addition to being business savy, Derek and Vivian are also very charitable. They have a non-profit called Youth Athletes in Motion. When gifted, young athletes can’t afford equipment, uniforms or travel expenses, they help out. A dollar from each UrbanAZ event ticket sold goes into a fund to help these athletes. An athlete attending Chandler High School couldn’t attend practice because of her job, so they anonymously paid her not to work by providing a stipend.
“She ended up getting a scholarship to Grand Canyon University,” said Derek. She currently runs track for the university. The have also sponsored the Arizona Cheetahs track club and the Chandler High School track and field team.
In the near future, UrbanAZ may become even more a family business. Their son, DJ, is currently studying business. Once he has finished his education, they would like for him to take UrbanAZ to new heights.
Right now they have several people that they’ve worked with who continue to help make their events great. Sandra Dominguez is their event photographer and Genaro Delgadillo is the videographer. Tracy Livingston does show management and 2ToneThaSupastar (Michael Johnson) hosts while DJ Type 2 spins records. Terry Rowan handles transportation and security. Norine Richardson is the main caterer.
Vivian says she wants UrbanAZ to be remembered as a “quality company who cares.” They commit to having affordable ticket prices and they want customers to feel confident that they will get what they paid for, which is an excellent show and a good time.