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Rick Van Santen Passes Away; Promoter Advanced Punk Rock Bands

Rick Van Santen, a co-president of Goldenvoice, a Los Angeles concert promotion company that ushered punk rock from the fringes of the music scene to a wide audience, died last Sunday at his home in Ventura County of flu-related complications, his Goldenvoice partner Paul Tollett said. He was 41.

In the 1980s, a time when major promoters shunned punk because of its reputation as a violent subculture, Goldenvoice presented acts in large, established rooms with quality sound, such as the Hollywood Palladium and the Palace (now the Avalon).

“There cannot be any L.A. band since the early ’80s that was playing edgy rock that doesn’t owe Rick,” said Brendan Mullen, who operated the famed Masque punk rock club in the mid-’70s and helped guide Van Santen into the business.

Acts such as Jane’s Addiction, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Social Distortion and Nirvana are among the many whose careers were boosted by their association with Goldenvoice. And it was Van Santen, Tollett said, who cultivated the personal contacts that would sustain those relationships.

“His specialty was knowing every single band,” Tollett said. “I think Rick’s biggest accomplishment in life, what fully stands out, is his friendships. He stayed in touch with every person…. You couldn’t just do business with Rick. You had to become part of his friends network…. There were always loyalties [at Goldenvoice], but Rick really took it to a new height.”

Van Santen was born in Las Vegas and grew up in Northridge and West Los Angeles. As a student at University High School in the late 1970s, he fell in with the crowd surrounding the storied L.A. punk band the Germs, whose members Darby Crash and Pat Smear had also attended University High. He was soon selling T-shirts for another L.A. band, the Screamers. He also managed such groups as 45 Grave, and began putting on shows in local clubs.

In a posting this week on his website, veteran Los Angeles musician Mike Watt recalled Van Santen’s role in the progress of Watt’s band, the Minutemen, which recorded acclaimed albums for the punk-identified SST label.

“He loved the scene and fit in where he could make things work, like putting on gigs.” Watt wrote. In fact, when we were a labeled a ‘violent SST band’ … and couldn’t play clubs like the Whisky and the Roxy, “it was Rick who got the Minutemen to play there, opening for bands like Fear and X.”

Goldenvoice founder Gary Tovar hired Van Santen in 1985, and when Tovar was arrested on drug distribution charges in 1991, he signed over ownership to Tollett and Van Santen.

Even though alternative rock became big business in the 1990s, it was always a struggle to survive for Goldenvoice, an independent firm competing against rivals with national reach.

Despite the struggles, Goldenvoice enhanced its reputation as an innovative force by mounting the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio in 1999. The ambitious event, modeled on British and European music festivals, has become an annual event and one of the nation’s most admired music festivals. Less visible innovations included bringing alternative rock to venues in Hawaii and rock music of all kinds to Alaska.

Tollett and Van Santen sold Goldenvoice to the Anschutz Entertainment Group in 2001, but continued to run the firm within the corporate setting. Tollett said it was “a dream come true” for Van Santen, a lifelong hockey fan, to have the company purchased by the owner of the Kings hockey team and Staples Center. “Rick didn’t even ask how much,” Tollett said. “He was ready.”

Van Santen is survived by his parents, Diane and Robert, and a sister, Patty. Plans for services are pending.

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