Behind the Music With Houston’s Biggest Rising Stars

Music With Friends
June 4, 2016


On set with Susie Criner and her daughter, Annie Criner Eifler, at Criner’s River Oaks home, you can’t help but admire the quiet grace of the duo. These are not your typical music-business impresarios. Criner’s sojourn into the world of agents, booking boldfaced names such as Diana Ross, began in the ’70s with the redevelopment of the Heights, which fortuitously resulted in the redevelopment of the Houston music scene and introduced Criner to the biz.

Her husband, Sanford Criner, was restoring homes and revitalizing business along Washington Avenue, including
 the former Heights State Bank Building that was adapted for use as a nightclub, Rockefeller’s, which opened in 1979.
The Criners felt the building was too grand to function as a neighborhood lounge and were thrown into the role of nightclub operators in order to make it viable.

They traveled to L.A. to introduce the venue to agents and managers and landed B.B. King, which resulted in more legendary bookings. The Criners went on to found music venues Fabulous Satellite Lounge and Club Hey Hey.

One night at Rockefeller’s, a customer approached Criner and asked if she could book the Four Tops — not only for the club, but also for his daughter’s debutante party. She delivered on the request, and Criner’s storied career in entertainment booking for deb parties, weddings and charity galas officially began.

Thirty-five years later, her company, Gulf Coast Entertainment, is the leading booking agency in Houston. Criner’s daughter, Annie Eifler, was recently appointed principal, and the company has relocated HQ to the River Oaks Bank Building. But it’s the launch of a completely new music scene, Music With Friends, that has proved 31-year-old Eifler’s professional prowess.

music with friends
Susie Criner and daughter Annie Criner Eifler | Photo by Joshua Anderson

In 2014, Criner launched the Houston edition of the private concert series created by Larry Farber in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2006. Farber devised the concept with a handful of friends who desired the ultimate music lover’s experience of small venues with high-level entertainment.

Farber reached out to friends in other cities and for years tried to get Criner on board. Criner loved the idea but felt stumped on the venue; it was difficult to find a space that could support nationally touring artists, allow for first-class catering and provide valet and comfortable seating for 500 members. Finally, Criner had an epiphany: The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts’ Zilkha Hall and Grand Lobby offered the whole package.

Eifler was working in the nonprofit sector at Houston Center for Literacy when her mom convinced her to start helping out with membership part-time. When Farber asked Criner 
if she knew of someone to act as the membership director, Criner said she did.

“I explained that my candidate for the job was the most motivated, organized, beautiful, fearless and poised person I knew,” she said. “When I told him she was my daughter, he didn’t miss a beat, hired her and is counting his lucky stars. I am, too — not only because Annie 
has made the club a great success,
 but because she is the shining face of everything I hoped it would be: genuine, good-hearted and fun.”

Criner and Eifler barely had to whisper the words before hundreds of friends signed up.

The MO for Music With Friends is
 as follows: A civilized cocktail hour precedes each show. Sippy cups are distributed so music and wine lovers
 can take a roadie into Zilkha Hall and
 sit (or dance, if the music warrants it) while listening to Tony Bennett, Lyle Lovett, Bonnie Raitt or Boz Scaggs (all of whom played in Houston last year) and Diana Ross, who appeared in February.

During the after-party at Artista adjacent to the Grand Lobby of Zilkha Hall, members rehash the show over food and drinks.

Music With Friends, Annie Eifler, 713.899.3473, annie@musicwith

Excerpt from PaperCity Magazine. See the full article here: