Fest Producers Jazz It Up

For the first time in its 35-year existence, the two-weekend New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival has expanded its promotion and advertising to a national level. The change was prompted by a newly formed partnership between founder Festival Productions and AEG Live.

Prior to this year’s April 22nd kickoff, producers placed ads in The New York Times, Village Voice and the LA Weekly. Newspaper ads also ran in Chicago, Austin, Dallas, Houston and other major U.S. cities, according to Jazzfest’s Louis Edwards.

“That was absolutely one of the key initiatives for moving the festival forward after last year,” Edwards told Pollstar. “We knew we needed to do this as part of the rejuvenation of the festival.”

Jazzfest experienced financial difficulties after tourism dipped following the 2001 terrorist attacks. Another blow was last year’s rain-dampened event that lost more than $800,000. The situation led to the recruiting of AEG Live as a partner.

Along with print ads, Jazzfest producer Quint Davis appeared on radio talk shows across the country and the festival’s new Latin Day was promoted through Spanish-language media. Musicians performing at the 10-day festival also talked up their sounds on CNN.

Performers at this year’s event included the Dave Matthews Band, James Taylor, Nelly, Brian Wilson, Widespread Panic, B.B. King, Elvis Costello, The Original Meters Reunion, Juanes and many more.

Meanwhile, another promotional tool used was e-mail blasts to databases of festival- and concert-goers, a suggestion brought up during a festivals panel at this year’s CIC.

“We have a very good fanbase online,” Edwards explained. “We definitely reached out to that base with promotions. We also did more Internet promotions in general – not just with our site. We worked with JamBase and others in ways we hadn’t done before.”

While pumping more money into advertising, the festival also dipped deeper into the pockets of patrons who didn’t buy tickets early and those who wanted special treatment.

Last year’s ticket prices were $20 in advance and $25 at the gate. This year, $20 tickets were available until February 22nd, then prices went up to $25 in advance and $35 at the gate. Jazzfest also added more expensive “Big Chief Experience” packages, with private seating at major stages and access to air-conditioned VIP lounges.

“We’ve always known that the festival was an amazing bargain, and that’s widely accepted,” Edwards said. “We still believe the price is very reasonable.

“We have 12 stages of music programming all day, and [concert-goers] pay more than our gate prices to see one performer.”

Davis said advance ticket sales did well but, overall, attendance would depend on the weather. Going into the festival’s second weekend, Edwards described the days as clear and beautiful.

With its new partnership, Edwards believes this year’s festival and next will only see improvements.

“We’re festival producers and we’ve done this for more than 30 years, so we certainly brought the knowledge of the culture,” Edwards said. “AEG brought a certain business acumen … and access to certain talent. We thought it was a great fit and we’re looking forward to improving the festival and taking it to the next level with AEG.”

Mitchell Peters