Meet The Bamboozle Man

John D’Esposito was destined to be a concert promoter. The founder of The Bamboozle, the New Jersey festival that mixes rock, pop and rap for a weekend at the Meadowlands Sports Complex has a knack, not only for picking bands that sell tickets, but for adding plenty of sizzle to the steak.

Sure, John D. wants to sell tickets, but he’s also extremely passionate about music. He loves discovering new bands, promoting established acts and inventing different ways of presenting them on the concert stage. He’s seen his Bamboozle festival grow from a couple of days in Asbury Park to filling the Meadowlands to becoming a brand in itself, with a California version as well as Chicago franchise and a concert tour. And you can bet he’s thought up more ways to extend the Bamboozle name since you started reading this.

We recently spoke with John D. about Bamboozle, and perhaps the most important thing we learned is that the festival reflects the man and the man is a concert promotion dynamo. Plus, as Bamboozle’s founder, he just might have the best job in the world. One thing is for sure – he’s definitely having the most fun.

Oh, and one more thing. He wants to kill emo.

But you can call him “John D.”

You’re known for Bamboozle, but what were you doing before you launched the festival?

Promoting firehall shows, doing artist development, working a band whose members, like myself, were eating combo packages at a Chinese restaurant.

What got you into concert promotion?

I used to play with Legos when I was a kid. I used to build stages and stuff. Just the whole fascination with rock ‘n’ roll. My parents were accountants, and damn good accountants at that. I just decided to not be one. After getting out of college I took a shot at Maritime Music, which was Billy Joel’s management company. Got my feet wet.

From there I went to another artist management company. Spent a year or two there. I then began promoting shows when my father got really sick.

He got cancer, so I had to promote some shows out of the back of his auto body shop. That’s how I started. I had to run the auto body shop.

I didn’t have any idea how to run an auto body business, but I knew I had to stay in business. The only way to stay in business was through promoting shows. It was easy, it wasn’t as time consuming as artist management. I was too young. I didn’t have a lot of connections. To earn my keep it was kind of like ‘show us what you can do for us.’

Photo: Greg Allen
Gwen Stefani entertains the crowd at The Bamboozle New Jersey.

Was Bamboozle your first festival?

No. I did Skate ‘n Surf back in 2003, 2004, that time period. That was kind of the basis for what I thought a festival would look like – the different aspects and different cultures colliding, and the recognition of artist development.

A lot of people don’t understand that I build my festivals on artist development. We try to develop from within. We have to import, obviously, for stature, numbers, statistics and the ‘wow’ factor. But it’s really built on a mechanism that was developed within that we can monitor through merchandise sales and new technology with the Web. And through our partnership with the company that does our Web site, we’re able to track bands and their growth and fan base a lot easier these days.

That’s where I think Bamboozle never got the credit it deserved. All the cool people, like the VIPs, the record label execs, they all go to Coachella but the A&R kids come to Bamboozle. And that’s what means the most to me.

From the Jonas Brothers to My Chemical Romance to Fall Out Boy, throughout all my festivals, that’s the basis of my relationships that I carry through to this day. And one of the most important parts of this business is where you came from.

Bamboozle has always offered one of the more inexpensive tickets for a multi-day music festival. How do you keep ticket prices down?

That’s why I get into a lot of trouble. We don’t think with a calculator. There’s a lot of development and there’s a lot more coming out of Bamboozle than a weekend’s profit. There’s a relationship.

There are touring deals through Live Nation, there are other shows that we get, there are relationships with managers, networking. So there’s a lot more than just cash that gets awarded by the festival. We’re able to see the future in one weekend.

When did Live Nation enter the picture?

They came in 2006. We had a canvas and they colored it in. Bamboozle wouldn’t be where it is without the resources that they brought in, from Dan Parise to Wayne Goldberg.

At no point did they ever hurt us, either, which is really cool. They allow us to get crazy. From the Evolution tribute band last year to the road show this year, expanding to bigger venues and the addition of Chicago this year – they’ve been nothing but supportive.

Photo: Greg Allen
The Bamboozle New Jersey

It sounds as if they provide the financial support, but don’t tell you how to run the show.

The character within the festival has been left alone. And that’s to Live Nation’s credit, because a lot of people probably wouldn’t have [done that].

There’s definitely the bickering as in any relationship. But it’s never anything but love between the two, because we both appreciate each other. What they bring to the table nobody could offer us at that point.

How did you come up with the name ‘Bamboozle.’

Two idiots from my past did some injustices. To ‘bamboozle’ means to pull the wool over your eyes and they got some well-deserved karma back at them.

It’s funny, because the name is what we try to be at Bamboozle – unexpected, a surprise. So it’s all-encompassing, the culture and the experience we try to provide and pursue ourselves. You just can’t be limited.

Are you the only festival that uses imaginary characters to promote itself? Such as issuing information under the alias ‘Willy Wonka’ or reports by an imaginary reporter named ‘Scoop?’

I think we are. That was a great relationship. Short-lived, but great. We’re unique. We can’t forget where we came from. The success that we got in our careers all came from our ability to program and create this festival. And it’s the love that we have for the fans and the fans have for us that makes it unique.

It’s a trend we don’t want to stop. We need to keep that in our minds. My wife says I’m 36 going on 19. And I’m not going to change that.

I’m always going to wear the T-shirt. What’s really cool with Live Nation is they don’t make me focus on Kenny Rogers. If I want to spend my night in a firehall, they allow that. They allow me to recoup driving and paying an $8 cover to see a band in a firehall. That’s where the importance is. I don’t need to be in the Beacon Theatre. I’m better off in the firehalls where the real talent is developing.

That’s the way we look at it. We don’t want to follow the trend. We want to set it.

Photo: Greg Allen
The Bamboozle New Jersey.

What’s next for Bamboozle?

I think this year we’re fascinated with the B-Boy element of life, the culture. We went to see the Red Bull BC One, which is a breakdance competition. The way B-Boy culture has developed is incredible. And it’s not on a huge level besides MTV.

So I think this year we’re going to put a little bit more infrastructure into the festival – put in an arena that’s dedicated to a B-Boy competition, and we’re hoping to offer one of the largest prizes in the country, which is about $10,000.

So we want to bring out the best B-Boys in the world and put them in front of our crowd, because we think our crowd will eat it up. We could spend $30,000 putting together a dance tent that will be used in bulk hours of the festival, which is like 7:30 to 10:00 at night.

But from noon until 7:30, I have nothing in there. So why not put this thing in there that is going to light people up? This culture is going to be accepted and loved by mine.

That’s what we want to do – break barriers. One of our marketing campaigns – I want to take credit for this – is the death of emo. We want to kill emo at Bamboozle.

I think we started it, so we’re going to have like a Clue game. What instrument killed it? In what festival or what room was it killed in and by whom?

Did Fall Out Boy kill it? Did Little John kill it? We have to have that game. That’s going to be our last marketing campaign. Who killed emo?

Can you tell us a bit more about Hoodwink, the event scheduled for the night before Bamboozle?

Hoodwink means to bamboozle. We needed to come up with a third day. Our kids can’t bail out of school. Coachella people, they don’t have obligations Monday through Friday like we do. So we had to program something that our kids would be able to come from 5 to 11 p.m. at night. I couldn’t charge a full price, so I really couldn’t call it ‘Bamboozle.’

My friend [concert promoter] Ron Delsener, who’s like my mentor, after the first year of trying to [present bands] under fake names. Bands would come and play under fake names. Kids would have clues to figure out, and they’d get this concert.

It didn’t really work, but the idea and concept did really well. So we decided to do tributes, because every band has a favorite band. And it’s another way for the people to enjoy the experience of Bamboozle in a unique setting.

Every band tributes another band. This year it’s pretty funny because we have a band tributing a band that is actually playing next to them. And then that band is being tributed by the other band that’s tributing Weezer and doing their album, Pinkerton, in full. It’s like Jurassic Park where things are working out that shouldn’t have.

“There’s a lot of development and there’s a lot more than what comes out of Bamboozle than a weekend’s profit.”

Would Bamboozle be as successful as it is without the Internet?

I think Bamboozle was successful because we caught on to the Internet at a time when a lot of people didn’t appreciate it as much. We built this festival on MySpace, on Absolute Punk and every message board that would hear us. Without the Internet, I don’t think the scene would be as plentiful as it is.

Obviously, what happened is that it diluted the middle. We’re top-heavy and bottom-heavy.

We had bands that were worth people and now those that rose above it are on the top doing 10s and 12s, and the bands that weren’t able to break that next record, whatever, fell into the 500, 600 capacity.

There’s so much competition. That’s probably why the 3,000 capacity shows are hurting. It’s harder for bands to get to that next level because there’s so much competition.

To say Bamboozle is successful is almost an understatement. It’s a constant sell-out, year after year.

To a degree we’re limited. We’re not Coachella. We don’t have bankrolled budgets. We have to strategically pace our headliner to see who’s reacting at the right time. We’re built up by the parts. It’s the sum that makes it whole.

We play from a different philosophy than the other guys. We can’t do over 40,000 people. If we did more than 40,000 people it would be a miracle. Our scene can’t support that. The pop world can’t take three days of hanging out in a field.

What’s your demographic?

This year we’ll probably see the oldest we’ve seen in a long time. Our diehards are 14 and this year we’re probably going to welcome back a lot more people than we ever had with MGMT and Weezer, say about 26.

But I think those kids are probably kids that took two years off.

I told Paul Tollett from Coachella that Bamboozle’s kids grow into Coachella fans. And I think this year we may be getting them back. We’re going to borrow them for a year. We’re having a reunion. We’re probably going to welcome back some people that felt they had outgrown it.

Regarding the majority of Bamboozle fans: Are they local? Do they travel 50, 100 or even 500 miles to attend the festival?

It’s probably because of the location of our venue being the Meadowlands, and being so centrally located, that we can draw fairly local. Bergen County, Essex County, even Monmounth County, a lot of Long Island. It’s so accessible and we do have that success from drawing within.

And I think because we’re not a camping site, we don’t have a lot of tourists coming in.

Photo: Greg Allen
The Bamboozle New Jersey.

Why don’t you have camping?

We can’t do that. Our parents have enough trust in us to take their children for 8 hours a night. We’re professional babysitters for three days a year.

Are you strictly involved with the New Jersey Bamboozle or are you involved with all Bamboozle projects, such as the California Bamboozle and the Bamboozle tour?

We do it all. It’s a family-run organization. We have one Web guy that does all our Web sites. I’m the buyer for Bamboozle. I have some help for each market and on each project, but I listen and oversee every aspect of the festival with the help of a great team. Not only folks that are dedicated solely to Bamboozle, but from Live Nation as well.

There’s three of us full-time Bamboozle people.

Bamboozle sounds like a year-round job. Do you promote other shows?

I do, but it’s usually Bamboozle related where it’s a band I’ll strategically want to work with. We consult Six Flags on their summer concert series. That’s another thing that I think Bamboozle brought to the table – that I can be involved with them [Six Flags].

We’re able to exchange information and able to share feedback on who’s buzzing. They’re Bamboozle every day of the summer. I help them and they help us.

A lot of the stuff I try to get my hands is stuff that has the strategic goal of artist development.

What would be your dream lineup for Bamboozle?

Jay-Z would be one of the artists that would be on my ‘dream list.’ Pee Wee Herman. Boyz II Men is a band I try for every year. Every year I plead with those guys to do it.

Do you feel like the luckiest 36-year-old in the world?

I’m not done yet. I’ve got bigger dreams than this. We’re going places.

I’d like to continue doing artist development, but I’d like to try to repair the recording industry.

I’ve already been on the management side, I’ve been a promoter and I’ve actually released a record this year on my imprint, Linc Star, so I think we’ve all got to get together in one house.

Is there anything you’ve wanted to tell the world but no one has asked the right question?

People don’t appreciate the younger kids that try and book a local show or do a show, or do anything that supports the local music scene. It bums me out that a lot of those kids, because I was one of them, have such a hard time getting into the music industry.

I just wish there were a way that we could get a tool or someway to give these kids a better opportunity. Usually they get a bad experience, something happens and they get turned away.

I grew up in a town that didn’t have any clubs, and it was nearly impossible for me to get into the business. And just to see so many dreams not come true, that bothers me. I wish there were a way to tell all those kids out there to call me. Call me. I want to work for you.

“And it’s the love that we have for the fans and the fans have for us that makes it unique.”

“The Bamboozle New Jersey” runs May 1-2 at the Meadowlands Sports Complex and features performances by Paramore, Weezer, Drake, Hanson, Bullet For My Valentine and The Aquabats. “The Bamboozle California” in Anaheim at Angel Stadium is March 27-28 and features AFI, Angels & Airwaves, Say Anything, Circa Survive and Chiodos. Hoodwink takes place at the same venues on the night before the festivals begin.

“The Bamboozle Chicago”, scheduled for May 15 at Charter One Pavilion, has Something Corporate, Cobra Starship and 3Oh!3 on the lineup while “The Bamboozle Road Show” lineup includes All Time Low, Boys Like Girls, LMFAO, Good Charlotte and Hanson. For more information on all things Bamboozle, click here for the official site.