All Eyes On BottleRock

BottleRock lives to see a second year with not only the issue of a special event permit, but the payment of debts left behind by the Napa, Calif., festival’s previous organizers.

With the final payment of fees still owed from last year’s BottleRock on May 16, the last permits were issued four days later.

Shortly after the gates closed on last year’s inaugural event, stories of unpaid workers, vendors and artists emerged and BR Festivals – headed up by Northern California businessmen Bob Vogt and Gabe Myers – was reportedly at least $8 million in debt.

Latitude 38, an investor group led by Napa resident David Graham, stepped up to purchase the festival name, pay most of its debts and promised to keep the event – popular with music fans but a financial disaster – going.

BottleRock throws open its gates May 30 through June 1 at Napa Valley Expo, getting the event permit May 20 after Latitude 38 paid the city of Napa $107,000 to satisfy the outstanding amount due for city services in 2013 and an additional $144,785 to cover present estimates, according to the Napa Valley Register.

Latitude 38 also paid the Expo in full the $800,000 price tag for use of the grounds for BottleRock 2014.

“We are happy that this piece of what is a rather large puzzle is finalized and approved,” Latitude 38 CEO David Graham told the Register. “We are simply doing what we said we would do.” They are also doing what the city and Expo required them to do in order to stage a second BottleRock.

In addition to making good on fees owed to public agencies, Latitude 38 agreed to settle other debts rung up by its predecessor. Approximately 120,000 fans attended last year’s five-day festival, which featured big musical names like the Black KeysZac Brown Band, and Kings of Leon as well as elaborate food and wine concessions. 

Yet it generated a gross income of just $11.2 million against expenses topping $20 million, according to the Register. Hundreds of vendors and 163 IATSE stage hands went unpaid. According to the paper, an estimated 175 creditors are still owed $4.5 million by BR Festivals, which filed for bankruptcy protection in February. Latitude 38’s principals – Graham, Jason Scoggings, Justin Dragoo and Joe Fischer, all of Napa – have no ties to BR Festivals.

The group announced in January it hired experienced industry hands in festival director Steve Macfadyen, who’s getting booking help from Billy Alan Productions’ Billy Brill. But even with the new owners and industry veterans on board to avoid any repeats of the 2013 fiasco, booking what may have been seen as a tainted brand presented its own share of challenges.

Not only were Graham and his fellow investors seen as outsiders to some agencies, the window to book and stage BottleRock without skipping a year was precariously narrow.

“It was really difficult to book the bands,” Graham told the Register. “It took time to build trust.” And time was in short supply – not only did Latitude 38 propose to book and stage a major festival with just four months’ lead time, but by February the available talent pool had already shrunk dramatically. Graham also learned another hard truth about the biz.

“The agents realize you are over a barrel. They come out of the gate with very high prices,” he told the paper, which led to “a lot of interesting moments to say the least.” He admits last year’s financial troubles forced him to pay a high price for some performers. “No doubt that with certain bands that was the case,” he said. “We know we overpaid for a couple bands,” which he declined to name. “Did we do that with every band? Hell no.”

William Morris Endeavor’s Marc Geiger is one agent who gave Graham and his partners a leg up, resulting in headline bookings for Eric Church and Outkast.

A last-minute booking of The Cure came just in time for the full festival lineup announcement.

Despite no shortage of naysayers and reports of deeply discounted tickets in the final month before the show, Graham told the paper that the booking process has already begun for BottleRock 2015.