Tollett Talks Festivals

Panorama, the newest festival in the New York City market, wasn’t expected to sell out in its first year – but that’s okay, AEG Live’s Paul Tollett told the New York Times in a wide-ranging interview published this week.

“We’re not going to get there,” he told the Times. “That’s totally fine.” He wouldn’t give the Gray Lady an attendance estimate, but the three-day Randall’s Island festival has a capacity of about 40,000 per day.

Tollett, the man behind Coachella Music & Arts Festival and Stagecoach, knows a thing or two about staging a massive festival. Panorama debuts July 22-24 with a lineup including Arcade FireKendrick LamarAlabama ShakesLCD Soundsystem and all the accoutrements expected from a high-profile fest, and then some.

And it’s got competition for eyeballs and dollars from Live Nation, which staged the annual Governors Ball on the same site in June. Tollett tells the Times there’s plenty of room for everyone.

“Some people might think that New York doesn’t need festivals. But London is just as cool as New York, and probably a million people go to festivals there, if you count Glastonbury, Reading, Wireless, Hyde Park. It’s big numbers,” he said.

at the Pollstar Awards

Tollett said he wasn’t focusing on marketing as much as making Panorama an experience that festivalgoers will remember and tell their friends about, and letting the event grow organically. He cites technology that will “really turn heads.”

“We have this thing called the Lab,” Tollett told the Times. “It’s a very large dome inside where technology exhibits are going to be. There’s a lady named Emilie Baltz who has the Cotton Candy Theremin. It projects onto the dome, and it’s interacting with sound and visuals. People are going to see that and think, ‘I want to see that each year.’”

Tollett also discussed AEG Live’s upcoming Desert Trip – the blockbuster concert weekend at the Indio, Calif., site of Coachella and Stagecoach fests and featuring The Rolling StonesPaul McCartneyThe Who and other heritage superstars. But don’t call it a festival.

“That is a unique, one-off thing. It’s not really a festival – it’s a concert, two bands a day,” he told the paper. “I just thought those six bands should play together. It’s never been done. It turned out to be the highest-grossing show by far. It beat No. 2, which is Coachella, by far. The gross is approximately $160 million for the two weekends.”

Despite the estimated gross, he declined to say if he expects Desert Trip to be profitable, saying only “that was the intent.”

Maybe it’s Tollett’s laid-back, Southern California demeanor or he’s just being coy, but the promoter insists he’s not worried about what the other guys are doing in a festival market that is showing signs of saturation.

“I read these press releases from all festivals, ‘This is going to refine, this is going to be the best,’ blah blah blah. They all sound so cocky. I understand you’re trying to sell, but it just sounds like everyone is bragging,” Tollett told the Times. “Instead of all of us bragging, we should probably just do our shows and let people see if they have a good time. In my opinion, if you go to Panorama, you’re going to have a good time, and you’re going to want to come back.”