A Grandoozy Of A Festival Season? New Events, Strong Overall Business Suggest Growth

Bonnaroo 2017
Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic / Bonnaroo Arts & Music Festival
– Bonnaroo 2017

The festival market in 2018, thankfully for all, is absurdly robust. While long-established major fests like Coachella, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza continue to thrive (and in Lolla’s case expand globally) and events like Governors Ball approach their second decade, a steady stream of successful new events mirror the overall concert business: growth and sophistication at all levels, from boutique indie events to mammoth endeavors from the big guns of the business.

2017’s total of more than $338 million from Pollstar’s Top 20 Festivals chart shows sizeable growth from most previous years, with major grosses at new events like Live Nation’s Classic West at Dodger Stadium ($17 million) and Classic East at Citi Field ($16 million) and growing events like Life Is Beautiful in Las Vegas, which in its inaugural 2013 grossed $3.7 million and in 2017 was just shy of $17 million for Another Planet Entertainment.

There may be no better microcosm of this heated-up festival market than Colorado. The just-announced Grandoozy festival takes place at Denver’s Overland Park Golf Course Sept. 14-16.

Superfly co-founder Jonathan Mayers says the event, with consulting from AEG Presents’ Rocky Mountain office, has long-term plans.

“The first year is to build a foundation,” Mayers told Pollstar. “But these are investments and we plan these things thinking about the long-term, so that’s the expectation we have.”

The inaugural Grandoozy expects tens of thousands of fans per day with four music stages and will emphasize “a great lineup, themed attractions, the location, the branding and ID, the voice – all of those things that I think makes a Superfly event a little different.” The star-powered lineup is diverse, headlined by Kendrick Lamar, Florence + The Machine, and Stevie Wonder and supported by major artists including The Chainsmokers, Logic, Sturgill Simpson, St. Vincent, and Miguel.

Along with the tunes, Grandoozy promises a celebration of Denver culture with multiple experiences including “Devour Denver” for foodies, a craft beer lineup and an ’80s Ski Lodge. Mayers says a good comparable to Grandoozy is Outside Lands in San Francisco, which Superfly co-produces with Bay Area promoter Another Planet Entertainment.

Outside Lands was the second-highest festival gross reported to Pollstar in 2017, at just under $28 million and more than 210,000 tickets sold. Although Denver has always been a vibrant music market, the city hasn’t had a festival on this scale since AEG’s Mile High festival at Dick’s Sporting Goods stadium, which last ran in 2010. “There is already a lot that comes there, so it was important to get on the ground there and understand it, understand what we’re going to present and how that could hopefully fill a void for the market,” Mayers said. “But you’re starting with a place where there’s a lot of music lovers, where people go and see a lot and that artists like to come to, so that’s a good place to start from.” Superfly isn’t the only promoter bringing a major festival to the Colorado market, as Live Nation just got approval to host its own country festival at The Meadows near Buena Vista over Labor Day weekend. Although

Live Nation told Pollstar only that details were forthcoming, the local press has the crowd size at 15,000 to 25,000 per day. The application cites a 2014 study by the University of Michigan that found that Live Nation’s Faster Horses country festival in a similarly sized town injected about $15 million to the local economy over its three days.

The kind of clout that comes from being affiliated with a major festival producer like Live Nation, AEG, Superfly and others may be more valuable than ever. Festivalgoers, while happier than ever to spend money on concert experiences, may be wary of events not associated with established players.

“[Failures like Fyre and Pemberton] probably gave the consumer more confidence in the longtime, branded festival that has been around for a decade-plus, and been going on well over many years,” said First Tennessee Bank executive vice president Andrew Kintz, who leads the bank’s Nashville-based Music Industry Group that finances everything from bus rentals to artist deposits. “It also probably helped AEG and Live Nation, and the companies that do this professionally, instilling more confidence in the festivals where they have a role.”

With expansion comes opportunities for artists, and maybe no better example is the rise of hip-hop-specific festivals like the mammoth Rolling Loud festival that started in Miami just three years ago and now has plans for global expansion, fielding a lineup of 50-strong solely rap artists. It seems to be simple supply and demand, with Rolling Loud’s independent co-promoter Matthew Zingler telling Pollstar that many popular artists just didn’t have an appropriate festival bill to join.

“None of these guys were getting on these [other] events and festivals,” Zingler said, specifically mentioning Lil Yachty, 21 Savage, and Kodak Black. “Being multi-genre, the allocation of capital goes toward other styles of artists as well. You can’t book as much underground and niche hip-hop as we do.”

First Tennessee Bank’s Kintz, who uses reports from lighting and sound companies, bus rentals as well as festival properties when coming up with fee structures and financing plans for clients, predicts strong growth this year.

“We’re looking at growth for our clientele in live music between 15 percent and 20 percent over last year – that’s gross revenues as well as net income,” he said. Although concert promoters are professional risk takers, Kintz says he has to be pretty close when making these calculations, laughing that “I cannot be wrong” and adding, “I’m so glad that the industry has matured to a point where it is run like a real business.”

Speaking on the greater festival landscape, Superfly’s Mayers admits “there are a lot of festivals” already but says, “We still believe there are opportunities for large-scale music festivals in certain markets, and also believe there is growth in different interpretations of the festival.

“Maybe at a different scale, or different theme, or a unique location,” Mayers said, mentioning the Colossal Clusterfest in San Francisco, in collaboration with Another Planet and presenting major comedians like Jon Stewart, Amy Schumer and Trevor Noah as well as musicians like Action Bronson and Salt n Pepa, both indoors and outdoors June 1-3.

“The ones that have a strong identity, that are programmed and operated well, that have a brand voice – and all of the extra stuff – we think those will survive and continue to thrive.” But for many festival promoters, they’re not necessarily thinking about brand identity. When asked about the Newport Jazz Festival and all that came after its 1954 launch, Wein, the ultimate festival veteran, is modest. “I didn’t think we were making history,” he said. ‘After we finish one, I say, ‘can we do it again next year?’”