Act Your Age! A Wave of California Music Fests Caters To The Adult In All Of Us

Adult Super Vision
Courtesy BottleRock Napa Valley
– Adult Super Vision
BottleRock’s Skydeck provides a ‘truly elevated experience’ and is one of five VIP tiers offered at this year’s festival.
Last year, on a perfect cloudless Saturday in late-May in the heart of California’s idyllic Napa wine country, a gaggle of fans – many middle-aged – are perched high atop BottleRock Festival’s VIP Skydeck. They sipped all-inclusive craft beers, cocktails and, of course, fruits of the vine and ate gourmet comestibles while taking in the sounds of artists they’ve grown up with including Ben Harper and Ani DiFranco.

Here, before the headliner, the late Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, took the stage, there were a myriad of options for the well-heeled fan to while away the day. This included acoustic performances at the VIP Village by the likes of Fitz & The Tantrums, Warren G and Strumbellas among others; or a stop at the Sutter Health Wellness Spa, which offered “hair styling, makeup design, massage and hydration treatments;” Or, if they so desired, at the Williams Sonoma Culinary Stage they could take in a demo by a celebrity chef, say, Martha Stewart with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, who re-created a caramel chicken recipe from M. Diddy’s subscription meal kit.
This is clearly not the mobbed and miserable marathon-like music festival experience these same fans experienced 20-plus years earlier, nor is it their children’s festival experience.
“We try to provide something based around what a consumer really wants regardless of age,” BottleRock’s Justin Dragoo, one of three partners in BottleRock parent company Latitude 38 Entertainment, tells Pollstar. “It’s not that we’re focused on an older consumer, we’re just focused on generally what people want.”
And judging by BottleRock’s 2018 offerings, which includes no less than five VIP tiers – ranging from the 3-day VIP pass for $749 to the Ultimate Platinum Experience for $16,975 per couple for four days through Meadowood Napa Valley – it’s all about comfort and class of which there’s a growing market.
With the tail end of the Baby Boomer generation now in their mid-50s and the youngest of the Gen Xers now in their 40s, these music-centric generations who came of age with the modern music festival are hitting their peak earning years with demand for more comfy and luxe festival accommodations. According to a Pew Research Study, Boomers in 2018 account for roughly 73 million Americans while Gen Xers are some 66 million strong. Together this more established demographic wants a hassle-free festival and they want it now.

First, however, they want music of their own generation. A study of three of this year’s adult- accommodating fests – BottleRock, KAABOO Del Mar in Calfornia, and Arroyo Seco in Pasadena, Calif. – all feature younger-minded EDM and hip-hop; but also programs heavy doses of music from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.
KAABOO, in its fourth year, just announced this past week Robert Plant, Foo Fighters, Blondie, Slash, and Alice In Chains; Arroyo Seco is led by Neil Young, Robert Plant, the Pretenders, and Alanis Morissette among others; and BottleRock has Earth, Wind & Fire, Billy Idol, the Beastie Boys’ Mike D, and Incubus.
The lodestar for this growing trend was Goldenvoice’s 2016 record-breaking Desert Trip. Dubbed “Oldchella,” the two weekends featured Boomer icons Dylan, the Stones, Paul McCartney, Roger Waters, The Who and Young who helped set a record with a staggering $160.1 million gross from 75,000 fans each weekend. The salt-and-peppered nation made it clear: They aren’t going away anytime soon and are willing to lay it down for a lineup that speaks to them.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the average ticket buyer at Desert Trip was 51 and all merch – posters, shirts and all else – sold out each weekend. This capacity for consumption hasn’t gone unnoticed – especially by sponsors. 

Leave Them Kids Alone
Courtesy Arroyo Seco
– Leave Them Kids Alone
Arroyo Seco lets children under 10 in free with the Kidspace Children’s Museum providing a tent of kid friendly activities and parents the chance to chill.
“Because the demographic skews higher, you see higher-end brands,” says Marcie Allen, founder and president of MAC Presents. “You might see a higher-end luxury car, wine, liquor, clothing line, a watch company, brands that go to more affluent households. These brands are a shift from traditional music festivals.”

Allen cites Williams-Sonoma, which skews older, and Kaiser Permanente as BottleRock sponsors and Hendrick’s Gin’s involvement with Arroyo Seco as prime examples
Festival promoters, too, increasingly see the value of this demo. Goldenvoice, the promoters behind Arroyo Seco, learned from year one and according to festival director Nic Adler, it will be reflected in a much higher-end experience at the 2018 festival, June 23-24.

“One of the biggest things we did for VIP, besides being much bigger, is that you’ll be able to go from one stage to the other and never have to leave the VIP area,” Adler says. “We also worked on the Clubhouse VIP, which is an elevated VIP experience with L.A. mixologists, chefs coming in to do food and you get the use of the Clubhouse.”
KAABOO, meanwhile, is offering a whole “Indulgences” series, including massages, hot shaves and IV nutrient therapy (described as the “ultimate hangover therapy”). “We pride ourselves in really thinking through, taking our customers’ feedback, taking our brands’ fans’ feedback,” says Jason Felts, chief brand + marketing officer. “We really pride ourselves in programming this thing.”
All of that said, promoters are not in any way trying to alienate anyone, and the eclectic bills reflect that while wanting to attract the powerful and large Millennial and Gen Z markets with its coveted 18- to 25-year-old demo.
“It is an adult festival, but it’s adult meaning 18 to 80 because 18-year-olds appreciate iconic artists, but they may be going to see Halsey and Post Malone, Wiz Khalifa, and Katy Perry,” Felts said of Kaaboo.
“At the same time, older adults also appreciate everything,” says Goldenvoice’s Adler. “In this show we’re hitting a lot of different demos. Even though it’s an older demo you still have someone that’s 25 who loves to go to every single festival they can.”
In fact, a solid 50 percent of BottleRock attendees are 30 years old or less, according to the festival, and only 25 percent of attendees are 45 and over.
“We’re not trying to hit a certain trend,” Dragoo says. “We’re trying to say, ‘This is not trendy, this is something that can be a classic and live on for years if you appeal to a wide-enough demographic.’ So far we’ve been able to bring it to people of all ages and have a very high return rate.”
Monica Molinaro, a 27-year-old journalist who’s been to Coachella, Stagecoach and many other festivals, says she appreciates the varied approach at Arroyo and BottleRock. “They each have their own laid-back atmospheres and seem to pull from their surroundings,” she says. “It’s a welcome change of pace and scenery. The environments they create really set the stage for a weekend focused on art, food, drink and especially good hangs.”
This appreciation for musical diversity and quality of amenities extends beyond fans to the artists themselves. Incubus is playing both KAABOO and BottleRock this year and guitarist Mike Einziger, 41, says he looks forward to the gigs and the eclectic, cross-generational lineups.
“I love playing these festivals because it gives us an opportunity to perform with and hang out with other artists we would normally never come into contact with,” Einziger says. “At this point in our long career, it’s rare that we play in front of another artist’s audience … which for us, is both a privilege and a treat.”
Which is exactly what these promoters are aiming for. “We’re not trying to create a show where one artist dominates the entire show,” Arroyo Seco’s Adler adds. “It will happen and that’s how you sell tickets, but beyond the poster, my goal is how do you make this experience the festival headliner?”