Talking Governors Ball: Q’s With Jordan Wolowitz, Founders Entertainment

Clarion Call Media
– Jordan Wolowitz

Today marks the kickoff of the eighth annual edition of New York’s destination music festival Governors Ball,  which was initially founded by a couple of 20-somethings in New York who wanted to see their beloved home city get a successful music festival.

Jordan Wolowitz and Tom Russell joined forces to put on the first Governors Ball in 2011, which featured Girl Talk, Big Boi, Passion Pit and Empire Of The Sun. Things have come a long way since then, as in 2017 there was a study showing the festival generated $62.4 million in benefits to the New York economy.

Governors Ball is now preparing to jump off in the city’s Randall’s Island with headliners including Jack White, Travis Scott, and Eminem, who hasn’t played a major gig in the market for the better half of a decade.

The festival is run by Wolowitz and Russell’s

Wolowitz took some time to chat with Pollstar while the grounds were being set up to discuss the evolution of his company’s signature festival.

You must be excited watching the stages go up, feeling the anticipation before 150,00 people show up. Does it ever get old?

It’s exciting every year. We work year-round on this festival. It’s the biggest festival in the biggest media market in the country so it takes up a lot of our time. But once you get out on site, it’s always exciting to get back out here and to see everything come to life again.

Are there any new milestones in this year’s edition that stand out?

The first thing that stands out, that people will see when they get onsite, is we’ve rearranged not only the stage layout, but we have some brand-new stages. We have a whole new tent that can handle high-level production. And our third outdoor stage, we call it the Bacardi stage now, is another bigger, better stage. The production is better, the layout is different, and I think people will be excited to see it every year.

We’re excited to have every artist at the festival, but Eminem is an artist that we’ve chased since we started, basically. To have him playing at the festival is a really big deal. He hasn’t played a big show in New York City since 2010 when he played Yankee Stadium with Jay-Z, so it’s been a long time coming.

Governors Ball 2015
Daniel Zuchnik / WireImage
– Governors Ball 2015
Governors Ball Music Festival at Randall

Can you talk about how you secured Pusha T to replace Brockhampton?

Unfortunately, Brockhampton had to drop out, they had to pull their whole tour for the month of June and we’re disappointed they can’t play.

We were able to lock in Pusha before the whole thing with Drake happened, it was right after he released that amazing album and we are super excited to have him at the festival.

Cara Lewis is Pusha’s longtime agent, and I’ve worked with [her] on a number of acts over the years. She has Eminem, Travis Scott, Vic Mensa, Khalid, she has a number of artists already playing at the festival and she is one of the best agents in the business.

Pusha was the first very first person I thought of when I heard Brockhampton had to drop off and she made things happen very quickly. I give her the credit.

You came up at Paradigm, ICM under Marsha Vlasic? Can you talk about that experience?

I left before I ever got far enough to be an agent, I was Marsha’s assistant when I left to start Founders Entertainment. Tom Russell is my business partner and he and I have been friends since high school. We’re both from the New York City area and it was always our goal since high school to do the first big, successful NYC music festival. That was always our goal, but my backup plan would have been to be an agent.

So the goal was always to do Governors Ball?

To bring our hometown its first big sustainable annual music festival, it was always Tom and my North Star if you will.

Can you talk about what it was like starting a festival when you were so young?

We started when we were 26 years old and it took people in their mid-20s to launch a successful festival in New York because we were producing an event for our friends basically, for people our age. We knew the right artists to book, the right way to market it and brand it. I think our age at the time had a lot to do with the early success.

So the ticket price this year is $305 GA. That’s certainly not the most expensive festival ticket out there, but not everyone has that much lying around. How do you settle on the price?

We try to price it as fairly as possible. It’s expensive to produce a festival anywhere, but especially in New York City, from the labor and the stagebuilding, to the artist – nine out of every 10 artists, their best selling ticket market is NYC, especially in the contemporary space. It is an expensive proposition. But we want to price it as friendly as possible so as many people as can come to the festival.

We have a payment system where people don’t have to pay all at once, they can pay over the course of winter and spring and buy your ticket in January and pay every month in installments, which is good for college kids who don’t have $300 to drop right away. Also, because we’re a city festival we offer an allotment of single day tickets.

How do you handle radius clauses?

Every case is different. Every contract, every negotiation is different. All artists are paid different fees, of course. But I’m conscious of the fact that this is NYC and all artists, especially the developing ones, need to come in to play in between the January-June period during which we are marketing the festival. If you look at the artists that are playing GovBall, a number of them have played already in the city already this winter and spring. We will promote the show or co-promote the show.

Jack White had an album come out earlier this spring and he did album release show at a club that we co-promoted. Brockhampton dropped out, that’s a bad example, but we did three nights with them at Irving Plaza because they were a young, developing act that was blowing up and we didn’t want to stay out of the market. Kelela. There’s a number of examples of us collaborating with the artists in between to let them develop and continue to grow their fanbase in city.

Would you ever expand the Governors Ball Presents shows?

We’re capable of expanding it. It’s really just a case-by-case basis.

Can you speak on your relationship with the city?

We have a great relationship with the city. As the festival was growing over the years, they took pride in the way that they were working with a local, homegrown small business. When we started this there was just three or four of us that really grew it organically over time. I think, from the mayor’s office to parks department, we always worked hand-in-hand with them to grow the festival responsibly. They liked that they weren’t dealing with promoters that weren’t based in some other part of the country, but they were dealing with a local, homegrown business that they could be proud of.

Can you speak on what its like to be owned by Live Nation? Has anything changed?

We partnered with Live Nation in spring 2016. In terms of on the ground level, it’s still Founders Entertainment running the show. If you come by our office in East Village in Manhattan, there’s 10 of us working full time on the festival. We’re a part of the Live Nation family, and we’re very happy about that partnership, but on the day-to-day level it’s still run like a small business.

Live Nation wanted to partner with some of the good festival promoters for a reason, because we’re good at what we do, and they let us do our thing. They’re very supportive partners.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced over the years?

The biggest challenge is always weather-related. It’s the one and only thing as festival promoters that’s totally out of our hands. The day that happened was disappointing, but it was because of safety. It wasn’t even due to wind or rain, it was due to lightning risk. That’s when people’s safety is at stake and we don’t want to put the fans’ health and safety at risk and we are always super considerate of that.

Right, but some fans will be outraged if the weather turns out to be fine, as
happened in Sunset Music Festival recently.

It makes them look bad if the weather is nice, but at the same time what if someone is standing outside in a puddle and  a bolt of lightning hits them? It’s unfortunate, but any veteran concert promoter will have to deal with that at some point. It’s just the cost of doing business.

Is there anything else you want to add?

We’re very excited, as always. It’s an honor that’s never lost on us to bring the biggest and best music festival in our hometown to the fans every year.

Governors Ball Music Festival is being streamed live on Twitter and starting at 4:45 p.m. EST today.