Festival 411: Prime Social Group Weathers 2020, With Cancun, More Breakaways In Store

Adam Lynn
– Adam Lynn
Prime social group co-founder Adam Lynn on site at the Charlotte Motor Speedway with videographer James Cooke. The drive-in show was just one of the company’s 2020 events, which Lynn said felt more exhilarating and exciting than ever, considering the circumstances.

2020 was supposed to be a big year for Columbus-based Prime Social Group, the promoter/producer known for its multi-city Breakaway Festivals and destination events that number into the tens of thousands of fans on site per night. 

Branching out to San Diego and Washington D.C. and attracting major new sponsors, PSG co-founder Adam Lynn felt COVID’s impact 
as heavily as just about anyone.
“There were the stages of denial, like when someone passes away,” says Lynn, who at barely over 30 years old has established Prime Social Group as one of the largest independent festival producers in the U.S. “At some point you just accept it. But I took it particularly hard in the sense that I really didn’t think we were going to recover. I’ve had sort of a dream career – to be a successful entrepreneur in concert festivals, something you love to do – and there were many times this year that I thought that the dream’s up. I’m not just saying that. It was like, ‘How do I take my talents elsewhere?’”
But thanks to some money he was previously able to raise for PSG and some necessary pivoting in the live space, including large shows with Quinn XCII and Chelsea Cutler – the dream lives on. Lynn and partner Zach Ruben were even able to announce the inaugural Breakaway Beach 2021 with an all-inclusive travel package to Cancun, music lineup led by Louis The Child and more than 3,000 tickets already sold for the June event.
Pollstar: Everyone seems to have been in the middle of something when COVID hit.
We did the Broad Fest festival in Barcelona, a really cool international festival that happened in March. That’s when people were really starting to take COVID seriously but still not that seriously. 
This is really all I know. I dropped out of school to pursue my dream to be in this industry. To then find out in 2020 it’s illegal for me to do my job, my job is bringing people together for unbelievable experiences, and I have the greatest job in the world, but that job is now illegal, so what do you do? As a small business owner specifically in the festival industry, you have to become a really good problem solver. I don’t have big budgets, but I’m trying to produce events on a scale of a Live Nation or AEG who are my competitors. You have to learn to solve and figure out things in super challenging situations with a small team. Now, for the first time, there’s no solution for this, and it’s out of my control.  I had a show where the garbage collectors didn’t show up on the Friday for a two-day festival. You roll your sleeves up and pick up the trash! I had to call my buddies from the military to fill in for security. There are ways to solve problems and I’ve gotten good at that, and this is the first time in what I hope to be a long career where there’s no answer and there’s nothing I can do. I think that was a moment. Fortunately we were able to pivot.
The drive-in shows helped a lot of people get through 2020, with needed work for crews, real in-person concerts for fans and desperately needed stage time for artists. But they weren’t easy either.

Charlotte Motor Speedway
– Charlotte Motor Speedway
Prime Social Group’s 2020 drive-ins included the Charlotte Speedway. The NASCAR track was a perfect fit in knowing how to move a lot of vehicles in and out of large spaces, and the venue will serve host as the next Breakaway Charlotte location as well.

It was a little bit of  a saving grace for us. There was some revenue, and putting some people back to work. 
 We had the conversation, if this goes wrong, everything we’ve built will be tossed out the window. Honestly it was just a calculated decision. If we don’t try and get some sort of revenue, there won’t be anything to save anyways, so we took a shot and it was successful, and no one got sick and we were one of a few groups that went and did it. 
I felt more accomplished putting on a drive-in than producing a 30,000-person festival. Maybe it was just because I had missed it too much and it was so exciting and exhilarating again. But we were also solving new problems. I’d never done this before. 
You did shows at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, selling out up to 1,400 cars, but your hometown market Columbus was a different story.
We built our own venue in Columbus, we took the outside of an old mall, it’s been vacant for years and years. We begged the owner to let us produce this thing, and then the city said we couldn’t do it, we hired some lawyers that said, ‘Hey you can.’ We ended up doing 20 shows out there – all different genres. Rock shows, Chase Rice (country,) Major Lazer (EDM) – shows I would never get because I’m not a rock or country promoter. But people want to play, and in Columbus specifically we had the only real drive-in venue – agents I’d never even heard of had started hearing about us. The Charlotte thing was kind of easy because the infrastacture was there, but this was literally a shitty parking lot outside a mall that’s been vacant for a decade. The dressing room is inside an old Sears (laughs). It’s the year of figure-this-shit-out and people working with each other. Hey, I’m not going to fulfil that bottle of 1942 on that rider, but I got you a bottle of Avion.
Are you able to plan much about 2021 yet? Are there more drive-ins or do you wait for in-person festivals? 
It’s funny because everyone’s an expert and wants to be an expert. But I know I’m not an expert. What I really don’t want to do is start announcing and then canceling and rescheduling. Not only is that bad for the brand but it’s really bad for consumers who were getting excited and planning travel and buying tickets. I don’t want to start collecting anyone’s money until we know what the world looks like. Fortunately for Breakaway, at least we’re toward the end of the year, and have multiple markets. I am going to wait to the point where I can announce. I  want to wait as long as I can to announce what I will do this year. That will be anywhere from one festival to four festivals.

Quinn Drive-In
– Quinn Drive-In
Quinn XCII and Chelsea Culter performed a run of shows for Prime Social Group, with Lynn having booked the now red-hot artist on his very first gigs.

Let’s hear about Breakaway Beach in June, which isn’t all that far off. 

It’s a partnership with a new curated travel company called Pollen, who have done things with artists like Ozuna and Dustin Lynch. We chose Cancun because it’s an all-inclusive resort experience. First off, anyone that buys a ticket, there’s 100% COVID insurance with refund included. As it gets closer if we don’t think that it’s safe and doesn’t make sense, we always have the ability to postpone. But I think we’ll be able to pull it off. It’s going to be a blast. A big part of it is when you get the artist to come and hang, at the resort, at the pool – that’s why some of these cruises have done so well. For the artists it’s less of a show, they’re almost on vacation too like the fans. I’ve never been more excited about an event. The presale sold out at 1,000 tickets, with 3,000 tickets sold during the general onsale. If the show is able to happen, no doubt it’ll sell out in the first year. We were actually contemplating a second weekend but should probably just take the W. 
Do you see business being done differently from a promoter standpoint post-COVID 19? It seems that anyone with a venue or event to play now has a little more leverage than usual.
One thing learned I’ve learned is people have short memories (laughs). When COVID is a thing of the past, agents will be agents and managers will be managers and it is a cutthroat business. You build an artist and build careers but money talks. I’m a soft guy and I’m someone who loves to love people, but you get toughened up really quick in the music business. My guess is we’ll see a period of maybe 12-18 months where maybe the tables have turned and promoters have leverage with more artists dying to play. Agents and artists I would be chasing to get on the phone are now chasing me. But I’m a realist and I know that’s a short window. This will stabilize and with stability comes the shift of power and agents love all the power and we’ll start getting gouged again (laughs). I guess we’ll just enjoy it while we got it.