Festival 411: Danny Wimmer Presents Overcomes Challenges For Strong 2021 Comeback

Steve Thrasher / Danny Wimmer Presents
– Aftershock
Gimme Fuel, Gimme Fire: Metallica was a big part of DWP’s big 2021, helping attract 145,000 attendees to Aftershock Festival in Sacramento, Calif., in early October. Steve Thrasher / Danny Wimmer Presents
“We started the year with three different business plans, which is something I never would have imagined,” said Danny Wimmer Presents CEO Danny Hayes onsite at Sacramento’s Aftershock Festival in October, which saw its largest crowds ever at 40,000 per day over the weekend and 25,000 on Thursday. “Each plan [detailed] how many festivals and which would happen. As luck turned out, we’re doing plan three.”

“We started the year with three different business plans, which is something I never would have imagined,” said Danny Wimmer Presents CEO Danny Hayes, onsite at Sacramento’s Aftershock Festival in October which saw its largest crowds ever at 40,000 per day over the weekend and 25,000 Thursday. “Each plan [detailed] how many festivals and which would happen. As luck turned out, we’re doing plan three.”
That plan entailed the newly partnered Inkcarceration Festival in Mansfield, Ohio, which sold out with 75,000 in attendance Sept. 10-12; its biggest-crowd yet for Louder Than Life in Louisville, Ky., with 160,000 total attendance Sept. 23-26; DWP’s biggest-ever Aftershock in Sacramento, Calif., which saw another 145,000 people onsite Oct. 7-10; and the upcoming 10th anniversary of Welcome To Rockville in Daytona Beach, Fla., Nov. 11-14.
“I think we’re just really fortunate that this is happening,” added Hayes. “We’re stoked to be back at work, doing what we love.” Challenges included the Delta variant and COVID protocols differing from market to market. A few marquee artists, such as Nine Inch Nails and My Chemical Romance, called off appearances because of COVID concerns, but Hayes said all involved parties were willing to do what it takes to put on safe and successful shows in 2021.
“It was very collaborative,” he says. “Everyone was trying to figure out what their policy would be, and we were able to take all that incoming information and kind of put together what made the most sense for everybody. And there certainly were fans you maybe had to make special accommodations for, if they were particularly vulnerable. Safety is top of mind for us in any year. Public safety is a tantamount, most important thing. For me at least, COVID was one more form of public safety.”
Fans at Aftershock had to take a wellness check before arriving at the gates, with a negative COVID test or vaccination proof required. Metalheads arrived from as far away as Edmonton, Alberta, to see their favorite artists in an environment known for top production, fan amenities and, of course, artists, with Metallica headlining Friday and Sunday night with unique sets. 
Metallica’s first Aftershock set was as mechanically sound and precise as its universally lauded recorded material, coming off nearly effortlessly but with a taste and quality that puts the band in its own separate category. Sunday night featured a full set of its record-setting self-titled “The Black Album” from 1991, which includes the ubiquitous  “Enter Sandman,” “Nothing Else Matters” and “The Unforgiven,” which at the time took the band from already metal immortality to household name. 
While COVID may “just” be one more layer of public safety, shows can’t happen without tight protocols and confidence from fan to artist to local government, putting a huge amount of responsibility on event organizers.
“It should be noted, a bunch of people did festivals this year, but not everyone is doing a great job as far as the atmosphere backstage, the safety protocols, managing this thing with a million moving parts and still making sure safety is at the toppest form and making sure it doesn’t feel like it was a mistake after it happens,” says Tim Borror, co-founder of the Sound Talent Group talent agency and longtime agent for rock and metal bands including Lamb of God, Clutch and many others. “But those guys [at DWP] were world class with it this year. It was really remarkable and has to be 100 times more work for them. Those extra layers of things you have to do to make sure it goes off without a hitch and nobody regrets having done it, it’s amazing. And it’s amazing to be able to do that with a festival that has 90 bands happening throughout.” 

Aftershock 2021
Nathan Zucker
– Aftershock 2021
Aftershock in Sacramento, pictured, was not the only big win for DWP this year, with Louisville’s Louder Than Life seeing its biggest crowd ever, 75,000 attendees for Inkcarceration Festival in Ohio, and Florida’s Welcome To Rockville celebrating its 10th year with four more festival days.
Just getting to 2020 was already a whirlwind for DWP, which saw a banner year in 2019 followed by the announcement of Metallica headlining two nights of five of its 2020 festivals and an investment from Ron Burkle’s Yucaipa Companies. Just weeks later, the news came that Metallica would miss two of its premier DWP festival plays while frontman James Hetfield continued recovery treatment. 
However, that all came to a pause when COVID hit, forcing all festivals to come down in 2020. During COVID, however, DWP kept up its fan and artist engagement with its own “Offstage With DWP” programming, livestream events, its own socially distanced amphitheatre series, and even drive-in tours for artists including Aaron Lewis and Sully Erna. DWP also opened a branding agency, called BrandMark, headed by agency branding specialist Maureen Valker-Barlow, who shortly thereafter made a deal with Dennis Arfa’s Artist Group International that represents clients from Elvis Costello to Metallica to Smashing Pumpkins.
Valker-Barlow’s role also included orchestrating a deal with Twitch, which has led to the dwpresents Twitch channel and program “That Space Zebra Show” that includes livestreamed performances, interviews and behind-the-scenes content, and has racked up more than 1 million live views on its first three festival streams.
Along with two nights of Metallica, Welcome To Rockville features Disturbed, Slipknot, A Day To Remember, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Lamb of God, Social Distortion, Mastodon and many others Nov. 11-14. The event will also be DWP’s first ever livestream on its Twitch channel,  featuring select performances, interviews and behind-the-scenes content at twitch.tv/DWPresents
“Nobody’s taking anything for granted, everyone is giving 110%,” Danny Wimmer Presents founder Danny Wimmer said in a statement. “There’s something special happening, not just with the bands’ performances, but the energy that the crowds are giving back. The rock ’n’ roll spirit is bigger than I’ve ever felt it. Welcome To Rockville is the grand finale of our festival season, and as a fan I can’t wait to feel that energy one more time in 2021.”