Big In Peoria: The Boutique Boom & The Power Of Secondary Market Festivals (Pollstar Live! Panel Recap)

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Pictured L-R: Amy Mendoza, Thomas Turner, Rendy Lovelady, Shay Jasper, Sam Summers and Laurie Kirby, Esq.

What do blues, bluegrass, Americana, country and electronic dance music have in common? A lot more than one might expect: particularly in smaller markets. At Pollstar Live! on Feb. 22, Shay Jasper (co-producer and promoter at Trio Presents, LLC), Rendy Lovelady (who produces Gulf Coast Jam Presented by Jim Beam), Amy Mendonca (Artist Relations, Planet Bluegrass), Sam Summers (Festival Director, Hinterland Music Festival) and Thomas Turner (Founder of Relentless Beats) all discussed the trials, tribulations and successes found through their boutique events in a panel moderated by FestForums Conference’s Laurie Kirby, Esq.

While their events aren’t the state-wide takeovers found in some of the larger festivals, there is plenty of power to festivals tailored to a specific audience’s taste. Dedicated fans will continue to travel, and both artists and audiences feel as though they’re returning to a family reunion. And, for festivals like Lovelady’s beach-side Gulf Coast Jam, another headliner can be presented: the location itself.

“Leverage is our middle name,” Lovelady says of all that goes into their event. “You have a town that has 100,000 people and you bring that economic impact. It has power within the community.”

Still, the festivals need to ensure they can draw the crowds necessary for their larger headliners. Lovelady notes that with Morgan Wallen taking the stage, there is an expectation to have some 30,000 people in the crowd. But certain things take time before any festival can find its full groove.

“In the festival business, everything counts,” Lovelady notes. “We all have different philosophies, but the reality is the ultimate goal is to sell tickets.”

For Mendonca, whose festival takes place between St. Louis and Kansas City, radius clauses and lodging can become a struggle. Artists want to play the bigger markets, and for both those playing and those attending an event, it can be hard to find a place to crash once the show wraps up. As Planet Bluegrass begins celebrating its 50th anniversary, a new set of challenges has occurred.

“It’s very complex to plan the 50th lineup and still honor [the tradition of representing the legacy as well as keeping things fresh],” she said during the panel. “In some ways, I’m excited to move towards the 51st so we can show some of the new stuff. There are so many legacy acts in the bluegrass community that there aren’t enough slots. There may not be the most desirable slot to give them, which is unique in and of itself.”

When topics related to protecting a festival’s brand with insurance pop up, Kirby asks whether the pressure comes from external sources, or internally. Turner, who works with electronic dance music artists (a genre that carries stigmas surrounding drug usage) reassures that the need for protecting attendees has to come from within.

“You’re not going to be successful in this business if you think you’re going to skirt around things that relate to public community safety,” Turner stated.

And drugs aren’t the only issues surrounding safety. For Loveland, whose festival is surrounded by high rises, sharpshooters are now enlisted after the tragedy that happened in Las Vegas back in 2017. Crowd control was another issue that had been a hot topic at Pollstar Live! conference in 2019. The need to look out for a festival’s audience has always been necessary.

But, not only do those in the crowds need to be looked out for. The topic of what happens backstage was noted, too. While many of the panelists would sometimes book festivals based on which bands were friends with one another, making for a big party backstage, COVID-19 and other aspects have made that something to be rethought.

“I recall one particular incident where an artist was like, ‘Can you get these people out of here?'” Jasper said of one backstage party. “that was a shocking realization. Ever since we’ve been pretty intentional about what our backstage looks like. You want this to be on their terms. No longer is it an invite friends backstage.”