Goldenvoice SVP Danny Bell Talks Return Of ‘Personal Passion Project’

DB Press Shot 2022

Goldenvoice will soon welcome fans back to San Francisco’s Pier 80 for the second edition of Portola with an eclectic lineup and an upgraded experience featuring better sound, an improved layout and more spots to hang.
Danny Bell, who has been with Goldenvoice for seven years and was promoted to Senior Vice President in January, calls Portola a “personal passion project of mine.”

Following five years working at HARD Events, Bell did a lot of soul-searching about what he wanted to do next.

He explains, “After a trip to Europe and going to lots of the festivals over there, I decided I really wanted to bring a different style of an electronic-centric festival to the U.S. It’s something a little more adult, something a little different with the acts that I personally like because there really wasn’t anything like it over here. And when I started my time in San Francisco for Goldenvoice, it was great seeing the way that this market loves the same type of music … and [Portola] was a perfect fit.”

Topped by Eric Prydz and Skrillex, the Sept. 30-Oct. 1 event will feature sets from Polo & Pan, Labrinth, FKJ, Thundercat, Nelly Furtado, Rina Sawayama, Jai Paul, Carl Cox, Underworld, Major Lazer and more.

Pollstar: What can you tell readers about Portola’s location?
Danny Bell: It’s right on the water. It’s an active pier. It’s just a very cool site with a warehouse and shipping cranes, and ships surrounding it. If you’re looking at the main stage and you look to your right, there’s the entire downtown skyline. Turn around and you see all of the East Bay. And if you’re facing the main stage, you have the hills of San Francisco and Sutro Tower behind it. So it’s a really beautiful location to showcase the great natural landscape of San Francisco.

Any artists you’re especially looking forward to seeing on stage this year?
Jai Paul – being the music nerd I am, I’ve been a big fan for a long time and I never thought I’d see him live. And it’s just great that I get to bring him to San Francisco for the first time. Other than that, we have Underworld, 2ManyDJs and Basement Jaxx – three of my heroes and the main pioneers for the scene. Another focus that was important is being able to have a festival where the audience is just as excited to see them as they are for some of the younger acts like Barry Can’t Swim and Salute.

On top of that, it’s really great to be able to expand outside of electronic and bring in live acts that are fairly adjacent to the genre – what I consider progressive pop and people who push the envelope of their genres. I’m excited to have Little Sims there, who’s an excellent hip-hop artist from the UK. Also excited to have Thundercat [and] Nelly Furtado playing her first U.S. show in [more than 10] years.

Any key takeaways or lessons learned from the festival’s inaugural year?
Lots. … Some of the best production managers I know say they’re most excited to see what goes wrong Year One so [they] can make adjustments. We misoriented the warehouse last year. We were able to fix it for Sunday for easy flow, but we completely redesigned it this year. It’s a very special stage and infrastructure to have on a festival site, so it’s been important to us to fix it, so the fans can really enjoy it for what it can be.
Another big surprise last year was just how terrible the cell reception was there. We were hoping at our capacity that it wouldn’t be an issue and unfortunately, it was, so we’ve been working with the various cellular providers and a couple of Wi-Fi companies to make sure there’s connectivity on-site.

The other big thing was sound bleed both on-site and across the bay. I’m a big audiophile, and to me, the most important part about a music festival is to have good sound – you’d say, “Yeah, no shit.” But it really is. Last year we created great sound on-site but because of the layout we learned some lessons about placement of stages in the way that it impacts other stages. So that’s been something we’ve addressed. We actually brought on a full-time sound consultant to help us design and place the stages and then design sound very specific for each stage to eliminate the sound bleed. And then, on top of that, our sound traveled five to seven miles last year across the bay to Alameda, which resulted in a few upset neighbors, understandably. And so through the same sound consultant, we’ve been working hard on designing a sound system that will have a dead point. So hopefully we don’t disturb our neighbors across the bay again.

Anything else new this year?
We have a great art exhibit on-site that I’m excited about. Spotify is presenting it – it’s called “The Brilliant Sticker,” and it’s curated by Blurring Books, which is a New York City publishing house that is owned by DB Burkeman. He’s been in the scene for 30 years; he’s an absolute legend. It’s an art exhibit he’s toured to various museums around the world, and it’s all about displaying great art and music stickers throughout time … as well as rave flyers [from] across the country.

Other than the warehouse, we redesigned the crane stage. Last year it was a big hit. It was a great tent but we needed some more space for some live acts. So we’ve made it an open air stage that’s set up like an outdoor amphitheater right on the water.

And then our other main focus has been creating a lot of hang spaces for fans, places where they could sit and take a break, have a drink and some food. Those have been the big priorities for this year, and I hope those all turn out as well as we think they will. And then we can just find another five or six things to work on in the future years.