Founders of New York's Meadows Music Fest, Debuting This Weekend, Talk Queens Culture, Getting Kanye Back
Back in June, Founders Entertainment -- producers of New York’s first major music festival in Governors Ball out on Randall’s Island -- announced they would be launching another major contemporary music fest in the market, with the Meadows Music Festival.
Set for this weekend at Citi Field, the lineup for the inaugural event boasts The Weeknd, Kygo, Cage The Elephant, the 1975, Chromeo and, prominently, a New York makeup play for Kanye West, who had been booked to headline GovBall but was forced to cancel due to rain on that fest’s final day.
Though the launch was not without its hiccups, most notably that the fest's announcement cited a partnership with the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Alliance which did not exist at the time. Additionally, Flushing Meadows Corona Park had been the initial proposed location for the Goldenvoice-produced Panorama music festival, though that location was scrapped after Goldenvoice parent AEG Live was unable to secure the necessary permits, forcing Panorama to move to Randalls Island. The Citi Field location allowed Founders to plant a flag in the area, and the Meadows has overcome some PR glitches to sell a lot of tickets, according to its producers.
Billboard spoke with Tom Russell and Jordan Wolowitz, partners in Founders Entertainment (acquired by Live Nation earlier this year, as first tipped by Billboard) about how Meadows will find its place in the increasingly crowded New York festival marketplace.
Billboard: How did you land on Citi Field as the site for the first Meadows Music Festival?
Tom Russell: We thought about doing something cool and unique out on Governors Island, we thought about doing something on Randall’s Island, which we obviously have a long history with. We looked at Flushing Meadows Corona Park... we all know how that turned out.
Citi Field has a history of doing events, it’s in a part of town that’s very easy to get to; and it just seemed like the perfect space for what we were trying, what we wanted to do, and really was the best of what was available.
Did the Live Nation deal have any impact on launching Meadows?
Jordan Wolowitz: I’d say it gave us a little bit of momentum. Tom was already in the process of permitting the festival before the Live Nation deal was consummated, and I was already deep in the process of booking the lineup. Post-partnership, we’ve been in the loop with them on all the things we’ve needed, whenever we needed it, they’ve always been a good resource. This is a Founders Entertainment event, and we’re excited about it.
Was nailing down Kanye West a cornerstone of booking Meadows, given you lost his GovBall performance due to rain?
Jordan: The [Meadows] lineup was basically done before GovBall even took place. Obviously, when Sunday got cancelled due to weather, we hunkered down with Kanye’s team. They were deep into routing the tour that he’s on right now, and we were able to get everyone on the same page. It took a lot of work on everyone’s part, but to their credit, Daryl Eaton Kanye’s agent [at CAA], and Izzy [Zivkovic] his manager, were willing to move some things around in the routing to get him to come back to New York and do the festival. Kanye had a unique production set up for GovBall that he really wanted to use, and Meadows now is his only major festival appearance in North America this year. That came in at the last minute, and we’re really happy about it.
The New York market has gone from one major contemporary music festival to three in a year. Any concerns about saturation?
JW: Rather than getting dug into looking at it like that, we sort of look at it on a case-by-case basis. GovBall just had its fifth consecutive sellout, 50,000 [people] a day, so that’s obviously in a good place. And for Meadows, a first-year festival, we’re going to do between 85,000-90,000 over the two days. Sunday’s festival will be sold out at 50,000, and we’re looking at doing between 35,000 and 40,000 on Saturday, which is basically close to what Governors Ball does. Whether there’s saturation in the market or not, our events are selling well.
Talk to me about the art aspect of Meadows.
TR: When we launched this event, we wanted to tie in to the local Queens community and culture as much as possible. Part of that was art and part of that was food.
On the art side, we’ve been working with a number of Queens graffiti artists to do these massive container graffiti structures. The same kind of containers you see in a shipyard will be stacked on top of each other for this very specific graffiti art that ties into Queens and the City as a whole.
On the culinary front, we worked with a guy named Joe DeStefano, who has a lot of local fame here and is called “The Guy Who Ate Queens.” He specializes in food tours around his home borough of Queens; he’ll take you into what you think is a bodega, but at the back, behind doors, it’s a ceviche shop. He’ll take you across the borough for Nepalese food, Thai food, Mexican food, what have you. We asked him to curate a culinary experience that really will take you all over the borough of Queens to experience all the ethnic foods that the borough has to offer.
We’re also working with the [millennial-focused food blog] Infatuation again, to curate the rest of our food lineup. They’ve become good friends of ours over the years, and helped us get some really amazing vendors from around the city, such as Roberta’s, Alidoro, and others. As we always do with GovBall, we always plan surprises and pop-up performances throughout the festival weekend, keep people on their toes so when they’re watching their favorite band they can turn around and see some crazy performance behind them.
How have you worked with the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Alliance (FMCPA) and addressing the concerns of the surrounding neighborhood?
TR: We’ve been working very closely with the Mets organization, the FMCPA, the Parks department, the Mayor’s office, NYPD, FDNY, and really all relevant agencies. When we launched and announced the festival, we were a little bit too eager to announce a partnership [with FMCPA] that hadn’t been totally formalized, and that was a mistake on our part. But I don’t want anyone to think we haven’t gone above and beyond in growing our community relationships. We have a very strong track record of being excellent community partners and working with all agencies, and just being honest business folk that give back to the local community. That’s something we became famous for at GovBall, we really created the model for it, and we’re doing the same thing here in Queens.
Everybody feels really good about the event from an operational perspective, the local community is benefitting from it, we have an umber of different charitable partners we’re excited about, including the Queens Public library; Answer The call, which is the New York Police and Fire Widows fund; Far Rockaway RBI, a great little league institution. We’re going to keep doing what were doing, being honest with folks, put on a good safe event, and let it speak for itself.
Citi Field has hosted Electric Daisy Carnival twice, so they sort of know the drill for music fests. What are the pros and cons of staging the festival there?
TR: A lot of people don’t’ realize that it’s only a 14-minute train ride from Penn Station to Citi Field, and Penn Station is accessible by so many different train lines.
One thing we’ve done this year that no other major music festival does is we have all of the stages in the middle of the site playing outward, which creates a scenario that basically combats all sound bleed. When two bands are on at the same time, you don’t have to worry about hearing one band while you’re watching another, and everybody will be moving in a circular motion to go around the site, which gives each stage area a different vibe and feel.
So the same weekend as Meadows you have the Roots Picnic and Makers Faire science festival. Does it feel a little busy?
TR: When you come out here for a U.S. Open game, every so often there’s a Mets game going on, as well, and this will be very similar. The beautiful thing about Flushing Meadows, Corona Park, Citi Field, and the U.S. Open Stadium is this part of town was built to move thousands and thousands of people every minute, and it works. New York City is known for having the very best entertainment offerings throughout the year, and this weekend is no different.
Industry-wise, has this festival been well-received?
JW: Absolutely. On the booking side of things, there’s so much volume now, especially on the East Coast, and with fall routing for festivals there’s ACL Fest (in Austin), Music Midtown (in Atlanta), Voodoo (in New Orleans), so [Meadows] is in kind of a good place. We’re actually the same weekend as ACL this year, but on a larger picture there’s a lot of acts touring the country doing festivals and hard ticket dates, so I think people were excited about getting a new look in New York. We already have our dates squared away for the Meadows next year, and it will actually be a little bit earlier so that it will route into some of those festivals in the Southeast a little better. But people were excited about [Meadows] right away, not only because they know they can trust us with their acts in New York City, but also because it’s a new and exciting look.