Ass-Kicking Festivals; New World Order of Clubs: BB Touring Conf Day Two Panels
Ass-Kicking Festivals; New World Order of Clubs: BB Touring Conf Day Two Panels
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From left: Gary Richards, President, Hard Events. Jay Sweet, Producer, Newport Folk Festival. Charlie Jones, Partner, C3 Presents. Quint Davis, President, Festival Productions, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. (Photo: Michael Seto)

Day two of the 2011 Billboard Touring Conference began with a panel titled "Why Are Festivals Kicking Ass?" that discussed the upturn in festival attendance over the past year. Moderated by Relix Magazine Editor Josh Baron, the panel included many veterans of the festival scene such as Don Smiley, president and CEO of Milwaukee World Festival (Summerfest); Ashley Capps, president of AC Productions (Bonnaroo, Moogfest); Gary Richards, president of Hard Events (HARD Haunted Mansion, HARD Summer Tour); Jay Sweet, producer for Newport Folk Festival; Charlie Jones, partner at C3 Presents (Austin City Limits, Lollapalooza); and Quint Davis, president of festival productions at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Part of the explanation as to why festivals experienced such a resurgence can be explained by the fluctuations of the market. "Sometimes, the audiences don't grow as quickly as the festivals do," said Capps. "This year they caught back up." But the panel mostly focused on what makes a successful festival work, agreeing that the best way to build and grow a festival is to start small, focus on quality, and build the best possible fan experience. "If people feel like they're getting a quality experience, they will come back," said Smiley. "It's about getting the details right - people want their hot dogs hot and their beer cold."

But even established festivals like Newport Folk Festival, with its history stretching back to 1959, or Lollapalooza, created by Billboard's inaugural Apple Award recipient and Jane's Addiction front man Perry Farrell in 1991, face challenges and pressures every year to bring in ticket sales and produce a top experience for their fans. "Every year you have to put on the best festival that could ever exist, and then the next year top it," said Davis. Booking, sponsorships and alternate revenue streams also play a large part in helping a festival succeed and grow. Corporate sponsors, for instance, can both make a festival financially viable and destroy its credibility among fans. "You want the sponsors to enhance the experience, not interrupt it," said Sweet. "It's kind of a necessity, but if it's not right then you can harm the trust you've built."

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From left: Ashley Capps, President, AC productions. Quint Davis, President, Festival Productions, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Charlie Jones, Partner, C3 Presents. Gary Richards, President, Hard Events. Don Smiley, President/CEO, Milwaukee World Festival. Jay Sweet, Producer, Newport Folk Festival. Josh Baron, Editor, Relix Magazine and Co- Author, Ticket Masters. (Photo: Michael Seto)

What really makes the festival tick is the creative idea behind its formation, and the ability to make that idea attractive to fans. "Most successful festivals have a "vibe" attached to them, so most people already know what they're about," said Capps. The key, however, is to make that vibe and idea profitable; in support of that claim, Davis quoted Newport Jazz and Folk Festival founder George Wein in saying "if you want to succeed, you have to master the economics of creativity." Managing expenses, building trust with fans, having a great location and paying attention to quality are all building blocks which have helped form the blueprint for many of the successful festivals that have dotted the landscape over the past year, and are continuing to crop up. "Depending on scale, there are limitless opportunities for the right festivals when they come along," said Capps.

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From left: Nic Adler, Owner, The Roxy. Mike Barsch, Owner/Talent Buyer, Soda Jerk Presents Denver. Ron Bension, CEO, House of Blues Entertainment. Dan Steinberg, President, Square Peg Concerts. Bobby Reynolds, VP, The Joint/AEG Live. Peter Shapiro, Founder, Brooklyn Bowl. Nick Storch, Agent, ICM. (Photo: Michael Seto)

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the second panel of the day was a dynamic and entertaining discussion called "Clubs: Solidifying Their Role in the New World Order." Moderator Dan Steinberg, president of Square Peg Concerts, kept the panel on their toes, launching plenty of on and off-topic questions toward venue operators and agents such as Bobby Reynolds, vice president of The Joint/AEG Live; Peter Shapiro, founder of Brooklyn Bowl; Nic Adler, owner of The Roxy in Los Angeles; Ron Bension, CEO of House of Blues Entertainment; Nick Storch, agent at ICM; and Mike Barsch, owner/talent buyer at Soda Jerk Presents. The panelists were all able to keep their composure despite interludes where Steinberg compared each to a pro wrestler or a retail store or tossed questions such as "standing room only or seated shows?" and worse -- much worse.

But when the panel focused on the business at hand, the conversation turned to the way new technologies have changed how clubs operate and the role of these venues in the music industry and social framework. For instance, Shapiro explained that in founding Brooklyn Bowl, he wanted to create a venue that did things differently than the "stage and bar" format of most clubs, incorporating food and bowling in addition to scheduling shows to attract an audience. "Your room should be a place where people want to come and just hang out," he said. "That's attractive to agents and promoters." Storch agreed. "I've put shows at Brooklyn Bowl because I know that random people will be there that maybe haven't heard the band before," he said.

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From left: Bobby Reynolds, VP, The Joint/AEG Live. Peter Shapiro, Founder, Brooklyn Bowl. Nic Adler, Owner, The Roxy. (Photo: Michael Seto)

Social media has also changed the way clubs operate, allowing them to make last minute changes and put on surprise shows without the headache and expense of physical promotion. "I'll do a show tomorrow night that I don't know about now because I know I can get the word out," said Shapiro. "The retweet effect is much more exponential at the last minute, and it gets you more followers." Adler has also used Twitter to help expand his reach, often engaging with artists before their shows at The Roxy. "Bands come to town and then leave, but the new Twitter followers stick around," he said.

But the panel, much like the one discussing festivals before it, agreed that the fan is the ultimate boss in the touring industry. "The fan experience is critical, we want the fans to have as much fun as possible," said Storch. "It's not just about the show, but the emotional connection the fan makes with the night as a whole." Positive feedback from the fans is one of the most important things that a club can rely on, and one that feeds back into their status in the industry and feeds off the influence of social media. "We want people to leave our venues saying that they had a good time," said Adler. It's free advertising."

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Nic Adler, Owner, The Roxy, talking to SGT Corrin Campbell after the panel discussion. (Photo: Michael Seto)