Paul Tollett has always been a concert promoter with vision. After taking an $800,000 hit on the inaugural Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in 1999, the president of Los Angeles-based Goldenvoice never lost hope. "It seemed like $8 million, but even though I lost all that money, I knew we did something great," 41-year-old Tollett says from his office in AEG Live headquarters.

The financial loss forced Tollett and his business partner Rick Van Santen (who, in 2004, died from complications of the flu) to sell Goldenvoice to Anschutz Entertainment Group in 2001. Now, Tollett's vision for Coachella has paid off. For the first time in its eight-year history, the festival has sold out far in advance and expanded to three days, with headliners Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Björk. Goldenvoice will also produce the inaugural Stagecoach country music festival, set for May 5-6 at Indio, Calif.'s Empire Polo Field (also home to Coachella).

While overseeing Goldenvoice's 20-person staff that helps organize more than 300 shows per year throughout California, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii, Tollett also assists AEG Live with the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Seattle's Bumbershoot festival, among others. Goldenvoice also recently announced the launch of Art Show, a national alternative touring division to be headed by industry vet Elyse Rogers.

Though Coachella and Stagecoach are right around the corner, Tollett found time to sit down with Billboard to discuss, among other things, the two music festivals and Goldenvoice's entrance into the national touring game.


What was the first show you booked?

My brother and I booked a ska band, a mod band and a punk band at a restaurant in Pomona [Calif.] in November of 1982. I did that for a couple years before meeting Gary Tovar, who used to own Goldenvoice. We hit it off, and I started working with him out of a living room. I booked shows and passed out fliers.


Do you have any regrets about selling Goldenvoice?

I never wanted to own Goldenvoice. I enjoyed working for Gary. Those were some of the best times. When Rick [Van Santen] and I took over, it was hard. We never ran businesses, and I didn't enjoy that end of it. I wanted to promote concerts. It's always great to say you're in charge, but I found the creative side of things to be more fulfilling.


Since selling the company to AEG, have you been able to keep your independence?

[AEG] basically lets us do anything we want. They watched us struggle [with] Coachella when we did it with them the second year and didn't make money. They were patient. I told them the problem could be solved with sponsors, but asked them to trust me to take it another route by keeping sponsorship down. I wanted the festival to remain pure. And they said, "Cool." It was amazing to get that response from a company with so many sponsorship connections.


Coachella has played host to a number of reunited acts that rarely tour, including the Pixies, Rage Against the Machine, the Stooges, Kraftwerk, and the Jesus and Mary Chain. How did you get those bands?

I feel bad divulging this, but when you're talking to a band, you can't lead off with money. You'll be shot down almost every time. They know what kind of money they can get. You have to approach them with why they should get back together. We'll say, "There are thousands of people wanting to see you. You're still relevant, and you're the third most-asked-for band on the Coachella message board." I've had bands, including one this year that I won't name, confirmed before we even talked money.


Were you surprised that this year's Coachella sold out in advance?

We weren't even prepared for it. We have this system of putting it on sale, then handing out fliers and putting up posters. And when it sold out, we didn't know what to do with the month we typically use for promotion. So we've used the time to focus more on Stagecoach.


How did Stagecoach come together?

I had seen a small country show at Empire Polo Field in the '90s. It seemed like a fun local event. There were rumors last year that the polo fields were going to be sold, so I talked to the owners and said, "If I commit to two big festivals, will that be enough incentive for you to not develop for now?" They said, "Yes," so we developed the country idea.


Did AEG Live assist in booking talent?

I went to Louis Messina [senior VP of the Messina Group/AEG Live] and Steve Moore [senior VP of AEG Live Nashville] and told them I needed their help. They took me to Nashville and introduced me to all the agents there, some of which I already knew from different rock things. I pitched the idea, saying we wanted to do a country festival with a few elements from Coachella. And they were cool with it. Louis helped get Kenny Chesney and George Strait as headliners.


What tactics have you used to promote Stagecoach?

For the marketing, I hired Bonnie Marquez, who worked at country KZLA Los Angeles. When we announced the show, KZLA went out of business. I thought, "OK, I guess we're doing a show without a country radio station." But it was great timing to hire Bonnie because she's so dialed in with all the country people. And recently, we gathered all the country radio station folks in the Western region and did a walk-through at the Stagecoach site. It gave us a chance to explain what the show is. Now they understand and can go to the listener and tell them about it. There's also a new country station [KKGO] that recently popped up in L.A., so that's good news.


In general, do you think U.S. festivals hold a candle to European festivals?

Europe still has us all beat, but that's OK. We've got our thing and they have theirs. I love the festivals over there. Glastonbury is still my favorite, mud and all.


Art Show recently made its debut with the current My Chemical Romance tour. What's the plan beyond that?

You'd have to ask Elyse -- she's the vision. But we want to start working with bands early and stay with them forever. We're not calling hundreds of bands trying to promote their tours.


What other projects are you working on?

I recently got back from London to see the O2 arena, which is a couple months away from opening. I'm helping out a bit by telling bands over here about the venue. AEG has a lot of things for me to do right now besides the festivals. And while I'd never want to walk away from Coachella because I love it so much, I think we have it built to where it can run without me.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboardbiz

Print