This field will be full of country music fans in July. Live Nation Country President Brian O'Connell took this photo with his iPhone from what will be the stage area for the Faster Horses Festival in Michigan
Live Nation Country president Brian O'Connell will launch the inaugural Faster Horses camping and country music "three-day hillbilly sleepover" in a field adjacent to Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich., July 19-21. Talent will be announced in a week at www.fasterhorsesfestival.com, where a highly-conceptual video produced by O'Connell now resides.
This will be the second major country music fest produced by O'Connell and Live Nation, which launched Watershed in 2012 at the Gorge amphitheater in George, Wash., last year, drawing 60,000 over three days. Faster Horses differs from Watershed in that, with the latter, "I had the infrastructure but needed a concept," O'Connell tells Billboard.biz. "Now with Faster Horses I have no infrastructure, but high concept."
The concept for the new fest was something O'Connell says he wrestled with for a year. "The idea of throwing a stage up in a field is boring to me," he says. "I don't think that does the fan any good or the artist any good. It may provide a payday, but who cares? These artists can work in that area of the country with no trouble. I wrestled with 'what is this thing going to look like, sound like, be like?' It took me a year to get it right, or at least I think it's right. It's petrifying and exhilarating all at once."
The festival site is currently an empty field in the scenic Irish Hills area of Michigan, adjacent to the speedway. "The speedway provides us with a dot on the map, if you will," O'Connell says. "We're going to use some of the infrastructure, mostly amenities for the campers. We're not using the speedway for the shows at all. We're going to build a festival site from the ground up. Currently where the festival site sits there's not even an electrical outlet."
While MIS has a Brooklyn, Mich., address, the actual area is known as Cambridge and served as a stage coach junction between Detroit and Chicago back in the 1800s. When searching on Google for inspiration for a name and theme, O'Connell says he stumbled on a quote from automobile icon Henry Ford: "He said, 'If I would have asked the people what they wanted, they would have told me faster horses,'" O'Connell recalls. "Boom, 'Faster Horses' was born. It all fell into place."
O'Connell declined to divulge talent prior to next week's announcement, but a look at the artists O'Connell works with provides a clue. Among those artists whose tours or shows O'Connell will present in '13 are Keith Urban, Jason Aldean, Rascal Flatts, Tim McGraw, Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley, Lady Antebellum, Blake Shelton, Brad Paisley, Toby Keith, and shed dates on Kenny Chesney. O'Connell says he has 25 acts booked for the Faster Horses main stage already. Expect the lineup to tilt toward mainstream contemporary country. While O'Connell says there will be "surprises," he's says he is "not interested in trying to be a tastemaker. I'm interested in the fans."
No sponsors are signed on yet, and O'Connell says he is only interested in sponsors that fit the theme and provide value to fans. "If it makes sense and it benefits the fan, I'm interested," he says, adding, "I'm not an idiot. If somebody comes at you with a huge check, and it fits, you'd have to look at it, because this sumbitch is expensive."
In line with country music touring overall, O'Connell says Faster Horses tickets will be "very economical." While festivals in general are exploding in North America, country is among the lesser-represented genres in the space, with the biggest being the CMA Music Festival in Nashville in June, and the Goldenvoice-produced Stagecoach Festival in Indio, Calif., in April. Last year Stagecoach grossed $13 million and drew 55,772 fans, according to Billboard Boxscore.