Exclusive: Coachella and Firefly Founders Team Up on Joint Venture
The deal brings together Goldenvoice, the U.S.' most successful festival producer, with Red Frog, the company behind our fastest-growing fest.
Goldenvoice, creators of Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., has entered into a joint venture with Red Frog Events to promote and produce the Firefly Music Festival in the Woodlands at Dover International Speedway in Delaware, Billboard has learned.
Goldenvoice president/CEO Paul Tollett, along with Joe Reynolds, CEO/founder of Red Frog Events, and Greg Bostrom, director of Firefly, provided Billboard details of the deal in an exclusive interview from the Red Frog offices in Chicago. The deal is expected to be announced later today.
Firefly, founded by Red Frog Events in 2012, is one of the fastest-growing music festivals in the country, selling 30,000 tickets in its first year, 65,000 in 2013, and 80,000 in 2014. The 2015 event will take place June 18-21.
The joint venture with Firefly significantly boosts the festival portfolio of Goldenvoice and its parent, AEG. In addition to Coachella -- the biggest festival in the world, with more than $67.2 million gross and 180,000 tickets sold over two weekends in 2014, according to Billboard Boxscore -- Goldenvoice is partnered or exclusively produces Stagecoach, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in partnership with Quint Davis and Festival Productions, and the FYF in Los Angeles, in partnership with promoter Sean Carlson. In each case, the founders -- Tollett himself with Coachella and Stagecoach -- oversee the overall direction of the events, and that will be the case with Firefly as well. “Red Frog will still operate Firefly, because that’s what they’re best at,” Tollett tells Billboard, “and we will assist in any way we can, such as helping access talent, sponsorships, and any tricks that we’ve learned along the way to help a festival get to the next level.”
All involved expect continued growth for Firefly, which has quickly become one of the premier festivals in North America. Asked about specific plans, Tollett says, “This is our first day together, so we’ll start right after we have some food and drinks here. But we’ll discuss the future of the festival and how it can get even better. We’re kind of blown away about how fast it has gotten to the level it’s at, it’s pretty amazing that it is such a serious festival already in such a short time."
Nearly 100 acts performed on seven stages at Firefly this year, including Foo Fighters, Outkast, Jack Johnson, and Imagine Dragons. “We love the site, but what we really love is the staff,” says Tollett. “We realized the staff is very similar to Goldenvoice, and that’s exciting. They’re based in Chicago, and this event is in Delaware, so it’s kinda great that there are people across the country doing similar things.”
Reynolds concurs. “I met Paul about a year ago in his office in L.A., and it was a pretty instant connection we had,” he says. “We realized we had similar cultures between our companies, and we share similar philosophies, [such as] building festivals for the long term and investing a lot into our customers’ experiences. After a minute, we decided we just wanted to start pursuing a natural partnership to help propel Firefly to the next level.”
Essentially, Goldenvoice is investing in Firefly, though financial details of the deal were not disclosed. That could include building permanent infrastructure for the Firefly site, as Goldenvoice has done in Indio with Coachella and Stagecoach. Given Firefly has a lease with Dover International Speedway through 2032, investment in festival infrastructure like stages and fan amenities would make sense. “When you get a long term lease, it helps [because] you’re able to put in infrastructure and invest in long-term capital,” Tollett says. “It makes a festival better when you can put some things in that you don’t have to tear up each year. When you’re on a year-to-year basis, you can’t really do anything too excellent on the site, because you never know if you’re coming back.”
Red Frog Events is an event production company founded in 2007 and a pioneer in the experiential entertainment industry. Since 2007, in addition to Firefly, the company has developed such brands as the Warrior Dash (a 5k obstacle race series), the American Beer Classic (beer festivals set at iconic sports stadiums), and EventSprout (a ticketing and event registration system). But the deal with Goldenvoice is for Firefly only, at least for now -- though Tollett has been impressed with how Red Frog operates. “We came from a concert promoter background and went into the festivals business,” he says, “and they came from another angle. It’s fascinating to see how together their public assemblage operations have been.”
Even with Goldenvoice’s involvement, one should not expect Firefly to morph into an East Coast version of Coachella. “We do different types of festivals,” Tollett points out. “Stagecoach, FYF and New Orleans Jazz Festival all have their own personalities, and we don’t want to water anything down. Every festival has to have its unique outlook, decision-making, how it’s run. Speaking for Coachella, I like to run it a certain way, and I know Firefly has their attitude on how they want to run their thing, and I would never want to change that.”
The fact that Goldenvoice is investing in an existing event illustrates to a robust festival sector, and if some observers believe the fest market is hitting critical mass for destination events, Tollett is not one of them. “These festivals are a big part of the live landscape nowadays,” he says, “and one of the best places to play for a vast number of artists. We think it’s only going up.”
Asked if this heralds future opportunities from Goldenvoice, Tollett says, “It’s possible, for sure. There’s no plan right now, we just happened to like this staff and this festival. We’re always open-minded, but [Firefly] was unique and we wanted to get into this. We’re spoiled, we have a few other festivals that we’re involved with -- FYF festival with Sean Carlson, and Quint Davis from New Orleans Jazz Festival, [and] these are just great partnerships. We talk with them every day, and they become just part of our life."
Given these diverse and hugely successful events across the country, Goldenvoice has developed a powerful portfolio of festivals, along with the intellectual resources and best-practices knowledge that goes along with it. “The key is the communication with all of [the partners],” Tollett says. “I hang out with Quint [Davis] and Sean [Carlson] all the time, and the truth is I have been to Chicago five times this year, and it sounds like it’s gonna be more.”
The current trip is celebratory. “We brought 15 people from the Goldenvoice staff out to hang out with everyone from Red Frog today,” Tollett says. “We’re having a party.”