With their self-curated festivals returning, Travis Scott and Post Malone are offering a new live model. But is it here to stay?
In the summer of 2018, Travis Scott reached out to Lil Wayne to ask a favor. Scott was in the process of booking the lineup for his inaugural Astroworld festival, and wanted to stack the Houston event with handpicked hip-hop acts. Lil Wayne agreed to perform, topping the bill alongside Post Malone and Scott himself. This September, Scott returned the favor by headlining Lil Wayne’s Lil WeezyAna Fest in New Orleans.
“That kind of artist-centric support is so pivotal in growing what an artist-curated festival is about, because that Travis Scott audience is the kind of audience that is going to love and appreciate Lil Wayne as well,” says Live Nation Urban vp business development and operations Brandon Pankey.
In an oversaturated market where there are too many festivals booking too many of the same headliners, it’s increasingly common for newer ones to crash after just a few years. In the past three years alone, festivals like Panorama, Meadows and Lost Lake have all halted production. But the specificity that artist-curated lineups offer -- paired with an already built-in fan base -- is what might just keep them afloat. “There isn’t the typical window you normally see of building a new brand and identity for a festival from scratch,” says Colin Lewis, Live Nation vp touring for U.S. concerts. “You’re starting with a strong brand -- and tons of fans.”
It’s a model that proves to be working for most artists, specifically Scott and Post Malone, two hip-hop heavyweights with recent No. 1 albums and multiple hit singles during the past year. Both are gearing up for the second round of their respective festivals: Scott’s Astroworld will return to the former AstroWorld theme park at NRG Park in Houston on Nov. 9 -- just a week after Post Malone’s second Posty Fest takes place four hours north. This year, Post Malone upgraded from a 20,000-capacity venue to the 100,000-capacity AT&T Stadium in Arlington (home of the Dallas Cowboys). “Posty Co. has worked extremely hard to put together this festival for Dallas,” says Post Malone. “We have so many surprises for the fans, because y’all know everything is bigger in Texas.”
Pankey says the most successful artist-curated festivals are held in the artists’ hometowns -- Scott is from Houston and Post Malone was raised in the Dallas suburbs. It’s also one of the key differences from artist-curated festivals of the past, like Lollapalooza, which started as a farewell tour for Perry Farrell’s Jane’s Addiction before planting roots in Chicago. “Each [new artist-curated] festival has its own identity, because it taps into the blueprint or the DNA of the particular city it is in,” says Pankey. “That’s why Lil WeezyAna Fest is nothing like Posty Fest, which is nothing like Astroworld.”
While Scott hasn’t announced his lineup yet, Post Malone’s includes Meek Mill, Pharrell Williams and Jaden Smith. Lewis says that Post Malone and his team “handpick a lineup of artists who embody the Posty vibe” and that “Post is very involved in securing artists -- he has a ton of relationships that he calls on during the booking phase of the festival. Some are friends, some become friends, and all of them are buzzy artists that his fans want to see.” Such a strategy paid off last year, when the inaugural Posty Fest sold out, grossing over $1.7 million in a single day.
Of course, that payday is far from promised. As Pankey says, typically when artists are booked to perform at a festival they receive a guarantee: “No matter how successful that festival may be, an artist is assured to receive a flat rate for their performance.” An artist-curated festival is much more of a financial question mark, he says: “It’s the old adage of ‘high risk, high reward.’ If the festival does well, there’s an opportunity for the artist to share in the net revenues, including ticket sales and sponsorship.”
Both Scott and Post Malone attract higher-profile sponsors; Astroworld has partners in Bacardi and Smirnoff, and Posty Fest in Bud Light. Post Malone teamed with the company last year, collaborating on merchandise and, more recently, custom Bud Light cans. Anheuser-Busch InBev regional media manager Mark Riker says that partnerships with curated festivals are more valuable than standard paid media because “superfans are more likely to post and share custom content with their friends and followers,” creating word-of-mouth marketing that strengthens the return on investment for brands.
Pankey adds, “Brands are coming to understand that Coachella will get them in front of 100,000 people,” but an artist-curated festival, especially one held in the artist’s hometown, “is going to get them in front of a very [specific] demographic that they want to be part of.
“There is a bubble with the super-large Coachellas and Bonnaroos and Lollapaloozas of the world, which creates an opportunity for artists to be creative -- and stake a claim,” says Pankey. And despite the uncertain future of the festival market as a whole, he believes that “there’s a tremendous opportunity for the artist to succeed in the festival arena.” Why? Because, says Pankey, “the artists will always be at the epicenter of our industry.”
Lead photo by: Brandon Todd