CMA Awards 2018
Goldenvoice's Paul Tollett on Planning Panorama & the Future of Desert Trip: Exclusive
For most people, it’s a leisurely Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles, but Paul Tollett is anything but quiet. Currently in the midst of FYF Fest, produced by Tollett’s Goldenvoice, of which he’s President and CEO, the crowds at the music festival at Los Angeles Sports Arena and Exposition Park are currently awaiting the night’s headliner, Nine Inch Nails. So is Tollett, who along with the day’s events is also juggling an entirely different festival on the other side of the country.
“I leave tomorrow for Panorama,” he explains in the middle of FYF madness while simultaneously relishing his busy schedule. “We’re like a jet engine; you gotta keep us running. As soon as you slow down you start falling apart. We like that pace and we like doing multiple things at once. As you’re finishing up one festival you’ve already started planning the next one. It’s the life we lead at this point.”
Perhaps it’s that outlook that has made Tollett -- the creator of the trendsetting Coachella, this weekend's Panorama and the historic Desert Trip, among others -- a singular force in concocting the modern American music festival. Earlier this year, the 51-year-old came in at No. 40 on Billboard’s Power 100, while The New Yorker called him a “mastermind." It’s easy to see why. Coachella was Billboard's Top Festival at the 2016 Touring Awards with a $94 million intake, and Desert Trip was a game-changing success story, earning a whopping $160 million.
Beyond the impressive cash flow, what keeps Tollett interested and energized is the simple fact that he enjoys the process. “I just like doing it,” explains Tollett who is famously hands-on with booking, from personally wrangling the likes of Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan to appear at Desert Trip to booking the entirety Panorama’s lineup with exception of the festival’s dance component dubbed The Point. (The reason? “I had a lot going on this year and I thought someone could do it better than me.”)
Now in its second year, Tollett says Goldenvoice has fine-tuned Panorama from its 2016 debut, introducing The Point as well as polishing other facets. “For a first-year festival, Panorama had some great successes,” says Tollett of its premiere, which boasted headliners Kendrick Lamar, Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem. It was an auspicious start considering Founders Entertainment, the company behind Governors Ball, balked when Panorama was announced and urged New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to change their date, which was then shifted to seven weeks after Governors Ball.
Looking back at the drama, Tollett says he was never concerned. “New York has two baseball teams, two football teams, two basketball teams,” he points out. “Many people thought there couldn’t be a second festival in the New York marketplace, but it turns out there can be three,” he says, alluding to last September’s inaugural Meadows Festival, also produced by Founders. “And if you split them all up, there’s actually nine [counting for single day tickets for the three three-day fests]. You can have a lot of options in New York.”
Despite Panorama’s 2016 debut going off without a hitch and 2017 looking smooth with headliners Frank Ocean, Tame Impala and Nine Inch Nails ready to take the stage, Tollett points out that every festival -- whether in its first year or approaching its 19th, like Coachella -- has its obstacles. “Even though we’ve done so many, they’re all challenging; every one of them,” says Tollett, who stresses a core crew is essential. “You need the right team. It’s impossible without one. I’ve stepped out before and helped people with festivals without the Goldenvoice team, and to me it’s painful. You learn to count on your friends. When we’re working together we can do great things. Your team is number one.”
That’s solid advice considering 2017 has seemed to be the year of festival disasters ranging from the cancelation of Pennsylvania's Karoondinha to, of course, the unmitigated fiasco that was Fyre Festival. Tollett says one of Fyre’s main problems is that they were attempting to hold it in unfamiliar territory. “Having it outside the country was a tough call. Fundamentally, your first one should be in a place you’re comfortable with. You can’t just pop in, hire some staff and put on a show. It’s pretty complicated.”
Once the last Panorama spectator clears out of Randall’s Island, Tollett shifts his focus to the future, including prepping for 2018’s Beyonce-led Coachella and Panorama’s third iteration, for which Tollett teases he already has artists on hold. “If we advertise a show, we really want to come through because people tend to judge us by our other festivals,” he notes. “It’s hard to go low-grade on one and do a big job on the other. All of them have to be high quality.”
As for the next Desert Trip, while there’s nothing planned for 2017, Tollett is coy about what could come next. “There are no plans for a second one,” he explains, while offering a caveat. ”When we started, it was supposed to be a one-off, so we never even thought about how we could do something like it more than once. But then we did the show and it was pretty fun, so the future is still unwritten on that one.”