Virgin Produced CEO Jason Felts on KAABOO Festival's Future As 'A Lifestyle Brand'

Brian Spady/WireImage for KAABOO Del Mar via imageSPACE
A general view of the atmosphere during the 2015 KAABOO Del Mar at the Del Mar Fairgrounds on Sept. 20, 2015 in Del Mar, Calif. 

For the third consecutive year, the KAABOO festival will take place at the Del Mar Racetrack and San Diego County Fairgrounds, from Sept. 15-17. This year’s headliners are Red Hot Chili Peppers, P!nk, Muse and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. As of now, 64 other acts are also booked, including Kesha, Weezer, Jane’s Addiction, Garbage, the Wallflowers, Andy Grammer and veteran acts like Dave Mason, Eric Burdon & the Animals and Ice Cube. Described as an adult festival for music lovers, the content for the event falls under the aegis of Virgin Produced, the entertainment arm of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin brand. Billboard spoke with Virgin Produced co-founder and CEO Jason Felts, who is the chief brand officer of KAABOO, about the 2017 festival.

What is the relationship between Virgin and KAABOO?

Jason Felts: KAABOO is produced by our seasoned in-house event production staff, who have years of expertise in the festival and live event industry, hospitality industry and art and culinary worlds. This team works collaboratively with the Virgin Produced team on all things related to content production, experiential marketing and customer service values. Together they ensure a wonderful event from both a B2B and B2C perspective and that the festival experience is differentiated from that of any other brand. Bryan Gordon is the founder and visionary behind KAABOO. His vision is executed by a team that includes our lead talent buyer, Roger LeBlanc.

What makes KAABOO different from other festivals?

KABOO is shifting the paradigm in the music space. KAABOO is more than a music festival, in that it reaches a broader demographic and incorporates sophisticated elements of gourmet culinary and a contemporary art fair that is larger than what is exhibited at other festivals, while bringing a level of comfort that is typically not associated with the festival industry. The “Hang Loose” [general admission] experience at KAABOO can be equated to the type of experience seen in the VIP programs of other large music festivals, and the “Amplify” [VIP] levels at KAABOO take the guest experiences to new levels.  

Tell me about this year's four headliners and why they were selected.

KAABOO strives for diversity without being disconnected. Our goal is to create a multigenerational lineup that has something for all of our fans. This lineup has everyone from alt rock legends and bucket list icons, to some of today’s hottest hitmakers and an incredible list of emerging artists, as well. Last year, one stage featured Aerosmith and Jimmy Buffett while one just around the corner had the Chainsmokers and Flo Rida. This year is the same with Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pink, David Guetta, Jason Derulo and Ice Cube on one stage while Tom Petty and Jackson Browne play on others. Our headliners, and really the full lineup, are selected based on what we believe will suit the musical tastes and likes of our core demographics. 

I'm a music fan. Tell me the best reasons why I should attend KAABOO.

Our lineup is curated to be of the most diverse festival bills out there. It is our goal that we’ll attract music lovers, regardless of their genre, and then pique their interest with some bands outside of their usual playlist. And then, we always try to incorporate some unique acts that someone would never expect, for example, DJ Diesel (Shaquille O’Neal) to entertain guests. 

It's been a rough year for festivals, especially the Fyre disaster. What separates KAABOO from the festivals that have gone wrong?

In our mind, KAABOO is successful because of our advanced annual long planning and meticulous strategy that goes into putting on a world-class event. Our goal has always been to combine a passion for live music with hospitality and this mission is still at the forefront of our business. The elements of quality and comfort encourage our guests to return year after year. At KAABOO our primary focus is on diversity of experience and most of all hospitality. KAABOO has a year-round team focused exclusively on this event, reviewing each detail that goes into the preparation. We don't hire our team seasonally but instead work all year long to make KAABOO a great weekend. Every year, we look at the previous year to determine what we could improve upon for the following year to continue to make the guest experience one of the best.

What is the demographic for KAABOO?

We reach a very wide demographic. Based on the diversity of our lineup and array of experiences, KAABOO attracts everyone from college students to more mature adults, all looking to enjoy live music with a more refined experience. KAABOO attracts guests from all walks of life, not just the typical festival attendee. We see foodies, art enthusiasts and music lovers, alike. With the perfect backdrop of San Diego, this is an experience that welcomes locals and visitors to the area - we see guests from all 50 states and over 20 countries at KAABOO.

It sounds like there will be a lot of luxury items available at KAABOO -- can you describe them in more detail?

KAABOO has a variety of enhanced experiences. 

Our Artwork exhibition is one of the largest contemporary art fairs in Southern California. This includes nearly 80 art galleries and individual artists, plus the array of featured mural and installation artists. 

Our Palate culinary and beverage presentation draws from a gourmet assortment of craft beverages and cuisine. This experience is equivalent to a food and wine festival, with small portions to allow for tastings. But, the culinary experiences do not stop there. Delicious food is available throughout the venue, including in our new ride share area to allow guests to enjoy some late-night snacks on their way out. 

KAABOO offers personal indulgences for our guests, including hair styling, massages, IV Hangover Treatments and other services for both men and women. 

KAABOO offers several indoor venues with comfortable seating, including our Humor Me comedy club, lounge areas in Palate/Artwork and other comfortable areas around the site.

Our “Hang Five” and “Hang Ten” areas for our “Amplify” VIP guests offer dedicated seating platforms, in addition to standing room close up to the stage.

You mentioned the Humor Me comedy club. How do you integrate the music and comedy at the festival?

Comedy is a main focus of KAABOO, with its own dedicated indoor, seated comedy club. Humor Me continues to be a highlight of the event for guests, where they can take a break from the music, come into a comfortable seated venue and enjoy world-famous comedians. 

Late-night show regular Sebastian Maniscalco, actor and former Saturday Night Live comedian David Spade, and Grammy-winner for 2017’s Best Comedy Album, Patton Oswalt, are among the nation’s funniest names in comedy headlining this year’s Humor Me stage. In addition to assembling world-famous comics, KAABOO Del Mar is dedicated to bringing new talent to the stage through its “KAABOO Discovery Tour.” The Discovery Tour is a program designed to recognize the wealth of amazing local artists in Southern California. One local comedian will be chosen to perform on the Humor Me stage. 

Is the lineup locked in or are you still adding artists?

The lineup is complete, with the exception of three emerging artists that will be selected through the KAABOO Discovery Tour. There are three music stops and one comedy stop on the tour this year. More information about that program is available at our website.

In your role as chief brand officer of KAABOO, what are your long-range plans for the brand?

KAABOO is a lifestyle brand, one that will ultimately be lived 365 days a year, not just on a given weekend. We have ambitious growth plans for the brand and look forward to everyone experiencing KAABOO, its festivals and various forthcoming product lines. KAABOO has established KAABOO Gear, a full line of apparel, accessories and swag that is available year-round, with exclusive items coming out periodically throughout the year. The style of wearables and accessories is beyond the typical “festival merch” and offers guests with unique options that they can wear in all situations, including designer scarves, fitted t-shirts and many other options.

For the third year in a row, KAABOO Del Mar is highlighting a robust presence of emerging talent and local artists who will perform throughout the three-day event. The Tourmaline Emerging Artist Stage is the place to see the latest and greatest up-and-comers to add to your playlists. Since the SoCal area is home to many noteworthy up-and-coming acts, KAABOO is thrilled to showcase some of these great acts. The events are all judged by the audience that evening and the winning acts will get to perform at KAABOO. These acts will join the diverse lineup of up-and-coming acts including the Last Internationale, Ages and Ages, Moonsville Collective, Armors, Luna Aura, Jared and the Mill, Ethan Tucker and many more.

With their passion for this concept, KAABOO’s organizers have started to identify additional locations for this event. While we haven’t released any details on future locations, we will look to replicate the brand promise of offering an amazing live entertainment and art experience for the guests -- an unrivaled guest experience through gourmet culinary, contemporary art, personal influencers and of course, an amazing lineup of music and comedy. If you’re local in San Diego or just love the annual visit, don’t worry, the Del Mar location is a permanent staple to this rapidly growing brand.