Inaugural Revival Fest Brings Small-Scale Luxury Concert Experience to Austin
Curated performances. Access to talent and influencers. Luxe accommodations. Even vitamin B-12 shots in the morning to put a spring in overnight guests' step.
The inaugural Revival Experience, a one-day music fest held Wednesday (March 13) at the sprawling Camp Lucy just outside Austin, went off as advertised. A fact made all the sweeter given the event carried the specter of another like-minded gathering that didn't fare so well.
"The biggest concern for us? Fyre Festival," Trey Diller, co-owner with Mike Niam of production outfit Inspire Productions, told Billboard seated stage-side under the bluest of Texas skies. "I've talked to 200 people today, and I kid you not—every single person has said something about Fyre Fest. They knew we'd put something together, but they thought maybe it was going to be another Fyre. Today they've been saying, 'You guys killed it.'"
The pilot for what Inspire hopes to parlay into a concept it can repeat multiple times a year was light years from the debacle in the Bahamas. Motor coaches transported guests from Austin to the venue, where a few hundred ticketholders sipped locally sourced libations, snacked on gourmet bites, perused goods from local artisans and mingled in a garden party-like atmosphere. A garden party, that is, whose entertainment was hand-selected by Delta Spirit front man Matthew Logan Vasquez and included an acoustic set by Nathaniel Rateliff and performances by Shakey Graves, Patty Griffin and a reunion of Vasquez's most recent band, Glorietta, among others.
Delivering on its promise of a free-range fan experience, with boundaries blurred between guests and artists, Revival was bigger and boujee-er than your typical house party and more intimate than, say, Willie Nelson's beloved Luck Reunion, which draws about 3,000 annually to Nelson's nearby ranch.
Between sets on the main stage, fans—who paid $497-$547 for a day pass—could wander into an onsite chapel to catch a recording session with one of the featured acts. Those who rented a luxury cottage on the grounds were treated to loose late-night jam sessions that kicked off at midnight with the Texas Gentlemen.
The custom experience, of course, comes at a cost. Key to the Revival business model is having a curator, Diller said, both to help with artist connections and contract negotiations and serve as a good will ambassador. Vasquez—who was brought in by former C3, now Inspire partner Haden Shibley—was in from day one, which was only about five months ago. Revival Experience came together quickly, as Vasquez rounded up an A-list of Texas Hill Country-centric talent.
"Once we decided what it was going to be, they gave me carte blanche to pick whoever I wanted. Of course, my first call was to Nathaniel, because we've been friends forever, and then I called Ali [aka Shakey Graves]. And Glorietta made complete sense," said Vasquez, whose solo album Light'n Up was released on Dine Alone Records in late February.
"[We wanted to create] one hell of a bill and a really relaxed environment where you're not forced to compete with people to watch it or be in a situation where you have to awkwardly stand in front of the stage if you don't feel like it, and it's not a zoo of people," he said. "It's a great vibe. I'd love to see it go every year."
"He's giving us a very good rate on both sides of the table. He's super into it and it's all good," Diller said of Vasquez. "In this industry, in life, it's who you know. Going through agencies and talent bookers, sometimes you don't even get a response. He was a major, major role in this."
Even so, the inaugural run, with every stop pulled out, operated as a loss leader for Inspire, in large part by design as the company strives to claim a new space in the crowded festival field. Of the 500-max capacity attendees, including guests, talent and staff, only about 200 had purchased tickets, with the rest reserved for invited guests. And of the roughly 80 event staffers on site, 80 percent were volunteers, Diller said.
"We cut off sales at 200, the others were always going to be complementary to industry people. We wanted to get them here. I don't ever want to do it this way again, and I won't ever do it again, but this is a baby right now and to be able to have a captive audience… it made a lot of sense," he said.
The plan is to woo potential partners. "This is a concept we'd like to take potentially anywhere in the world," Diller said. "We're already thinking about doing three to five next year." California, Florida, New York and Washington, DC, are on the short list, he noted, although the next Revival Experience may be close to home again. Inspire is talking with Texas country artist Parker McCollum about a potential next run. "That's a genre we'd like to tap into," he added.
But Inspire is thinking bigger in geography, if not size. Diller cited attaching an experience to multiday fests like Lollapalooza. The timing and proximity of Revival's maiden voyage to Austin's massive South By Southwest conference and festival was no coincidence.
"Our talent buyer has been in the industry for 15-plus years, Haden's been at it eight years and I've been in it for four—and none of us has seen anything like this produced before. This is not made for every musician, nor is it made for every person. But yes, we'd like to take it to any genre, and maybe merge some genres," he said.
With that in mind, "We thought, 'Let's invite a lot of industry people to come experience it,'" Diller said, citing executives from C3, Live Nation and ScoreMore Shows among the crowd. The conversation he hoped to have with them would go something like this: "'How about it we don't compete and instead, let's collaborate and create?' This is an analogy we've used often as we talk to them: In five years we'd like to be on a private yacht with 75 gusts paying $100,000 a ticket. But on that yacht we have Paul McCartney, Elton John and Neil Young. Super intimate."
To further help telescope the event, Inspire also hosted a bevy of vendors. Film production company Cinderblock captured the Ian's Chapel recording sessions. And in what was perhaps a subconscious nod back to Fyre, the team brought in documentary filmmakers Backstory to document the day.
"We're all mic'd up and doing a documentary type thing all about the concept and the experience, how we're putting this all together," Diller said. "We're going to lay it all out like a Netflix doc."