AUSTIN CITY LIMITS MUSIC FESTIVAL
Producer: C3 Presents
2013 edition: Oct. 4-6, 11-13; Zilker Park, Austin
Vibe: Barbecue, beer and good times
Music: Anything that could play on PBS' "Austin City Limits"-plus
Beyond music: Austin Kiddie Limits, Zilker Beach, art
Turning point: 2013, when it expanded to two weekends after years of sellouts
Corporate partners: Honda, BMI, Camelback, Austin Ventures
2012 numbers: $16.8 million gross, 225,000 attendance (aggregate, sellout)
2013 headliners: TBA
Sites: ACLfestival.com, Twitter (@aclfestival; 71,000 followers), Facebook (305,000 likes)
Months after the first Bonnaroo, before the festival gold rush, Charlie Jones, an event producer with Capitol Sports & Entertainment, teamed with up-and-coming Austin talent buyer Charles Attal (the first two Cs of what became C3 Presents with the addition of third partner Charlie Walker) to launch a music event in one of the great music cities in the world: Austin. Jones knew brands and Attal knew bands, so they hitched their wagon to the massively credible melding of both: long-running PBS music show "Austin City Limits." They also found their site in the city's expansive Zilker Park, and the first Austin City Limits Music Festival was born.
"We had three months to book the first ACL Fest, and it takes eight months to book it now," Attal says, adding that ticket sales were slow out of the gate. "We didn't know what we were doing, and we didn't have any historicals to look back on. We were checking our dailies and we might have had 6,000-7,000 tickets sold a day, so we were nervous. Then the last 10 days, it just exploded."
ACL Fest ended up at about 40,000 per day the first year, and has sold out every year since 2005, with capacity at around 70,000. In fact, the festival sells half of its tickets before even announcing the talent, and will make the jump to two weekends this year. Going on sale before the lineup is public "puts a lot of pressure on you to make sure you deliver every year," Attal says. "You don't ever want to underdeliver."
Along the way, ACL Fest has stayed true to the scruffy, adventurous nature of its namesake and has become one of the most consistent destination festivals on the planet. The event also heralded a savvy branding strategy that has built C3 into an international force and one of the world's top independent promoter/producers.
Producer: C3 Presents
2013 edition: Aug. 2-4, Grant Park, Chicago
Vibe: Hip, urban respite
Music: Indie rock with trend-oriented offshoots
Beyond music: Kidzapalooza, art
Turning point: 2005, when fans embraced what naysayers considered a damaged brand
Corporate partners: Red Bull, Bud Light, Citi, Toyota
2012 numbers: $25.3 million, 298,598 aggregate (sellout)
2013 headliners: TBA April 9
Sites: Lollapalooza.com, Twitter (@lollapalooza; 166,000 followers) Facebook (378,000 likes), YouTube (125,000 subscribers)
Heralded as genius for jumpstarting the festival tour concept in the '90s, by 2004 Lollapalooza was a tainted brand, canceled in its final run due to poor sales. But C3 Presents believed the brand still had legs and approached Lolla owners Perry Farrell and William Morris Endeavor's Marc Geiger about resurrecting it as a one-off festival. "Charlie believed, and he ran with it," Attal says. Since then, C3 has become an international festival producer, launching Lolla editions in Brazil and Chile, partnering with Big Day Out in Australia and with Metallica on its Orion festival in Detroit, and producing or booking numerous other events.
Today, Lollapalooza Chicago in Grant Park is the biggest urban festival in the United States, but the debut of the reboot was brutal. "We lost a lot of money the first year, but we knew we had a winner on our hands," Attal says. "Usually in a case like that you're dragging your tail and bumming, trying to figure out what went wrong. But we were excited to get started again. We were all working on Lolla the next day."
Like the Austin City Limits Music Festival, Lollapalooza remains connected to its brand, with lineups true to its indie-rock roots but delving into rap, EDM, edgy pop and contemporary folk--whatever's hot. Fifteen talent buyers in 2,500 square feet of C3's new Austin digs, inspired by Attal's savvy instincts, turn an atmosphere of "controlled chaos" into lineups for all C3 events. And, like ACL, Lolla makes productive use of VIP ticketing and corporate sponsors seeking the rock fest demo. "You have to have sponsors these days for festivals, or your ticket price would be $500," Attal says. "It's expensive to be in these city parks."
While not without its critics, Lollapalooza is clearly giving music fans what they want, and has become an elite destination festival in triplicate, with a global footprint. In Chicago, the functionality of the urban green space of Grant Park is critical. "The minute you walk out of the gates you're on Michigan Avenue," Attal says. "It's the easiest festival to get in and out of that I know of, and in our world access is everything."