Jason Felts, CEO of Virgin Produced and Chief Brand and Marketing Officer of the KAABOO music festival, had a dream to stage the first international KAABOO in the Cayman Islands. Then along came Fyre Festival. It was such a spectacular, public disaster that it could easily have damaged the entire music festival industry, and specifically one event taking place in the same geographic neighborhood.
But with four years of proven success in Southern California with the brand, KAABOO Cayman is not only taking place this weekend on Grand Cayman — it was completely sold out as of Wednesday (Feb. 13).
“Fyre Festival was supposed to be a festival in paradise but it took a turn for the worst when everybody showed up and realized it was an overpromise. To call it an under-delivery is an understatement,” Felts tells Billboard. “That was in the back of my mind — and in my business partner and KAABOO founder Bryan Gordon’s mind — when we set out to extend the KAABOO brand to the Cayman Islands.”
KAABOO teamed up with Richard Branson’s Virgin brand, which oversaw artist programming and procurement, and together they tackled the challenge before them: delivering on KAABOO’s reputation for elevated hospitality and guest services and Virgin’s standard for entertainment to combat the potential hurdles put in place by Fyre’s failure.
“It’s very challenging to continually reinforce to the community, to the industry and to the consumer in North America and England that this is not the next Fyre Fest,” he says. “As you look over our site, you can see the infrastructure is incredible. There is no FEMA tent. I challenge you to find a cheese sandwich. The transportation hub is extensive. We have an international airport. We have three hospitals. We have world-class partners in the Department of Tourism and the Cayman Islands government. They have gotten behind us and supported us. I empathize with the failure of Fyre. I feel terrible for the Bahamians, who really had the wool pulled over their eyes. They had someone come down there and essentially run a Ponzi scheme on them and it’s unfortunate. We recognized several years ago we had the opportunity to instill trust in the consumer by making history with the largest event ever in the Caymans and I think the second largest live entertainment event in the Caribbean since the Rolling Stones concert in Cuba.”
Asked to elaborate on the damage Fyre could have caused, Felts explains how KAABOO faced the challenge of winning back the trust of consumers in that festival’s wake, and why it was so crucial for them to align with the local government, private sector businesses and vendors with “a like-minded mission for our focus on hospitality and guest service.”
“We’ve entertained hundreds of thousands of people at KAABOO Del Mar,” he continues. “We’ve earned the respect of artists, top 40 artists, bucket list artists. It’s very important for us to continue to reinforce and give comfort to the artists that they weren’t going to sign up for an event and fly down here and be served cheese sandwiches. We have a full-time team operating three festivals a year. We didn’t crew up two months ago. If we failed here in the Cayman Islands, it would hurt the industry overall, and so we were over-prepared so as to help the industry thrive on the whole.”
To that end, he adds that, from an industry-standpoint, “the success of our competitors breeds success for us and vice-versa. The fact that we sold out says that Fyre did not do any permanent harm.”
The success of this weekend’s KAABOO Cayman can be felt all over the islands. In its first year, KAABOO is the nation’s fifth-largest employer. The hotels on Grand Cayman are sold out. The 29-acre purpose-built site is hosting 10,000 people a day for two days. Felts estimates an economic impact of $15-20 million dollars in year one.
KAABOO Cayman is the culmination of a long-held dream held by Felts. “The Caymans have a special place in my heart because my family has been coming here since I was a little kid,” he shares. “I spend as much time here as I can. What used to be my vacation spot is now a place where I am advancing the arts and creating economic impact through my company, hosting the biggest party the country has ever seen.”
KAABOO Cayman kicked off Day 1 on Friday with headliners the Chainsmokers as well as Maren Morris, Counting Crows, Maxi Priest, Flo Rida, Bryan Adams and comedians Darrell Hammond, Kevin Nealon and Norm MacDonald. Saturday’s Day 2 line-up includes headliners Duran Duran and Jason Derulo, along with Shaggy, Blondie, Zedd and Sean Paul, with Wanda Sykes taking the Humor Me stage.
Later this year, the first KAABOO Texas will take place in May at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and the fifth annual KAABOO Del Mar begins in Southern California in September. And there’s more to come, as Felts reveals: “We’re going to be announcing another KAABOO by the end of this year. It will be domestic, but we also have more international plans.”