In the ever-crowded field of music festivals, Nickelodeon planted a gooey, lime-green stake this past weekend in Chicago, where it staged its inaugural U.S. SlimeFest with artists Liam Payne, Flo Rida, Zedd and network ambassador JoJo Siwa taking the stage.
For parents, the $50 general admission ticket bought not only a day of music—hours were 11am-5pm in a nod to schedules and attention spans of the crowd—but a hands-on opportunity for their families to connect. It’s a trend brands across demographics are embracing as they look to elevate their alliance with fans. Comic Con activations continue to evolve in size and stature, and Turner’s Adult Swim network this summer will stage its first branded music fest in L.A., to name a few.
“Everybody wants experiences, and a lot of it is around this idea of making memories. You want to have it be Instagrammable as well of course, but want to create memories to speak to how you shared your time,” says Sharon Cohen, EVP of Nick Experience, a new unit at the company that focuses on real-life extensions. “People are together and in the moment. It’s an area where we feel we really can grow the brand.”
To that end, aside from taking in the music on the main stage SlimeFest-goers could chat with talent from some of the network’s popular shows, snag a photo opp with costumed characters including SpongeBob and the Fairly Odd Parents, or stand under a tipping slime bucket. It’s all part of the immersive nature of the fest, which has seen success in international markets including the U.K., Spain, South Africa and Australia since it debuted in 2012.
“We have this amazing opportunity to provide a platform for people to spend time together, and we know music is a passion point kids and families can get behind, and that kids and parents are listening to the same kind of music,” Cohen says.
As he gears up to release his debut solo album in September, Payne understands the importance wooing new fans, some of whom may not even have been born when “What Makes You Beautiful” was released.
“I was in my car today coming in and there were all these little girls in tutus, and I don’t even know if these people know who I am, but I got my driver to go out and say, ‘Do you like Liam Payne and if you do, do you want a picture?’ And we just jumped out into this crowd, and we got away with it pretty well. I do like to stop as much as I can, and see if I can put some smiles on faces.”
Payne, who watches Nick with his son Bear, tells Billboard he’s right at home in this crowd. “My One Direction days were very much a younger show. Obviously there was always a little bit of over the top humor that people may not have understood until they were a little older, but our show was a young show so I’m more than used to playing to kids,” he says.
Flo Rida also embraced the family vibe, ending his Saturday set surrounded on stage by a gaggle of kids and holding a baby in his arms. “From babies to grandmothers and grandpas out there, they have one thing in common—they come out here to party with smiles and joy, and I love receiving that energy as well as giving it,” he tells Billboard. “The kids have been very supportive of my career, and any time I can come do something of this magnitude I’m always willing and open.”
Cohen says Nick selected artists with broad appeal. “JoJo was an obvious natural choice for us, and in terms of the other artists it was a combination of looking to see who had popular music the kids would appreciate, and we wanted them to similarly appeal to parents and adults,” she says.
“Fortunately I don’t have to change up my show” from what he does for a crowd of adults, Flo Rida says. “My music is very positive. Anything negative could be going on in our lives and that’s what it is all about—to go out there and make some smiles. A lot of people are going to go home and spread that love.”