William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, a founding partner in Lollapalooza, is building its portfolio in the festival sector with investment in six new strategic alliances in the country music fest space, Billboard.biz has learned.
Much of WME’s activity will be with Premier Global Production under the well-established Country Thunder brand, with Country Thunder events in Florence, Ariz., Twin Lakes, Wis., along with Texas Thunder in Midland, Texas, and the Craven (Sask.) Country Jamboree. WME is also partnering in the Willamette Country Music Festival in Brownsville, Ore., and the Cape Blanco Country Music Festival in Sixes, Ore., both sponsored by Bi-Mart.
“WME is looking for great opportunities to expand into other businesses, and forming a strategic alliance with festivals is a good business practice we want to continue to do,” Rob Beckham, co-head of WME’s Nashville office, tells Billboard.biz. Beckham declined to discuss financial details, but it is believed that WME has invested financially in the PGP brands, and purchased the Oregon festivals outright.
Country is thriving on the touring front, and has joined pop, rock, and EDM as a force in the festival space. Live Nation Country Music president Brian O’Connell has launched two festivals in the past two years in Watershed at the Gorge in George, Wash., and Faster Horses in Brooklyn, Mich., and is believed to be considering others, including a festival in the New York City market.
Growth is also being seen with established country festival brands; Gil Cunningham, president, Neste Event Marketing, which buys talent for eight country music fests, including Country Thunder, tells Billboard that four of them sold out in 2013, a first. The Stagecoach country fest in Indio, Calif., produced by Coachella founder Goldenvoice/AEG Live, has developed into arguably the most important country music play West of the Mississippi, grossing nearly $12 million in 2013, according to Billboard Boxscore. The genre’s premier live event, the CMA Music Festival in Nashville in June, sold out 15 weeks in advance this year — before announcing any acts.
For its part, WME is expected to strategically grow the brands it is aligned with into other markets across North America, though there is no strict timeline for expansion and the company does not seem interested in competing with existing festivals. The extent of WME’s involvement will include branding, sponsorships, marketing, talent, and leveraging with existing events. While a booking agency being partnered in music festivals does raise some eyebrows, in WME’s case it is not unprecedented. WME is a founding partner in Lollapalooza with Perry Farrell, and after aligning with Austin-based promoter C3 Presents, Lolla successfully evolved from a tour to one of the top festivals in North America in Chicago’s Grant Park. With Farrell, WME and C3, the Lollapalooza brand has since expanded internationally with events in Brazil and Chile in conjunction with regional promoters Time 4 Fun and Lotus Producciones, respectively. With all of these Lolla events, and surely with the country fests, talent comes from all agencies. And given the success of the Country 2 Country festivals in London and Dublin, international markets could also be a target for growth in the country genre, as well.