In a testament to the tremendous box office power of its headliners, all of whom are some 50 years or more into their respective careers, Desert Trip in Indio, California, has sold out both weekends, generating what is surely to be the highest box office gross in concert history in the process.
While producers Goldenvoice and its parent AEG Live get the credit for assembling the all-star rock lineup for Desert Trip, it is those names — The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Roger Waters, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and The Who — that precipitated the addition of a second weekend, which sold out just as swiftly.
Sources tell Billboard that both Desert Trip weekends — Oct. 9-11 and Oct. 16-18 — went clean in less than three hours each, resulting in a box office gross that will likely reach $150 million. That well exceeds initial Billboard estimates of a $100 million gross, as the overwhelming demand led organizers to increase the number of reserved seats available. In the end, there will be about 35,000 reserved seats, scaled at $1,599, $999 and $699; and 35,000 GA seats, priced at $399. The GA seats are priced the same as the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, the highest-grossing festival in the world, also held on the Indio site and produced by Goldenvoice.
And though AEG Live officials aren’t publicly acknowledging the success of Desert Trip, insiders say the producers are “ecstatic” about the unqualified home run. While it is surely the names, and the unlikely prospect of assembling them all together for two weekends, that drove Desert Trip to these heights, Goldenvoice and AEG Live deserve credit for swinging for the fences with this dream bill, and also for getting the pricing right. Typical concert venues like stadiums and arenas are routinely scaled in a given manner, but figuring out how to fairly and accurately price an open field with the riskiest budget ever put together was a monumental challenge. Given the rapid sellouts, it’s safe to say that the producers nailed it. In fact, the least expensive tickets — $199 daily passes — were the last to sell out, according to one insider. The source adds that Desert Trip demand could likely have supported two more weekends with this lineup.
As expected, given that most of these acts tour at stadium and arena level around the world, demand for Desert Trip tickets was global, with the most ticket orders coming in from the U.S. and Canada, South America, the United Kingdom and Germany.
Now it seems that Goldenvoice has developed a new, blockbuster live music brand that could ultimately meet or even exceed its previous cultural touch points in Coachella and the country music fest StageCoach. Other than the iconic nature of this year’s lineup, the defining musical element of Desert Trip may be tougher to nail down, but essentially today Desert Trip represents a once-in-a-lifetime musical opportunity for fans.
Whether or not Desert Trip will become an annual event is unknown at this point, and AEG officials aren’t talking, but it is doubtful the firm will drop such a successful concept. Also worth noting: this will mark the third year in a row that AEG Live will have been attached to the highest-grossing event of the year (excluding festivals). In 2015, AEG Live’s Madison House division co-produced the Grateful Dead‘s Fare Thee Well concerts at Soldier Field in Chicago and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., which came in at $52 million, according to Billboard Boxscore; and in 2014 staged George Strait’s Cowboy Rides Away farewell concert at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, in association with Messina Touring Group, which grossed $18.2 million.
For 2016, Desert Trip is clearly poised to be the live music event of the year. Perhaps the unsung hero in Desert Trip’s success is its site, the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio, which, by year’s end, can stake its claim as the highest-grossing venue in the world, with about $300 million in ticket grosses coming from just five weekends of operation. With its combination of expansive, comfortable grounds, large capacity, camping availability and VIP opportunities, nearby hotels and resorts and near perfect weather, the Coachella Valley site is uniquely positioned to host world class music events and Desert Trip now takes its place among them.