Live Nation Entertainment and Founders Entertainment will partner for the first time in presenting FarmBorough, New York’s debut country music festival, set for June 26-28 at Randall’s Island in New York City, site of the Founders-produced Governors Ball Music Festival. Among the acts already booked are Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan, and Brad Paisley, all of whom had strong arena/amphitheater tours this year promoted by Live Nation.
Billboard spoke with Live Nation Country president Brian O’Connell yesterday afternoon as he boarded a plane for New York to attend this morning’s press conference announcing the event. O’Connell says the genesis of a New York country fest, first tipped on Billboard back on Feb. 20, began with conversations between Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino and Founders co-founder and partner Jordan Wolowitz back in Q1.
“Jordan Wolowitz and Michael Rapino were discussing an interest in [Founders] doing something else with their platform, and the next day Jordan was sitting in my office in Nashville,” O’Connell tells Billboard. “We’d never met each other—you know me, if you don’t drive a bus or you’re not at one of my shows, I don’t know that many people — and we hit it off immediately. We started talking philosophically about how I do my festivals with my team, and he gave me a history of Gov Ball and how they did it, and I was intrigued by that. Within an hour, we became fast friends, with two sets of philosophies that matched up.”
While O’Connell says the real push to stage FarmBorough begins today, “there has been a ton of work that has gotten us to this point. Any time there’s a question or an issue, I just pick up the phone and call Jordan, and 99.9 percent of the time we agree.”
The complexities of staging an event in New York, as well as two partners working together for the first time, are why it took so long to get FarmBorough announced, according to O’Connell. “It’s not like we’re going to a farm in the middle of Iowa or something. It takes a lot of work to get the philosophies and logistics right, and the parks department in New York have been wonderful people to deal with, and I mean that sincerely,” O’Connell says. “You have to be very careful with the grass and make sure the park is taken care of. We wanted to make sure that Gov Ball got to pick what weekend they were going to run, and then we picked what weekend we’re going.”
Bottom line, O’Connell says the opportunity to stage a country festival in New York was too great to pass up. “Building something that gives you a shot at going to New York City? You know me well enough to know I’m gonna take it,” says O’Connell. “Of course I want to go there. We’ve got great partners in radio with Cumulus, we’ve got our friends at Sirius XM located in New York, we’ve got population, population, population.”
New York is now well-established as a robust market for live country music. Just this year, Live Nation has presented two sold-out shows by Luke Bryan at Madison Square Garden and one at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and sellouts by Blake Shelton and Jason Aldean at the Garden, “to say nothing of all the business we’ve done [at PNC Bank Arts Center] in Holmdel, N.J., and [Nikon at] Jones Beach [Theatre in Wantagh, N.Y.] over the years,” he points out. “It just makes sense for us to have a platform in New York City. It’s No. 1 for a reason.”
The launch of FarmBorough also keeps O’Connell on track for his stated goal to launch 10 country music festivals in 10 years. The promoter has already established the Watershed festival at the Gorge Amphitheatre in George Wash. (2012); Faster Horses in Brooklyn, Mich. (2013); and the Rt. 91 Harvest in Las Vegas (2014). “It’s a breakneck pace,” O’Connell admits. “Now we’re basically sea to shining sea, Washington state to New York City. With Vegas and Faster Horses, we’re starting to figure out how to do this.”
Also announced at the FarmBorough press conference today are performances by Wade Bowen, Brandy Clark, Maddie & Tae, Kip Moore, Ashley Monroe, Randy Houser, and the Cadillac Three, with more to be revealed over the coming weeks. O’Connell says the overall success of the genre is what is driving the success in launching these festivals, and country music at large. “This isn’t about us trying to have a bunch of mechanical bulls and things like that just to be cute,” O’Connell points out. “It’s about us trying to broaden the platform of the music. If you look at the total talent lineup, we’re going to try to cover as much of the spectrum as we can. We have artists up for New Artist of the Year and artists up for Entertainer of the Year. We’re trying to be as diverse as possible.”
Three-day passes start at $225 (plus service charges) and go on-sale Nov. 6 at 10 AM EST. Three-day VIP packages with access to skyline views, private bars and amenities will be available at farmboroughfestival.com.
Overall the year for LN Country Music has been “unprecedented,” O’Connell says. “I go back to what I told you a year ago, to keep your eye on Dierks Bentley. Obviously, Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Rascal Flatts, Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, and everybody else we’ve been fortunate enough to work with all have had great years.”
Next year looks “over the top,” O’Connell continues. “We have some new artists I’m excited to work with,” he says. “Cole Swindell is on a great run, I’m looking for great things out of him. There’s a lot of interesting packaging going on. Look at the noise Sam Hunt is making right now, I remember talking to you about him when I was booking Faster Horses last year. It doesn’t look like it’s slowing down at all.”