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Meadows Music Postmortem: Organizers Talk Kanye West’s Early Exit, The Weeknd’s Cancellation and Whether the Queens Fest Will Return

Billboard spoke with Tom Russell and Jordan Wolowitz, partners in Founders Entertainment, about how the Meadows Music Festival came off in its inaugural year.

The first ever Meadows Music Festival, held Oct. 1-2 at Citi Field in New York, is now in the books. Produced by Founders Entertainment, the team behind New York’s first major music festival in Governors Ball out on Randall’s Island, launched Meadows with a lineup of Kanye West (who had been booked to headline GovBall but was forced to cancel due to rain), The Weeknd, Tygo, Cage The Elephant, the 1975, Chromeo and J. Cole.

Though the first Meadows may be most remembered for the cancellation, rescheduling and second cancellation of The Weeknd (presumably to play the season premier of Saturday Night Live), and a West performance cut short an hour in when the rapper learned that his wife, Kim Kardashian West, had been robbed in Paris, Founders was very much successful in planting a fall festival flag in Queens. Billboard spoke with Tom Russell and Jordan Wolowitz, partners in Founders Entertainment (which was acquired by Live Nation earlier this year, as first tipped by Billboard) about how the Meadows came off in its inaugural year.


Billboard: How did Citi Field work out as the venue for the inaugural Meadows Music Festival?

Tom Russell: It went really great. We had a really quick load in, we started building on Monday because we had to bob and weave with the Mets schedule. But we made it all happen and worked our asses off, and by the time the gates opened on Saturday everything was set up and good to go. We really took a chance with the unique layout we had, with all the stages in the middle facing out. But all the reports we read and heard were that sound bleed was non-existent — which is one of the reasons we did that layout — and also the circular flow just really worked well in terms of crowd movement and just the experience. We were really pleased.

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How was attendance?

Jordan Wolowitz: Saturday we did about 35,000 and change, and Sunday we were sold out at 50,000, so, for a first-year festival, not too bad.

Some of the concerns going in from observers were centered around ingress/egress, crowd flow and traffic problems. Any major issues there?  

TR: We had zero problems in terms of traffic or crowd flow. All of the agencies, including NYPD, FDNY, DOT, the Mayor’s office for Special Events, nobody had any complaints or heard of any issues. There were no complaints lodged to the local NYPD precinct or the Mets, it really went off without a hitch. So, given all the folks that were concerned about anything like this prior to the festival, we were pleased that nothing came of that.

What was the reception to your food and beverage and art installations?

TR: Our Feastival of Queens area, which featured five different authentic ethnic foods from Queens, was one of the most popular areas of the festival, and was written about in a number of different reviews. That went over much better than we ever could have hoped. Our Infatuation area, which featured some of the best restaurants around the city, was also one of the most popular areas. We will keep increasing the high level of vendors for our food and beverage and we couldn’t be happier with either one.

What happened with the Weeknd non-appearance?

JW: The Weeknd made a choice to cancel his appearance at the Meadows, and we have to respect the artists’ wishes at the end of the day.

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You’ll be booking a lot of festivals going forward. Would you book him again?

JW: Yes. From what we gather, it was totally a scheduling situation, and a difficult one for him. He’s a world class artist, and we have discussed his coming to play other events of ours in the future.

Any requests for refunds because the Weeknd didn’t perform?

JW: We had very few requests for refunds, which I think is a testament to the strength of the overall lineup.

The other major event was Kanye West having to cut short his performance due to the “family emergency.” What can you tell me about how that went down?

JW: I happened to be backstage when it went down, so we all dealt with it in real time. I think the team handled it as smoothly as they could in terms of getting Kanye out of there safely and, to Kanye’s credit, having the instincts to say that he had a family emergency before he dropped the mic and walked off stage really helped things. If he had said nothing and just walked off, there could have been potential crowd issues so the situation went about as well as it could in terms of everyone’s safety and well-being. The news, as the whole world knows, broke within the hour, so I think that for people leaving the festival looking at social media, it just blew up everywhere. We’re just really happy that his family is OK and everything seems to be good with them.

Kanye West
Kanye West performs onstage during The Meadows Music & Arts Festival Day 2 on Oct. 2, 2016 in Queens, New York.  Taylor Hill/Getty Images for The Meadows

Bottom line, are you guys happy with the first Meadows Music Festival and will you do another?

JW: Oh, yeah. We have our dates for next year, which we’ll be releasing shortly. The feedback was great, and in terms of the cultural event calendar of New York, it’s a great idea to have a fall music festival here. From a programming standpoint, having a festival that focuses a little more on pop, hip-hop, and dance, more so than GovBall, does is a nice change of pace for the ticket buyer. Tom and [festival director] Jen Stiles and our operations team couldn’t have done a better job, people were blown away by what they did with the site layout.

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TR: Operationally, year one was very successful, but there’s no doubt ways that we can improve that site. Having gone through year one, we know areas that we could touch up, areas that we could improve to make the site more dynamic and unique for the folks that are there. Next year, we will see an increased culinary experience, an increased art experience, an increased VIP experience, just really enhancing all aspects of the event and continuing to grow it, as we’ve grown GovBall over the years.