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Bronx Cheers: How the Coachella-Aligned Panorama Fest Landed on Top of the Indie Governors Ball

While most believe that New York can support more than one major music festival, the new Panorama event set for New York City's Randall's Island Park in July doesn't seem a best-case scenario for…

While most believe that New York can support more than one major music festival, the new Panorama event set for New York City’s Randall’s Island Park in July doesn’t seem a best-case scenario for either producers Goldenvoice (a subsidiary of AEG Live) or Founders Entertainment, which will produce Governors Ball at Randall’s Island just seven weeks prior.

Set for July 22-24, Panorama is being billed as “three days of music, art, technology, and local food offerings.” The name is a nod to the Panorama of the City of New York, a nearly 10,000–square-foot, to-scale model of the city located in Queens Museum. Initial plans for Panorama to take place at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens were stymied when necessary permits were denied.

“I get it, they were out of options,” says Jordan Wolowitz, partner in Founders Entertainment, which will stage the sixth Governors Ball Music Festival June 3-5. “When the city said ‘no’ to Queens, [Goldenvoice] had no choice but to come to Randall’s Island. I’m assuming they’re kind of disappointed, too, because they look kind of silly in a way, that they have to do the same kind of festival as GovBall, seven weeks later, same site, contemporary bands. It’s just going to be the same thing to the ticket buyer.”

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In announcing Panorama, Goldenvoice festival producer Mark Shulman stressed that a Queens-based fest was still on the table, saying: “We look forward to continuing our discussions with NYC Parks to create an event to take place in Queens in the future.

Clearly, those at Founders were less than thrilled about Panorama in either location. An independent festival producer not aligned with either AEG or Live Nation, AEG’s rival in the festival arms race, Founders quickly assumed the David role (versus AEG’s Goliath), launching a petition that asked Mayor Bill de Blasio to reject the proposed June dates for Panorama at Randall’s. The petition read, in part: “The timing of this proposed event is an aggressive, greedy attempt by AEG to push a small independent company of born and bred New Yorkers out of business and out of the market.”

Founders partner Jordan Wolowitz tells Billboard his team first got wind of Panorama about a year ago, then heard about it “formally” backstage at Coachella in April. Wolowitz’s assessment of the situation was that Panorama ended up on Randall’s Island because Goldenvoice had already tied up “millions” in artist guarantees and “had all the industry awaiting them to launch this new festival in Queens,” he says, “so they had no choice but to save face, because otherwise they would have looked stupid and been out millions of dollars in these guarantees. They couldn’t just swallow that loss.”

2015 Governors Ball Music Festival at Randall's Island
General view of atmosphere during the Governors Ball Music Festival at Randall's Island on June 5, 2015 in New York City.   Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images

Given the fierce competition between AEG and Live Nation in building their respective festival portfolios in North America, New York would seem a critical market. Wolowitz says that he has long held that New York could support another music festival. “Does it make sense to do it seven weeks after GovBall, on the exact same site?” he asks rhetorically.

The schedule could have been even tighter. Had Goldenvoice been able to acquire the necessary permits for Queens, Wolowitz says that Panorama would have taken place June 16-19, according to offers for bands that went to agents. He speculates that those dates were geared to more efficiently synergize Panorama with Firefly in Dover, Del., also produced by Goldenvoice over the same weekend, just two weeks after GovBall. “I can’t help but take it kind of personally that they were attempting to blow us out of the water by doing a festival two weeks after GovBall,” Wolowitz says. “Why not go when the ticket buyer has a chance to hit the refresh button, not only on their wallets, but on their festival-going experience?”

Asked about all of this, Shulman responds, “We don’t discuss the when, where and why’s of how we book artists, but when the details of the event are announced, we think fans will be excited.”

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Panorama has not announced its talent yet, but Wolowitz predicts Goldenvoice will “deliver a great lineup, because Paul Tollett is a good curator, and they’re the second-biggest promoter in the world, so they can afford to pay bands.”

Given that GovBall has already launched a successful onsale before Panorama ever announces its lineup, the commercial impact on GovBall 2016 will be minimal. Agents that spoke with Billboard, though opting for anonymity, expressed little concern about the viability of either festival going forward. Other major markets support multiple festivals — though, Wolowitz points out that, in most cases, they’re significantly different from each other. “If you look at Chicago there’s Lolla, there’s Pitchfork, there’s North Coast, there’s Spring Awakening, there are a ton of music festivals, they’re all successful in their own right,” he says.

Governors Ball sold out in 2015 at approximately 50,000 tickets per day, the festival’s third straight advance sellout. The 2016 GovBall lineup includes Kanye West, the Killers and the Strokes as headliners and, despite the radius clauses typically attached to festival acts, Wolowitz says he ran into “only a couple” of issues in putting that lineup together, even with Goldenvoice actively booking for Panorama at the same time. “A couple of the bigger acts that will be on their bill I lost out on, because I’m just sending an offer for GovBall when they were sending offers for Coachella, Panorama, Hangout, Firefly, FYF,” he says, citing other Goldenvoice/AEG fests. “They’re putting their portfolio in a lot of these offers, so if an act is going to get an offer for a festival times five, or times three, the number on the offer is going to be much, much bigger than what I give. There were a couple of acts that went with AEG, which I totally understand, it was financially related. But, for the most part, I got the lineup I wanted.”

As one of the few remaining independent producers of a major festival, Founders has surely had offers to sell or partner, though Wolowitz declines to confirm that rumor. Asked if GovBall might be in a better position if affiliated with a major corporation, he answers, “No. If you and I were having this conversation three or four months ago, and my lineup wasn’t done, and we didn’t know what was going to happen, maybe I’d be singing a different tune. But if you look at my lineup, it speaks for itself. The success of our onsale speaks for itself, the success of the festival brand overall speaks for itself. We’ve shown that, right now, we don’t need to [partner] — yet. Who knows what the future may bring.”

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As for the 2016 GovBall, Wolowitz says producers won’t come at staging the event any differently knowing another major festival will hit the site seven weeks later. “We’re a competitive independent promoter, so we’re probably going to up our game a little bit, as we always do try to,” he says. “But they’re coming to our home turf, they promised this big festival in Queens and couldn’t deliver, and now they’re going to have to piggyback off of GovBall’s success. But, as Mark has been telling people in the press, there’s millions of people who live in New York, millions who come to visit New York, so if they book the right acts, they’ll be fine.”

Wolowitz adds that he harbors “no hard feelings” against is the decision-makers at Randall’s Island for booking another festival so close to GovBall. “Randall’s Island is an event space, that’s what it’s there for,” he points out. “And, honestly, no hard feelings with AEG, it’s business. It’s embarrassing for them, they’ve been promising this big festival in Queens with these huge artists and a new option for ticket buyers in New York, and they’re just dropping another festival on Randall’s that’s going to be just like GovBall. They can say it’s not going to be, but what’s going to be the difference? They’re going to have a prettier art installation than we are? A different taco truck?”

For his part, Shulman is opting to stay above the fray and declines to comment on specific details about how and why Panorama came to be on Randall’s Island, nor the impact of being so close to GovBall. “We can only reiterate that New York City can — and in fact already does — support multiple types of entertainment,” he says. “Different venues for music, sports, theater, and dining all coexist here. We have confidence that two festivals held nearly two months apart can thrive.”

Coachella 2016