Tag Archives: Festival

Ravinia Wraps Summer with Improvements in Mind

14 Sep

MetraPark officials in Billings, Mont., had their work cut out for them when the 10,000-seat Rimrock Auto Arena was gutted by a tornado less than eight weeks before the start of the annual MontanaFair, which took place Aug. 13-21.

A tornado ripped through Billings on June 20, Father’s Day, and hovered over and swirled inside the Rimrock Auto Arena for at least 12 minutes.

“The grandstand is in perfect order, but it spent 12 minutes scouring the inside of the arena,” said Sandra Hawke, marketing director for MetraPark. “It just broke through the roof and sat there for 12 minutes.”

The bones of the building remain intact and most of the soft seats are salvageable, but the roof was ripped out and other damage was done to the interior.

“Not a soul” was on the grounds June 20 and no one was hurt, although people nearby had video cameras and images of the tornado ripping off the arena’s roof can be viewed on YouTube.

The community rallied to help pick up the debris and 1,500 volunteers showed up instead of the requested 500.

“Once we came out and said, ‘We are not canceling the fair, we’re going to move ahead,’ the community gave us kudos for that quick and definite response,” Hawke said.

The community also showed support by attending the fair at almost the same rate as the year before, with the final number ending up at 232,657 compared to last year’s 233,015.

The loss of the use of the arena for the fair meant finding a place to hold the event’s three large opening weekend concerts, so Hawke contacted Tim Kohlmeyer of Theatrical Media Services in Omaha, Neb., who set MetraPark up with an outdoor stage on the track of the grandstand. Insurance covered most of the cost of the outdoor staging.

Jason Aldean opened the fair Aug. 13 with tickets costing $45, $35 and $25; the Scorpions played Aug. 14, $45, $35 and $25; followed up by Hinder with Finger Eleven on Aug. 15, $35 and $25. The budget for the entertainment buys was $350,000 plus production, Hawke said.

The grandstand has a capacity of about 6,200 and the concerts all averaged about 5,600, so the loss of the arena’s extra seats was not a problem, Hawke said.

Those were the only concerts planned for the fair; however, Hawke had booked Celtic Woman for the day after the fair closed. That show could not be converted to an outdoor production.

Hawke called the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse in Bozeman, Mont., which picked up the Celtic Woman concert. Hawke also had to cancel concerts by Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, who already were routed to Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. Ticket sales were under way for those appearances; a concert by Rodney Carrington was about to go on sale and did not. Carrington now is playing the Adams Event Center in Missoula, Mont., on Nov. 18.

As to what it will cost to repair the Rimrock Auto Arena, “Let me first preface that by saying we are insured up to $121 million, and we’re probably in the vicinity of half of that, plus a little money for lost business.”

Since 1904, the Ravinia Festival has provided a forest sanctuary for music lovers in Highland Park, Ill. Despite climbing artist fees and a dismal economic forecast, Ravinia has managed to book superstar acts, add new improvements to its facilities, continue its community outreach, and keep people coming back for more.

“We have been very fortunate. We think we’re going to hit our goals from a ticket sales point of view and a fundraising point of view, which in this economy is cause for maybe not jubilation, but at least relief,” said Welz Kauffman, president and CEO of Ravinia Park. Although official numbers will not be available until later in the fall, Kauffman explained that current ticket sales are hovering around the venue’s annual average, which is between 550,000 and 600,000 tickets sold.

Ravinia has seen artist fees climb for the past 10 years as recording revenues drop and the competition from other entertainment venues in the Chicago area increases. The casino market has burgeoned in the past couple years, particularly in nearby Indiana. “It’s just one more place where artists can play, and the more places they have possible to play, the higher their fees,” said Kauffman.

This summer, Ravinia Festival presented 92 acts. Popular performances included Yo-Yo Ma, Renee Fleming, Earth Wind & Fire, Sheryl Crow, Rodrigo y Gabriela, and Sting, whom Kauffman dubbed the biggest artist Ravinia has had in its 106-year history. Sting performed to a sold out crowd in Ravinia’s 3,200-seat theater, the Pavilion, as well as attendees on the lawn, which fits approximately 14,000 people.

At four Chicago Symphony concerts this summer, Ravinia offered seats on the Pavilion for $25. Normal symphony seat prices can range from $50 to $90. Other popular promotions that Ravinia has been offering are special dining packages that range from $35 to $60 and include a meal, parking and performance ticket, and $10 seats in its 450-seat theater, Bennett-Gordon Hall.

After summer is wrapped, the Ravinia staff will get started on restoring the grounds and preparing them for the cold winter months. The staff drops from 500 to 50 from summer to off-season months, but Kauffman explained that the Ravinia staff continues to work hard after the music stops.

“We do a lot of prep work so [the grounds] can kind of hibernate,” said Kauffman. However, the large project expected to be completed by spring of 2011 is a new, handicapped-accessible, 42-foot pedestrian underpass that will connect the main parking lot to the Tyler Gate entrance on the festival grounds.

Because a train company constructed Ravinia as an amusement park in 1904, the train still stops at the front door of the park. This new pathway will pass under the train tracks, which have proved problematic for festival goers that park in the main lot, and have to wait as long as 30 minutes for trains to pass before being able to cross. “There have been some waiting issues, and it’s a real customer service problem. So we’re investing quite a lot of resources in building this underpass. It will be the major off-season project,” said Kauffman. The project, which has been in the works for the past eight years, will cost $5 million and will be privately funded by Ravinia.  — Linda Domingo

Drug Overdose Prompts Moratorium on L.A. Raves

9 Jul

Crowd surge at Electric Daisy Carnival, Los Angeles (Photo by Jesse Solorio)

A massive Los Angeles rave that ended with the drug overdose death of a 15-year-old girl has prompted a moratorium on similar dance events and a government-appointed task force to investigate the issue.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to establish a task force of city employees, police and hospital workers in response to reports about safety issues at the Electric Daisy Carnival, which attracted 200,000 fans to Exposition Park and the L.A. Coliseum on July 26-27 for what was billed as the largest two-day festival in North America.

Shortly after the festival ended, reports of severe overcrowding and rampant fence-jumping emerged, followed by the death of a 15-year-old girl who reportedly overdosed on the drug Ecstasy. According to hospital officials, over 200 people had to be hospitalized for drug overdoses and injuries sustained at EDC.

Coliseum staff have announced a moratorium on new contracts with rave operators, which could prove a double whammy for the beleaguered stadium. In June, the University of Southern California football team — the stadium’s main tenant — was banned from participation in Bowl Games for two years because of player and coach rule violations from previous seasons. That ruling will surely hurt the team’s ability to recruit top players, which could have an impact on ticket sales.

Exposition Park’s aging arena has also had difficulty booking major tours as it faces competition from the Staples Center and even the nearby Forum in Inglewood, Calif. According to Jonathan Lee, director of Marketing and Events at the Coliseum, raves and electronic dance events make up the bulk of concert revenues coming into the facility.

So just how dangerous are raves? Most electronic music organizers agree that the name itself conjures up negative feelings, associated with the rave-scene of the late 1990s. Electronic music events then generally lacked permits, were held illegally at warehouses or on patches of desert, and often included rampant drug use.

“To me, rave is a four-letter word and I would never use it to describe the events we host,” said Jesse Fleming, partner at The Do Lab, a Venice Beach, Calif., firm that hosts several electronic music events including a long-running electronic music showcase at the annual Coachella Arts and Music Festival in Indio, Calif.

“Raves conjure up images of kids in obnoxious fluorescent clothing, sucking on pacifiers so they don’t grind their teeth from all the drugs they’ve done. We want no part of that,” said Fleming, who acknowledged that drug use is still rampant in today’s electronic music circles.

“Just because there’s a DJ playing doesn’t mean you’re going to have the same type of crowd you normally expect,” said Thushan Rajapaksa from StaffPro, a Huntington Beach, Calif., firm that provides security for several electronic dance events, but didn’t do security for EDC. “Someone like DJ Tiesto will draw an older, more educated crowd. There are different crowds and we as an industry have to educate ourselves,” Rajapaksa said.

Thushan said the top way to prevent rampant drug use and sales is to ban backpacks, bags and anything that can be used to conceal drugs. He also said he supports full pat downs and drug-sniffing dogs placed around the facility. While that might deter individuals from bringing drugs into the club, it won’t stop individuals who ingest drugs before they pass through security.

“You can’t stop all of it; there’s no silver bullet,” he said.

As for rapid overcrowding and reports of people jumping fences and pushing through to the floor level, Rajapaksa said it’s generally a bad idea to have different ticket pricing levels separating the floor and the reserved seating, especially at dance events. Many fans see a bustling dance floor and want to take part, instead of dancing in their seats.

One Los Angeles event that was closed down because fans were jumping into the lower seating level was the Hard Halloween Fest at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., in October 2009. The next Hard event is scheduled for late summer at the LA State Historic Park.

“I’ve had multiple meetings at City Hall, our plan is the exact same plan as before Electric Daisy,” said promoter Gary Richards. This year’s concert will be held on a 36-acre swath of land “with plenty of room to spread out. We want to develop this site for festivals over the next five to 10 years.”

Richards said he worries about drug use at his events and said the rave culture of the 1990s certainly encouraged fans to use ecstasy, LSD and other psychedelics as a way to enhance the live music experience.

“I’m just trying to tell the kids you don’t have to be high to enjoy the music. I hope that’s not what it’s all about,” Richards said.

Age limits are also a concern for rave organizers. The girl who died at EDC was 15 years old, although organizers put a 16-and-older age restriction on tickets.

“Right now we follow the example of the city’s largest promoters and make most of our events all ages, except when the events are held in bars and nightclubs,” said Richards. “We’ve already sold thousands of tickets to this year’s Hard concerts, but we’ll consider an age restriction at future events.”

As for promoter Insomniac, it’s unclear what the future holds. The group is set to hold the Electric Daisy Carnival at Sixto Escobar Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Aug. 28. Two past events, a June 19 rave at the Texas State Fairgrounds in Dallas and a June 12 rave at the Arapahoe County Fairgrounds in Aurora, Colo., wrapped with no serious injuries. The Love Fest, an electronic dance party at the Coliseum set for late August, is still set to go. – Dave Brooks

Interviewed for this article: Jesse Fleming, (310) 621-0761; Gary Richards, Thushan Rajapaksa, (714) 465-7448; Jon Lee, (213) 765-6357

Coachella: Lines, Fines and Blown Minds

19 Apr

The headline spot gets the largest font on most festival posters, but the kush hour at any outdoor festival is the sunset slot. Step on stage during early twilight and leave just as the star become visible. Ivy Leaguers Vampire Weekend played sunset Friday on the smaller stage, while MGMT mostly perplexed varsity hipsters on Saturday with their sunset performance. French outfit Phoenix played an amazing set on Sunday, without any stage production or lighting effects — their engineer got ashed-in at a European airport.

Still, Phoenix kept the crowd’s attention, even through their 10-minute rendition of hit single “1901,” followed by 90-minutes from Thom Yorke and Flea’s Atoms For Peace. After playing most of the Erasure album, Yorke rewarded the crowded by playing acoustic versions of Radiohead’s “Airbag” and “Everything In Its Right Place.” Unlike Paul McCartney, Yorke stuck to his allotted time slot. The city has threatened to fine the festival as much as $1,000 for every minute it goes past its 1 a.m. curfew.

Sounds wonderful, but trust us, there were lots of logistical problems. More than ever. And nicknames too. That’s the beauty of Coachella — it’s Native American monkier lends itself to plenty of snarky hum-diggers. Oh geez! These nicknames are just so gosh-darn clever!


Wastechella – For the first time, Coachella didn’t let any bottled water be brought inside the Polo Fields. Everyone was searched going in, and staff forced all fans to pour out entire water bottles before entering. Thousands, probably tens of thousands, of bottles were dumped into the grass as fans entered. Inside, one could purchase a $2 bottle of water (although many vendors frequently ran out), or a smaller plastic bottle for $12 that fans could refill from a water cooler. For a festival that claims to have a message of sustainability, forcing people to pour out water into the desert before entering a festival that peaked in the 90s is probably the most hypocritical, profit-centric move they could have made. Wasting drinking water at that volume ignores the water crisis in the Palm Desert and developing world.

Linechella — Coachella was crowded this year. In 2009 they capped attendance at 68,000; in 2010, they upped attendance to 85,000. According to our source, that’s 75,000 paid tickets and another 10,000 comps (media, volunteers, entourage, workers). Everyone felt the difference, especially driving down Monroe Street into the main entrance, which took three-to-four hours to forge through (but we knew a short cut). While the lines for food were annoying, the morning queue for the showers was downright depressing.

Dumbchella — Two security companies were hired by Coachella this year, and both did a pretty lousy job. Staff Pro from Huntington Beach handled access control for many of the restricted areas, while CSC of Los Angeles handled boundaries and crowd control. I saw two security teams almost fight each other (only to stop when they realized they were being videotaped on an iPhone), and staff were worthless at best and occasionally psychopathic at worst. At Coachella, 300 bucks really just gets you into the door — don’t expect anyone to be nice to you. It’s more than double that to access two VIP areas with food, air conditioning and a little space. And it was clear to everyone that the staff had very limited information about anything. Most couldn’t tell you where major streets were, or identify a parking lot on a map. Pathetic.

Pukechella — Sure there were some choice menu items, but the food at Coachella was not very delicious. Probably exactly the same stuff you would find at your home county fair, by the exact same vendors. There were a few choice food trucks (including Kogi Tacos in the VIP tent), but the good bites had long lines, and everyone had high prices. A lot of that money is taxes — Goldenvoice and Best Beverage Catering charged vendors 40% of the register to sell at Coachella, plus nine percent sales tax. That’s a 50 percent markup, washed down over a chintzy $7 beer and smaller $12 vodka-tonic.

Dropchella – For all intensive purposes, the AT&T network at Coachella completely failed. 3G service for the iPhone would not work within three or four miles of the Polo Fields, and text messages stopped going through at about 6 p.m. Calls dropped before pleasantries could be exchanged. Worst of all, Coachella organizers hyped an iPhone app that took a huge amount of bandwidth, contributing to the crippled system, and ofcourse, never actually working.


Coachella — The set design, video production and sound quality for the two main stages was probably the best I’ve ever seen. The concerts looked and sounded amazing, especially headlining acts Jay-Z and Muse. Coachella is the highest level of production quality on the West Coast. And the Polo Fields are a very beautiful place.

Ravechella — Electronic music continues to roar at Coachella, rocking until 1 a.m. with Tiesto, one of the greatest (and most expensive) techno DJs in the world. After his set, smaller raves continued until 3 a.m. and many campers didn’t even head into the festival until 11 p.m. It’s almost like there’s two different Coachellas— one for indie rock hipsters, and one for rich-kid ravers. The festival’s Sahara tent is a 12-hour rave with bands you’ve never heard of like DeadMau5 and Yeahsayer. Electronic music hit a dark place, but fear not. Rave culture is coming back in a big, big way. The kids will do it differently, but the three components remain — loud music, bright clothing, and hard drugs.

Whoachella — A “whoa moment” is when Beyonce steps on stage and plays a surprise song with husband Jay-Z to fireworks exploding in the background. It’s when Thom Yorke records live loops verses for songs, using four separate recording tracks to create a sonicscape of melodies. It’s when Florence and the Machines team up with Cold War Kids for an emotional rendition of “Hospital Beds,” or when Spoon closes an energetic set with a tear-jerker like “Black Like Me.”

Artchella — As usual, the art installations at Coachella were spectacular. From the massive origami crane that changed colors at night to the redesigned Do Lab, which hosted raves, live graffiti art and surreal performances, Coachella always had something wonderful to look at. Pinball arcades, roller skating rinks and glow-in-the-dark swings were a good way to beat the heat.

Ashchella — The volcanic eruption in Iceland ground European air travel to a halt and forced several bands to cancel. The Cribs, Bad Lieutenant and Gary Numan all canceled their sets because they were unable to book air travel. We know, that shouldn’t be in the good news portion of this story, but we didn’t want hammer Goldenvoice for this one, so we’re giving them a free pass.

when you can only pick just one…

15 Apr

Music festivals are by nature an exercise in conflict management. At any one time, two, three or even four choice bands could be playing at the same time. Factor in a massive venue like the Polo Fields in Indio, Calif. and dozens of iPhone-carrying friends who insist you give P.O.S. another chance (and they’re playing in the Gobi Tent right now!), and the result is an organizational meltdown akin to Lehman Brothers.

Fear not fellow Coachella-goer. Venues Today has poured over this year’s schedule and is tackling some of the biggest scheduling conflicts without fear or reservation. And while you will surely commend our bravery, be aware that we’re not going to hold your hand until 4 p.m. when the real scheduling conflicts begin. If you can’t decide between Camera Obscura or DJ Jason Bentley on Friday at 1 p.m., then you need professional help.


Conflict – She & Him vs. The Dillinger Escape Plan

I listened to the Dillinger Escape Plan on MOG to help me write this article. In spite of what is an otherwise brilliant band name, their music was mostly screaming and loud sounds. Like the noise you would hear in your head if you were being water-boarded. She & Him is fronted by Zooey Deschanel. She writes beautiful melodic songs that your parents or relatives would approve of. When they told you to “have a nice time at Coachella,” this is what they were envisioning.

We pick: She & Him

Conflict – Them Crooked Vultures vs. Grizzly Bear

Why are you even reading this entry? Only a total baby would go listen to serial whiners Grizzly Bear over the rock god trifecta that is Them Crooked Vultures. You see, Them Crooked Vultures have this drummer in their band named Dave Grohl. Perhaps you have heard of him. He was in this little band in the 1990s called Nirvana. He’s like Jesus, but with a Zildjian drum cymbal for a halo.

We pick: Them Crooked Vultures

Conflict – Jay-Z vs. Public Image Limited

Really, just another exercise in futility. While their sets actually start a half-hour apart, there’s probably only five people who will leave Jay-Z to catch this spin off reunion, and they’ve all promised to send out a notification on Twitter so they can find each other. Public Image Limited is fronted by John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten of Sex Pistols fame. Did you ever really like the Pistols, or did you just buy their album to piss off your parents?

We pick: Jay-Z


Conflict – Coheed and Cambria vs. the XX vs. Corinne Bailey Rae

OK,  so we start Saturday with an easy one. With the XX’s set ending at 7:10 and Rae’s set starting at 7:00, there’s not much overlap. That pits an indie buzz band (the XX) and a depressingly attractive soul singer (Rae) against a sometimes hardcore/metal outfit.

We pick: Check out the first half of the XX and then head over and watch as much of Corinne Bailey Rae as possible.

Conflict – Tiesto vs. SIA vs. Devo

Let’s just go ahead and cross Devo off the list right away. Yes they are awesome, but if you wait until summer, they will undoubtedly play your local county fair/rodeo/bar mitzvah. So that leaves two options — the chaotic, pulsing beats of Dutch super-DJ Tiesto or the ambient, opiated sounds of SIA. Most festival-goers will make this decision based on the strength of the MDMA they bought in the beer garden. Still peaking? Tiesto is sounding pretty good on the main stage. Grinding those teeth a bit too much? Come down with SIA

We pick: Tiesto (it will be more fun, we promise!)


Conflict: Matt & Kim vs. Florence and the Machine

Never before have two bands had such a similar sound, hipster appeal and overbearing sense of irony. We’re just going to throw a dart at this one and see where it lands.

We pick: Florence and the Machine (it must be the red hair)

Conflict: Phoenix vs. Sly and the Family Stone

Right off the bat, we’re going with with Phoenix because Sly and the Family Stone barely include Sly. Last time we saw Stone play, Sly came out for five minutes and we’re pretty sure he was attached to a dialysis machine. Phoenix gets points for full disclosure — they’re French, and they’re strangely not embarrassed about it. And if you have a chick with you, she’ll be geniunely more impressed by Phoenix. We can’t explain that one, but trust us.

We pick: Phoenix