Tag Archives: festivals

Forecastle Festival Takes Slow Road to Success

27 Jul

Brit Daniels of Spoon rocks the Forecastle Festival in Louisville, Ky.

There are two paths to festival success: open big or grow slow. While festivals like Bonnaroo and the rebooted Lollapalooza came out of the gate with impressive lineups in large-scale settings, the modest Forecastle Festival in Louisville, Ky., has slowly built a grassroots audience over nine years as its lineup and footprint have steadily expanded.

From July 9-11, more than 27,000 people filled 90-acre Riverfront Park in Louisville to hear Smashing Pumpkins, Spoon, Flaming Lips and Widespread Panic.

“The main thing that’s helped us is a grassroots following and having a unique story,” said festival founder JK McKnight, who has grown the event from a free local music gathering for 500 in 2002 to a national festival that draws attendees from nearly every state. “A lot of other festivals are started with a group of investors and businessmen who are basing it on profit potential, which is great. But we have a totally different story. We started off with nothing.”

McKnight said it cost around $1.5 million to put on the show in 2010, with 65 percent of that money going to the talent and the rest going to build the infrastructure for the site, which included erecting a power grid, bringing in water sources and staging. He didn’t release the gross for this year’s event, but said the goal is to eventually draw between 30,000 and 35,000 attendees. The event costs $150 for a three-day pass and $75 for a weekend camping spot.

Over the years, McKnight has hosted such national acts as Sleater-Kinney, Umphrey’s McGee, Girl Talk, Dr. Dog, Band of Horses and the Black Crowes. He’s also watched as his initial vision of creating camaraderie among local musicians has blossomed into a three-day festival that garners national press, with headline-worthy talent booked by Nederlander Entertainment.

The first Forecastle took place in 15-acre Frederick Olmsted-designed Tyler Park in July 2002, as a free event meant to celebrate the city’s diverse music community, put on by a then 21-year-old McKnight. With just $500 in overhead to produce the event, all the talent performed for free and the infrastructure was donated for a show that drew several hundred fans.

The next year, McKnight invited local visual artists to join in and an environmental element was added as the fest’s attendance tripled. In 2005, McKnight raised $60,000 to cover the costs, securing sponsorships from Patagonia and Red Bull, as well as local businesses for a show that attracted 5,000.

The show grew to two days in 2006 with headline acts including Sleater-Kinney, whose announcement of a split shortly after agreeing to play helped sell thousands of tickets overnight and garnered mentions for Forecastle in the New York Times, CNN, Billboard and MTV.

By 2009 an exclusive partnership with Nederlander was in place to help with booking and management, which resulted in attendance of 23,000 people from 44 states and six countries for the 2010 shows.

“We loved where he was going with it and we felt this was unique,” said Steve Liberatore, VP of Programming and Business Development at Nederlander Entertainment, which signed with the festival in 2009.

Liberatore would not discuss the talent budget, but said he spent “considerably” more than in 2009 and that the agents he worked with were fair with their guarantees, especially for acts who weren’t necessarily in their touring cycle. He also said that while there was no profit this year, Nederlander is confident that after a growth cycle, it has built an infrastructure that can result in profits in the future. — Gil Kaufman

Interviewed for this article: JK McKnight, (502) 472-7555; Steve Liberatore, (513) 421-4111

Phish ushers in changes for this year’s Coachella

14 Apr

If you’re attending Coachella this year, you might notice a few changes. Unlike years past, festival organizers are allowing fans to exit and re-enter the festival as often as they like, great news for anyone with a tent or RV that plans to attend the April 16-18 event. (Venues Today will have its own 31-foot rig at this year’s event).

The other big change is that fans must buy a three-day pass to attend the outdoor festival — for the first time ever, single day tickets are not available. It’s a system that allows fans to leave and reenter the Polo Fields without a lot of confusion.

The inspiration for this year’s change? Organizer Paul Tollett recently told the San Diego Union Tribune that he got the idea during the Halloween Phish festival, where the legendary jam rock band insisted organizers only sell three-day passes, with in-and-out privileges. Tollett said he was also more conscious of protecting the area’s limited supply of hotel rooms.

“In the past, we’ve had people who would only go to one day of the festival but get hotel rooms for three nights, because they had to, and then spend the other two days vacationing in the valley, which is a great thing to do,” Tollett said in the article.“But we’d rather it not be during that weekend. We’d rather have the hotels be available for the people who come to the (entire) festival.”


8 Apr

An electronic music festival pushed to the edge of financial calamity is doubling down with a 12-city tour through the U.S. Canadian electronic act Crystal Castles is headlining the tour in support of their new album.

“I’ve been trying to figure out how to take this thing on the road and this is our first jump in that direction,” said the former electronic music A&R executive, turned Rick Rubin protégé, turned DJ, turned promoter.

Created in 2007, the Hard Music Festival series enjoyed an impressive run as a premier destination for the world’s top electronic music performers. Hard’s first event was on New Year’s Eve in 2007, drawing over 10,000 fans to downtown LA.

“It wasn’t that well organized because I had no idea what I was doing. It was baptism by fire,” he said. “Trying to shut down four city streets in LA with 10,000 people is actually very difficult. That’s where I learned to start small and build up bigger. For the first one, I think I was a little over ambitious.”

Through 2008 and most of 2009, Hard began to build a name for itself with its over-the-top raves/dance parties and premier electronic dance artists, including a sellout event in 2008 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.

Not all events have been a success. The Los Angeles Police Department shut down Hard’s biggest event, an Aug. 9 concert at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., over concerns about poor security and potential safety hazards. Guests were apparently jumping from the upper bowl into the lower bowl in an attempt to circumvent security, and some fans reportedly booed and threw bottles as they were forced to leave. Richards said he lost nearly $1 million on that event, after he refunded the 16,500 ticket holders while still having to fork over the artist’s costs.

“I could have had the bands come to my house to play and gotten more out of it,” he said.

Richards was able to mount a recovery by late October for his annual Hard Haunted Mansion at the Shrine in Los Angeles. In March, Hard held a lowkey test run at Club Nokia in downtown L.A. for a new club-level event. The event sold out 2,355 seats with a low-priced ticket at $13 and a high priced ticket at $35, netting a modest $70,015.

For the upcoming 12-city tour, Richards said he’s booking clubs like the Ogden Theater in Denver; Stubbs in Austin, Texas; the House of Blues in Boston; and the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. Tom Windish from the Windish Agency is booking agent for the tour, and Richards said he’s working with a number of national and regional promoters to four-wall and co-promote the show. Tickets will sell between $25-$60 at venues fluctuating between 1,500-5,000 capacity.

The tour opens at Oakland’s Fox Theater, but quickly moves to Los Angeles for an all day, outdoor festival at the Los Angeles State Historic Park. The tour’s Aug. 21 date at Terminal 5 is expected to be the second biggest draw and is being promoted with the help of NYC independents The Bowery Presents.

Richards also has plans for an LA and a New York show with Sri Lankin rapper M.I.A., an indie superstar who has been largely absent from live music since her headlining appearance at Coachella in Indio, Calif. In October, Richards said he will once again host the Hard Haunted Mansion in Los Angeles, although the talent or location has yet to be announced.

“I decided to take Hard on tour because I was getting a lot of response on the Internet and from my recent visit to South by Southwest that other markets were interested in the show,” he said. “And I plan to solely promote the tour over the Internet, and through Facebook and Twitter. That’s where my audience gets all of its information on live music.” — Dave Brooks

Interviewed for this article: Gary Richards, (323) 308-1818