Goldenvoice’s Paul Tollett Explains Coachella’s Expansion to Two Weekends
By Ray Waddell (@billboardtour), Nashville
The Coachella festival’s producers shocked the live music business community yesterday when they announced that there will be two festivals next year: on back-to-back weekends, with the same lineup. Festival founder and producer Paul Tollett, president of Goldenvoice, said he’s just approaching the supply-and-demand issue in his own unorthodox way.
“We had too many people who wanted to go [in 2011],” Tollett told Billboard.biz this morning. “We feel that [in 2012] there will be even more that want to go, so we’re trying to create more room for them. The options would be to sell more tickets on one weekend or have two weekends, and [the latter] is the option we went with.”
The approach isn’t completely unique; many festivals, including Jazz Fest in New Orleans (also produced by Goldenvoice parent AEG Live) and Milwaukee Summerfest, take place over multiple weekends. But what is unprecedented is the fact that Goldenvoice will book the same talent for consecutive weekends, effectively staging the same mega event twice. Tickets go on sale Friday.
Tollett stopped short of saying the two lineups would be exactly the same. “That’s what we’re attempting,” he said. “We’ll replicate the same poster for both.”
This year saw a milestone spring for Goldenvoice and its events, with the Coachella Music Festival April 17-19, the Big 4 fest (featuring Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax) on April 23, and the Stagecoach Country Music Festival April 30-May 1. All three events were held at the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio, Calif. The events posted a combined gross of more than $38 million and an aggregate attendance of more than 380,000, according to Goldenvoice officials.
The Coachella fest, with headliners Kings Of Leon, Arcade Fire, the Strokes and Kanye West, sold out this year, accomplishing that feat in a record six days. Coachella, one of the elite music festivals in North America, drew 75,000 paid per day over three days, for a gross of about $23 million and aggregate attendance of 225,000. The gross is up from $21.7 million last year and is a record for the festival.
The next weekend, the Big 4 drew 49,400 paid, with a $5.5 million gross. A weekend later, Stagecoach, with Kenny Chesney, Rascal Flatts and Carrie Underwood, drew 55,000 paid each day for two days, generating a gross of just under $10 million. That’s another record for Stagecoach, which grossed $7.3 million last year and drew an aggregate of 88,243.
This year there will be no metal event but rather two Coachellas (with Stagecoach slated to follow the weekend after). Conceivably, given Goldenvoice will be buying each act twice, he might hope for a bulk rate in talent costs. “I don’t know if you’ve been talking to the same talent I’ve been talking to,” he said with a laugh. “But that would be logical.”
With a week’s break, a lot of acts will be in the region, opening the door for potential sponsor events, fan club parties, or other opportunities. “We haven’t jumped into that yet, but I would think that most of the bands would just tour other cities and come back,” Tollett said.
As for radius clauses that prohibit acts contracted to play a festival from playing within certain geographic and time constraints, “It works itself out,” Tollett said, adding that his and other festivals are generally flexible in how they treat these clauses. “There’s flexibility, and there’s a sense of making sure that the local clubs get shows and that April’s good for them, too.”
Asked if anyone has told him that perhaps producers are being too ambitious in staging back-to-back megafests, Tollett said, “I haven’t heard that yet. The thing is, I’m okay if it doesn’t sell out. My favorite thing would be that if it doesn’t sell out but gets close, then I would feel that everyone had a chance to go to the show. It was hard watching people be upset that they couldn’t go last year because tickets were going for $500-$600 [on the secondary market] and that’s just not right.”
And while costs are reduced significantly by keeping major production elements in place for three weeks, Tollett said, “Generally that means we get to do some other things that are interesting. Most cost savings we put into making it that much better.”
So why announce now? “We wanted to give people a long time for the layaway,” Tollett explained. “We’ve done payment plans of two or three payments, and we’ve spoke to people that go and they’ve asked for a longer time on the payment plan.”
Tollett admitted that yesterday’s announcement was greeted with “shock” and “a lot of discussion,” but says he was prepared for that based on the reactions of people he’d already floated the idea past. “Everyone has different opinions,” he said.
For Tollett, the logic is simple. “In 2011 we had twice the number of people who wanted to go to that show,” he explained. “That was coming off a year in 2010 which we didn’t run so well. It was still pretty magical, but the operations weren’t the best we’ve ever had, and yet still twice the number of people wanted to go [in 2011]. This year, we had a phenomenal year, and I’m guessing there will be three times the number of people that want to go. I didn’t want to ruin the show by putting 40,000 more people in per day. We’ve got more land, we could’ve gone that route, but we didn’t want to do that. We found something else that works out. I’m believing in it.”
It does seem that Goldenvoice has created a brand in Coachella that reached a cultural critical mass in 2011, and the brand is sizzling hot right now. “Paul’s risk is mitigated by the fact he has built a festival that will sell on brand value alone,” observed Kirk Sommer, agent at William Morris Endeavor Entertainment. “The demand was so great he could have achieved these results this year.”
Sommer knows it’s not a venture Tollett rushed into without gauging the market. “Paul wisely gives the Coachella ticket buyers’ opinion great consideration,” Sommer said. “There is only so much capacity, he works relentlessly and tirelessly to deliver the best festival bill in the country while being extremely mindful of the fan experience, he will not allow any overcrowding after 2009.”
As for the week between fests, “I think the weekdays will help create some interesting larger opportunities for many artists,” Sommer said. “A radius clause is always a conversation, and Paul is not unreasonable.”