Festivals For The Rest Of Us: An Industry Roundtable About Festival Life, Part Two

March 12, 2012 by Matthew Colwell

Festivals For The Rest Of Us: An Industry Roundtable About Festival Life, Part Two

(For part one of this story, go here!)

With winter almost over, the spring and summer festival circuit is beginning to roll into action. For many music fans, spending a day (or two, or three) catching a slew of their favorite bands is an experience they anticipate each year. But how do these festivals even end up happening? And what exactly goes into planning them? AP chatted with producers from some of your favorite festivals to see what it takes to make these events come off without a hitch.

The Festivals:

Bled Fest
When/Where: May 26, 2012, in Howell, MI
What: A six-stage indoor festival held at a community center
Notable acts: The Early November, As Cities Burn, Comeback Kid
Price: TBA

South By So What?!
When/Where: March 17, 2012, in Grand Prairie, TX (in the  Dallas metro area)
What: A three-stage outdoor festival held at a baseball stadium
Notable acts: Asking Alexandria, We Came As Romans, Motion City Soundtrack
Price: $42.25

Vans Warped Tour
When/Where: June 16-August 5, various venues
What: A multi-stage outdoor festival tour
Notable acts: New Found Glory, Sleeping With Sirens, Transit, Mayday Parade
Price: TBA

Rock On The Range
When/Where: May 18-20, 2012, in Columbus, OH
What: A three-stage outdoor weekend festival held at a soccer stadium
Notable acts: Mastodon, Attack Attack!, Falling In Reverse
Price: $151 for a weekend pass

The Panelists:

Mike Ziemer, CEO/Founder of Third String Productions; South By So What?! Producer
Nate Dorough, Co-Owner/Talent Buyer of Fusion Shows; Bled Fest Talent Buyer/Producer
Kevin Lyman, Founder/Producer of Vans Warped Tour
Gary Spivak, Co-President of Right Arm Entertainment; co-producer of Rock On The Range.
Joe Litvag, Senior Vice President of AEG Live; Co-Producer of Rock On The Range

What is the band selection process like?

[Nate Dorough, Bled Fest]
Basically, I put out a submission email to all the booking agents that I work with saying, “Hey, now accepting submissions for Bled Fest,” and they send back who’s available. That’s for the national buying. We look over it and make offers on the things we’re into and pass on the things that we’re not. On the local level, there’s 25 to 30 local artists that play each year—and for that, we open a specific Gmail account each year and we allow local bands to submit. The fun part—and the difficult part, I suppose—is tearing it down and getting it down to a list that we can fit on a schedule.

[Mike Ziemer, South By So What?!]
For the most part I start building my show around the first major bands that are submitted—like this year, one of the first things submitted to me was the Asking Alexandria package, the We Came As Romans package and the For Today package—all in the same week. I was like, “Alright, we’re definitely going to have the heavy stage and have all these bands.”

I send emails to all the agents I have info on and I say, “Hey, we’re in the planning stages of South By So What?! and this is the weekend we plan on doing it. Let us know who’s available.” It’s crazy, because it’s gone from getting a few responses [when we first started], to this year, I got over 500 responses and I’m still getting them. It’s one big headache until it all gets figured out. It’s becoming a thing where bands want to play it—and that’s when I realized it’s becoming successful.

[Kevin Lyman, Vans Warped Tour]
It’s [been] fun the last two years for me, as I’ve taken the lineup back to a very eclectic space. I think when it rounds out, everyone will go, “Oh,” and all the banter online about how the lineup is this or that or this [will stop]. I’m going over 3,000 submissions to find a lineup. You don’t hit it 100% right all the time, but I think we must be doing something right if we’re still around. According to the kids online, I haven’t booked a good band since 1996.

[Gary Spivak, Rock On The Range]
We see where we can go on the left, where we can go on the right and right down the middle to create this big, jambalaya of rock so we can make sure we are the rock festival. The process is with the partners—it’s all a collective decision.

How do you communicate festival details and potential problems with bands, to make sure everyone is on the same page?

[Nate Dorough, Bled Fest]
Seven million emails. I think one of my biggest strengths is in organization and forethought. Since we’ve done this so many times, we know what can go wrong, what goes right, what’s easy to know, what’s confusing and all those kind of things. We address every single possible outcome in a pretty detailed advance to the bands.

This is a school building, so it’s rough to go up to somebody like Every Time I Die, who headlined last year and is a band that you know loves to party, and tell them, “Look, I love you guys and have had you on multiple shows and I would fill your rider request for beer and everything else, but you’re on a school property—I need you to be on your best behavior today.” It’s weird to tell that to headlining acts that have the possibility to sell out thousand-capacity rooms.

[Mike Ziemer, South By So What?!]
We’ll have our own special advance we send out a few or two weeks out that’s like, “Okay, here’s a list of details, here’s when you play, here’s who you need to meet with to get your meal tickets and all that.” I have a day-of-show person that will meet with the bands and give them their passes and those tickets and take them to where they set their stuff.

It’s a big process of bugging tour managers, which they appreciate, because sometimes they’ll show up to venues and won’t know anything because promoters won’t communicate. Most of the time, my production coordinator will hand them a map of the venue that highlights everywhere they need to go and phone numbers for every possible contact they would need.

[Kevin Lyman, Vans Warped Tour]
We have a great staff.  They’re constantly working with the labels, the managers on marketing—everything you can possibly do to be ready to go when you hit the road. That is what makes a successful festival—being prepared to go on the road. More preparation makes it easy when you get out there.

[Gary Spivak, Rock On The Range]
When we’re talking to a band, we definitely are upfront about the slot and day we have in mind, who they’re going to be with. All the bands have been, in general, really great to work with. They know this is Rock On The Range—it has great value. It’s not so much the performances as the priority to these bands, but what surrounds Rock On The Range.

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