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: 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

How did the idea for your festival begin?

[Nate Dorough, Bled Fest]
When [Bled Fest] started—this is the eighth year—I wasn’t even involved. It was a local house show. A high school kid named Ben Staub from Heartland, Michigan had a pool party and had some bands play in his basement. His nickname was Big Love, but he called it “Big Love’s Educational Festival” and shortened it to Bled Fest.

[Mike Ziemer, South By So What?!]
The first show I ever did was during March, and the only reason I got any bands that weren’t local was because they needed a show by South By Southwest. Every year [after that] we would do what was our anniversary show; all we’d ever call it was “Third String Productions YEAR anniversary show.” This guy that I used to work with jokingly said, “You should call your festival ‘South By So What?!’” and at first I didn’t want to get in trouble with South By Southwest—I love South By Southwest, and it’s not a stab at it or anything—but it’s fitting because kids up here [in Dallas] can’t get into 21-and-up shows or [afford] a $700 pass. They can’t go [to SXSW].

So we decided to play off South By Southwest and make it known to agents that if you want your bands to get exposure in Dallas, instead of competing with 500 shows in one area, we’re going to put you on one big festival and this will be how your band gets a lot of exposure. We actually just signed a contract with South By Southwest that we’re not associated with them, we won’t use their logo, we’re not going to use [the abbreviation] SXSW—things like that. They don’t hate us or think we’re attacking them in any way. Some people have a common misconception about it.

[Kevin Lyman, Vans Warped Tour]
The idea of Vans Warped Tour is that it was going to be my last thing before I went and became a schoolteacher. We were going to go out and try to do something one last time with some friends. It was blending with the skateboard culture I grew up with in Southern California and the music scene I worked with. I always put shows on in California where we put bands on top of the ramp—whether it is the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Social Distortion—but this was the culmination of that. It was, “Let’s go out and have a skateboard music show and see what happens.”

[Gary Spivak, Rock On The Range]
Well, it’s our sixth year. It really came together in a wonderfully innocent way where ignorance is bliss. Myself, Del Williams and Danny Wimmer—the three partners from Right Arm—six years ago said, “Where’s the Coachella for the heartland? Where’s the big rock festival?” Yeah, there’s Coachella, there’s Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza—but where is the great rock festival?

How far in advance do you begin planning the festival?

[Nate Dorough, Bled Fest]
I feel like we start planning it the day the last one’s over, but we probably start making connections with the booking agents in like November, December to see what bands will be on the road in May.

[Mike Ziemer, South By So What?!]
Some of the first agents book months and months and months in advance. I think some of them started hitting me up in early winter or late fall. I’ll probably book some of my first bands [for next year] as early as October.

[Kevin Lyman, Vans Warped Tour]
September, October, November is music time—building the idea of where I think, musically, the show is going to go. In the meantime, [we’re also] working on getting sponsorships for the tour as well as finishing up paperwork from the year before’s tour—the amount of paperwork and bills that have to be paid and sign off on everything takes until about November. Then once you start to figure out the bands, you have: getting in contact with all the bands, [getting] all the deal points and the line-up to finish up. That takes you up to about December/January and now February/March you’re in the middle of starting to get the nuts and bolts down—hiring the staff, the crews, the contractors, trucks, lights, sound. Getting the shows on sale. It’s a year-round business.

[Gary Spivak, Rock On The Range]
It’s a 364-day siege. We’re talking about next year already.