Live Nation and AEG Battle for Los Angeles Minifest Market – Billboard
Written by GRB on 01/07/2022
As the Southern California-Las Vegas corridor develops into the largest year-round U.S. festival market, rival live-industry giants Live Nation and AEG are battling for control through competing minifestivals — genre-specific, commuter-friendly events that require little or no travel commitment, have lower ticket prices and could work nationally, spurring growth in a crowded market.
AEG-owned Goldenvoice once dominated that niche sector, but industry sources say the former talent buyer who delivered them there, Jeff Shuman, may have helped Live Nation build a superior model: a minifestival with the potential to generate Coachella-size attendance numbers.
On Oct. 22, 23 and 29, Live Nation will debut When We Were Young, a pop-punk/emo minifest — headlined by My Chemical Romance and Paramore — at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds. While such genre-specific events are typically scaled for venues with capacities of 10,000 to 15,000, the Festival Grounds can accommodate 80,000, and When We Were Young hopes to triple that attendance with a single lineup that will repeat all three days. Over 180,000 tickets have already been sold — while not a direct comparison, Coachella attracts approximately 250,000 festivalgoers during its two weekends — and industry sources say it’s expected to generate $50 million in sales. (Shuman and AEG/Goldenvoice declined to comment for this story.)
It’s an innovative model, but one that has raised concerns in light of mishaps that have beset other Live Nation festivals overseen by Shuman. In March, the Smokin Grooves festival at Los Angeles’ State Historic Park, which Shuman and Live Nation licensed this year, was plagued by sound problems and a strict noise ordinance that led to headliner Erykah Badu’s closing set being cut to less than 30 minutes. Of far more concern, last December, Drakeo the Ruler was murdered backstage during the Once Upon a Time in LA festival, and in May, unconfirmed reports of gunfire caused a stampede at the Lovers & Friends festival at Vegas’ Festival Grounds that led to the hospitalization of several attendees, and a 22-year-old woman died after suffering what local police deemed “a medical issue.”
A Live Nation representative says the company pinpointed and resolved the issues that marred the first day of Lovers & Friends, and will be closely monitoring When We Were Young to ensure that the festival takes place without incident; it is “prepared to intervene,” if necessary.
Shuman, 38, started out a decade ago creating the Growlers-headlined Beach Goth festival while working for the Observatory in Santa Ana, Calif. In 2015, he joined Goldenvoice, where he found an opportunity for nimbler, more narrowcast minifests that required hours, not days, of commitment from ticket buyers, such as the regional Mexican/Mexican rock-leaning Tropicalia fest, where attendance was capped at 15,000 per day.
“From the consumer side, it allows for fans to see as many of their favorite bands as possible without having to book a hotel,” says Josh Kurfirst, head of festivals at WME, of minifests. “From the promoter side — especially if the festival sells out multiple days — the production can be amortized out increasing net profits,” he adds. “And from the artist side, the bands can multiply their income if the festivals roll into multiple days, again increasing net profits.”
By 2019, Shuman was curating six one-day festivals at Goldenvoice that generated $10 million to $15 million in annual sales. When he departed in 2020 after a disagreement over money, to the shock of many, he took with him full ownership of five of the seven festival brands he had created prior to his partnership with the promoter, including Lovers & Friends, Once Upon a Time in LA and Tropicalia (which has since been renamed Bésame Mucho).
He subsequently formed a joint venture with Live Nation and this year is on track to generate $150 million to $200 million in gross ticket sales with production help from C3 Presents, one of Live Nation’s largest festival promoters, responsible for Lollapalooza and now Bonnaroo.
Goldenvoice also recently assembled a minifest team, which has created new events like This Ain’t No Picnic that will be headlined by LCD Soundsystem and The Strokes in August and the Kacey Musgraves-fronted Palomino, both slated for the Rose Bowl grounds in Pasadena, Calif. But though official numbers aren’t available, industry consensus is that Shuman’s events are outselling Goldenvoice’s. Bésame Mucho — which is set for December at Dodger Stadium — sold out in 12 minutes, while AEG’s competing Viva! L.A. minifest — with Daddy Yankee and J Balvin headlining — was canceled earlier in June due to poor ticket sales, according to sources.
Live Nation faced a different crisis when thousands of ticket holders to Lovers & Friends demanded refunds following the chaos that ensued. Festival sources say problems there as well as at Smokin Grooves and other Shuman minifests have chipped away at the profitability of Live Nation’s joint venture with him, raising expectations, and pressure, around the execution of When We Were Young.
“Operations for every festival are thoroughly planned for and carried out onsite in close coordination with local authorities,” Live Nation officials told Billboard in a statement. “The same team that plans and produces large multi-day festivals including Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits Music Festival will be applying their expertise to When We Were Young.”