FORT WORTH — Organizers called it the biggest music event ever, but more realistically, Saturday's Blockbuster RockFest '97 will probably go down to some as simply the nation's largest concert giveaway.
That doesn't mean it didn't establish a few firsts.
For starters, the local area has never had to deal with so many people trying to get to its new Texas Motor Speedway, where RockFest was held. The all-day bash drew anywhere from 250,000 to 400,000 fans, some waiting three or even four hours in traffic to see Bush, No Doubt, the Wallflowers, Jewel and Counting Crows.
A definite attendance figure wasn't available because the policy of ticket sales was another first.
Blockbuster music and video stores across the country gave away one RockFest ticket with any $10 purchase. As the concert neared, they also offered packs of four tickets free with a $6.99 cooler.
"It's Blockbuster's way of saying thanks to its customers, and to establish itself as the place to go for good entertainment," said Jonathan Baskin, spokesman for Blockbuster Entertainment Corp., which recently relocated its headquarters to nearby Dallas from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
In the highly competitive record retailing world, Blockbuster is obviously trying to grab the attention of CD buyers. Baskin wouldn't say how much Blockbuster spent on RockFest, but he did say the company had some corporate advantages.
"The reason we were able to put this thing on at almost no cost to our consumers was because of significant [financial] offsets from sponsorships, trade-outs and band marketing," he said.
Indeed, RockFest had its share of all three. In between performances, commercials for Polaroid, Coca-Cola and other companies aired on giant screens. Music videos, many by acts performing at RockFest, were also played, with the Blockbuster logo at the bottom of the screen.
On top of that, the concert was promoted and covered by MTV and VH1. Both music channels are owned by Viacom Inc., which also owns Blockbuster.
Blockbuster also promised RockFest acts more prominent display at its stores. For Bush and No Doubt, that may not mean much, but for their new, little-known labelmate Soak, it could mean everything.
"We're hoping the shows only get bigger and bigger from here," Soak's singer Jason Dimitri said, half-jokingly.
City officials said RockFest drew about 250,000, but Blockbuster representatives claimed 400,000. They also touted the event as bigger than the original Woodstock, but by most accounts, the 1969 gathering drew more.
For some fans, the cheap tickets were what attracted them to RockFest.
"I probably wouldn't be here if I actually had to pay for the thing," said Todd Gebhardt, 26, from Dallas, whose friend got four tickets when he bought a cooler.
Others, though, said they would have paid a lot more.
"I'd go anywhere and pay anything to see Bush," said Jeanette Cardinal, 17, who drove from Oklahoma City. She camped outside the speedway Friday night. She said she felt like she was at Woodstock.
But VH1 personality John Fugelsang noted one difference between RockFest and Woodstock.
"We went from 'peace and love' to 'be kind, rewind,' " he said, referring to the Blockbuster video rental slogan.