No one ever faulted veteran concert promoter Paul Tollett for not thinking big. The Goldenvoice president's early concert bookings helped such alterna-rock stars as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and No Doubt catapult from the underground to the top of the charts. The soft-spoken Ohio native founded indie music's foremost annual event: the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, which this month will draw an estimated 180,000 fans. If he's not helping promote some 400 local shows a year, he's in the field finessing performers and talent managers. But to hear it from one of the music biz's most influential behind-the-scenes machers, job one never changes: keeping fans happy.
Q Where did you get the idea to put on a giant rock festival in the middle of the desert?
A I did Pearl Jam at the same place, the Empire Polo Field, in '93, and the location is the show's greatness. It's different when you surrender to the weekend and focus on it, rather than when you can stay at your house, run some errands and decide you're going to check out some bands. Plus, no one was doing a rock festival in the desert. I figured the best way to rank high in a category is to create your own.
Q But after the first Coachella, you went almost $1 million in the hole. How blind were you to what you were up against?
A I didn't realize I'd lose my house, my car and everything.
Q You've personally lured a number of acts back to the festival stage, including the Stooges, Kraftwerk and Rage Against the Machine. How did you get them back together?
A Every one of them came about because I promoted them when they first got going. Rage--I did 40 shows with them before.
Q So it's all about connections?
A [Laughs.] I started off promoting $3 shows at the pizza place. But I'll tell you: It's just as fun doing that as it is doing shows for 100,000 people if you're doing it with the right set of friends.
Q With so much hot young talent out there, why did you pick one of rock's elder statesmen, former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, to co-headline?
A I look to find headliners and bands that have never played here to bring the show to the next level. Roger Waters doing "Dark Side of the Moon" or "The Wall"--it is going to blow minds. I got to thinking about "Dark Side" at Coachella, the way the site looks at night with the palm trees. It's going to have that magic feeling you get at Coachella when history is being made.
Q How do you stay on top of what fans want?
A I walk around Coachella talking to the kids. I try to experience the show as much as possible: use the toilets, eat the food, stand in lines, talk to people and see what they complain about.
Q What do you do when the festival is done ?
A Every year after Coachella, I go work at the Glass House in Pomona and I tear tickets. It's kind of the equivalent of if you stay in a nice resort for a week, then you go home and mow your yard. You're a concert promoter first and foremost.