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Coachella's promoters talk growth

As they release this year's lineup today -- from Mexico -- they'll also detail N.J. plans.

January 21, 2008|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

When promoter Paul Tollett and his partners hatched the idea of a huge multiday rock festival called Coachella a decade ago, plenty of people wondered if the idea would actually go anywhere. Now the question is where it will stop.

At a news conference scheduled for today, Tollett and his business partners, which include concert promotion giant AEG Live, plan to announce the full lineup for the ninth edition of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio this April. It will include the Verve, the Raconteurs, Jack Johnson, My Morning Jacket and Rilo Kiley.

Tollett is also planning to elaborate on his new venture in Jersey City, N.J.: a three-day August festival (reportedly headlined by Radiohead and Johnson) on a grassy expanse in 1,200-acre Liberty State Park that has a dramatic vista of the Manhattan skyline.

Today's news conference is being staged neither in Indio nor in the Garden State, however. It's in . . . Mexico City? Sure enough, although Tollett said he has "no plans right now" to launch a counterpart festival on the other side of the border, he also gushes about the surprising resonance of the Coachella brand with Mexican fans, artists and press. "It is something that's crossed my mind," he said in an interview.

Tollett's expansion plans follow the launching last year of Stagecoach, the two-day country-music cousin of Coachella that shares the same site in Indio, the Empire Polo Field. That festival averaged 26,000 fans a day last year.

All of this reflects a surge of interest in the concert industry in multiday "destination" festivals, says Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar, the leading trade publication for the live-music sector.

There's the growing acclaim for the massive Bonnaroo Music Festival each June in Manchester, Tenn.; the recently announced Vineland Music Festival in Vineland, N.J. and the reestablished Lollapalooza Festival, the 1990s-era touring franchise now anchored in Chicago. Those are part of a long list of major festivals -- some rural with camping, others in urban parks -- that fill a niche for huge-audience events now that stadium tours have fallen out of favor.

Executives at Live Nation, the nation's top concert promoter, have also publicly stated an interest in getting into the mix, Bongiovanni said.

"You didn't see this after Coachella's first year [in 1999], when Tollett lost his shirt, but they were on to something, and there was an opening for this European-style festival," Bongiovanni said. "Now it's definitely a real growth area."

The crowded marketplace has made it tougher for Tollett to book splashy, must-see headliners for the pioneering Coachella. All eyes will be on the conference today to see what the low-desert show will have April 25 to 27. It will be Coachella's second year as a three-day affair.

Stagecoach, May 3 and 4, will be headlined by Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, Carrie Underwood and the Judds.

The Liberty Park show will have "a Coachella history" behind it, but it will be a markedly different enterprise. Instead of mountains, the view will be skyscrapers; instead of campgrounds and vast, dusty parking lots, the urban East Coast counterpart will be hemmed in by water and serviced by trains and ferries. The size of the venue and the down-sized scale of the Liberty show will make for a significantly smaller crowd, although Tollett didn't get into numbers. On its busiest days, Coachella has gone north of 60,000 fans.


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