Roger LeBlanc, talent buyer for the music side, and Adam Spriggs, talent buyer for the comedy lineup, were kind enough to take time out of their busy days to have an open, honest chat with ListenSD.
We talked about how the lineups come together, what to expect at this year’s festival, and how things have changed with the additions of KAABOO Cayman and KAABOO Texas.
Last year, we spoke about the Entertain, Educate, Evolve model that KAABOO strives for. Looking at last year’s festival and the new layout, what can we expect as far as the evolution of the festival?
Roger Leblanc: We think we really hit it last year with the layout of the festival. This year is similar in terms of layout; we’re going to improve some behind the curtain things, fixing some logistical challenges of the Grandview stage in the parking lot out there, to help out the stage managers at each stage. Overall, last year we were pleased with the lineup, and this year, I’m already thinking about KAABOO Del Mar 2019 and thinking about KAABOO Texas and KAABOO Cayman in February.
This year, Katy Petty and Robert Plant are both headlining on Sunday. Was there a conscious decision as to which headliners would double up, when booking everything?
Roger: I think there was a conscious decision. When it comes to looking at Katy Perry, she appeals to a distinct demographic, and we wanted to have something for the audience for the people who aren’t inclined to be Katy Perry fans. We know that San Diego has a strong rock and classic rock fanbase and we did not want to alienate that audience. Last year we had Petty and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I guess you can call them classic rock now–and this year we have Imagine Dragons, who are not classic rock at all, and the Foo Fighters, who may be to some degree, but there was not anything to appeal to that Tom Petty/Aerosmith audience, who have been a strong component of KAABOO.
Adam Spriggs: The youth are the ones who bring the energy to the shows; we have to cultivate them as patrons of KAABOO. But now, what is there for us? In year one, I booked the Trestles stage, and as a music fan, I could not believe there was a stage like that which hit mid-30s me right on the head. We want to be something for everyone, yet at the same time have a Southern California identity. We look at it as, we want to provide some nostalgia, but give the young people what they want. It’s figuring out what our audience wants and what they don’t want–it’s the same with the comedy, with the cooks, and with the music–it’s an experiment. We have a hypothesis of what we think the people are going to want, and we send our offers out and we get the best lineup that we can, and then announce day is one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking days of the year. Roger and I and our team have worked on this for eight months, and now we’re finally revealing it to the public, and we’re sitting there refreshing the comments on Facebook, and it’s a pretty crazy experience.
We try to counter-program to the music and pace the timeslots enough so that, for example, last year you could catch half an hour of Patton Oswalt, but still have time to go see Weezer play The Sweater Song.
With comedy booking, it is similar to the music where it starts with the headliners, and about creating a path as a piece of the day? It seems that with all of the comedy acts being pretty big names, the concept of the headliner does not apply in the same way.
Adam: In year one, we decided to do comedy, and we wanted to do a legit comedy stage where the comedians were really happy, and it felt like a giant comedy club in the middle of a festival. And we’re going to go out and get this big group of comedians. I remember that Friday afternoon Anthony Jeselnik was the first up. We were sitting backstage, and he did not know what was going on. And neither did I! He was the first comedian up, and we were unsure how the music crowd was going to react, so… good luck! And the room was at capacity on about 3:30 or 4:00 on a Friday, and he came off, and was like, “Oh, that was really cool!” And I remember that was that moment where I realized we had a crowd that liked comedy, and had a hunger for it. And we lobbied to move it to a bigger room, and a bigger budget, and we upped the capacity by 30-some percent, and we kept filling it.
So, from a booking standpoint, on the one hand I have to have credibility on the artist/comedy side of things, with the big comedians. You get people like Patton Oswalt who are the credibility and the household name. I need to have artists who appeal to both my super cool 60-something year old mom, and my sort-of-cool 30-something year old younger brother. And, does it excite me as a comedy fan? It’s also, who is not shooting movies? Year two, we had the cast of Silicon Valley booked, and then the Emmys happened. What do you do? We booked Sarah Silverman. The downside of what we do is that people really love TV and Movie stars on our comedy stage, and people cancel last minute. It’s understandable: if you get pitched a TV show in the UK and it shoots for a month, you have to do that. If we have to replace someone, there’s an evolution.
[Editor’s note: KAABOO cancelled Chris Hardwick in the wake of the allegations against him; this conversation occurred before the allegations surfaced and prior to KAABOO making that decision. A replacement has not yet been announced.]
The acts have to fit the time slots, and bring that energy. If the comedians bring it, the crowd will love them.
Are parts of 2019 already booked? Putting some pieces together–you said last year that the headliners get booked first, so if so, safe to assume the headliners are locked in?
Roger: Yes; we have a few confirmations and many offers out. It’s like preparing a meal–you have to know your main courses in order to plan the sides, and it’s the same for the festivals. You have to know the headliners in order to both book other bands for that audience, and to strengthen the other areas. But we have to look at regional bands, tastemakers–must-haves who are really great who you want to book because they add some spice. We get offers out to those, and see what falls in to place. If a specific headliner confirms, we think about who would be a great act to lead in to that headliner, and one to counter-balance that act. We have Foo Fighters on Friday, with Post Malone counter-balancing, and with Halsey playing in to it–that’s going to be a badass day.
Has the comedy booking gotten easier as the reputation of KAABOO has grown?
Adam: Yeah. I will say comedy at music festivals is something that makes everyone nervous, especially agents, because they do not want to put their artists in a bad situation. They don’t want the bass from David Guetta bleeding in to their set. For a year or two, it was arm twisting and working with agents to ensure we were going to give them the right experience. And you deliver and year one and year two, and all of a sudden in year three, comedians want to come play your room. Once we established a reputation, that the room is great, that we take care of people, and that our crowd is really in to comedy–it’s fun, because I cannot believe that so-and-so is calling me and wants to be a part of it.
It’s never easy, but it’s a lighter workload than before because people are in to it. I can’t tell you how many phone calls I get a week after, saying so-and-so wants to come back next year. It speaks to their teams, and spreads the word that artists have had a great time, and you should do it too.
Comedy is probably somewhere between 7-8 percent, up to 10 percent of our talent budget. I’ve got a working number, and it can evolve. If something may take me over my budget, I beg and I grovel, and every once in a while I get the green light to go over my budget to take it up a notch.
Looking at that Texas festival–is that going to be something completely contained within JerryWorld, and how does that differ from the Del Mar Festival?
Roger: The main stage will be inside AT&T Stadium, and we’re going to utilize the surrounding facilities. They have some great permanent art structures, and interesting grass and shade areas, so we’ll be taking advantage of the existing infrastructure and augmenting it, like we do at Del Mar. As far as programming, there are similarities between Dallas and Del Mar, and there are opportunities to do some new things in Dallas that were not as successful in Del Mar. There’s a strong rock audience, but we have not done our first year yet, so we’re going to learn quickly. We’re already pouring over reports for what does will in the Dallas area, relative to Del Mar, to get a sense of what types of music under- and over-perform in that area.
With the additional festivals, has it been easier to book the festivals with bands who now want to play multiple cities, or has it become more difficult as you try to avoid overlap?
Roger: We’re trying to avoid having the same show in every city, but we have four years of experience in Del Mar, so we can draw upon the experience not only as to what sold in Del Mar, but what were some of the best shows as far as stage performances. We want to try to strike a balance because what we’re finding, even with Cayman on sale, is that we have some KAABOO brand loyalists who want to follow the festival to other parts of the world, and certainly in the country. So, we don’t want to have the KAABOO Cayman be the same as KAABOO Del Mar. Can we put a headliner in two KAABOOs in the same year? Probably, if the band is of a stature where they are capable of selling out stadiums in both markets, but on the other side, we have to get that local flavor. We’re going to really try to get that local flavor with all of the KAABOO locations; in the truest sense, a festival is a celebration, and its often a celebration of the local culture and offerings. At KAABOO, one of our philosophical pillars is to try to maintain that definition of a festival, and not to take a prepackaged group of acts, artists, and food and just take it wherever.
It does seem like many of the festivals have a lot of repeat of acts, especially with their headliners…
Roger: If you look at the festivals across the country, the bigger artists are probably playing four, five, six, seven of them. But the ones they do play are some of the biggest ones, so it feels like they are playing all of the festivals, even when they aren’t. There are a limited number of acts in that stratosphere that are able to headline major festivals. There are many criteria to planning that–who is available, who is touring, who actually wants to play festivals–some artists do not feel comfortable in the festival environment, because it is less controlled than their own show. They have their own equipment, staging, sound… It’s much more structured than a festival environment. Some artists may never have done a festival, and they may need to decide they want to try that and experience it. Availability, budget and the desire of those artists, and the audience demand really drive that, as well as whether you as a festival are willing to be one date as part of a tour. Are you better off with that band as part of your festival? There’s no right answer.
The stated goal for KAABOO is to create memorable moments. What were your memorable moments from this past year, and what are you looking forward to for this coming year?
Adam: Orny Adams is opening the day on Saturday. I cannot say it enough: Everyone please come out to see this guy. He’s one of the funniest people on the planet right now, and he’s kicking off our lineup Saturday afternoon. We also have Craig Ferguson, and Iliza Shlesinger is one of the only people we’ve brought back. She’s a presence all on to herself.
Roger: I got to sit and watch Tom Petty’s entire performance. Me and my however many tens of thousands closest friends got to experience a moment in time that cannot be repeated. He blew us away. None of us could have imagined that a few weeks later we’d lose an American icon. I think, in the most simple sense of the word, you just don’t know what one day is going to bring or the next, so living in those moments and experiencing these bands–those moments are pretty cool. This year, I’m excited to have booked the Foo Fighters and to get to see them live, but I think Katy Perry is going to bring it. She’s known for one of the most spectacular live shows on the planet, and she’s going to pull out all the stops and bring it. Robert Plant–enough said. Kool & the Gang are going to pump out hit after hit at the VIP experience on Thursday night–we thought we’d try a fun party act this year.
Hopefully we will create some really spectacular memories–there’s going to be a lot of cool shows and experiences going on.
KAABOO Del Mar hits September 14, 15, and 16; three-day and single-day tickets are on sale now.