ListenSD had the opportunity to talk to Roger LeBlanc, talent buyer for KAABOO Del Mar, who was kind enough to take the time to speak with us about the third annual edition of the upcoming festival. Roger and his team, including Adam Spriggs, who books the comedy and helps with the music lineup, have been working to put this year’s upcoming festival together. We spoke about how the lineup comes together, the history of the festival – Roger is Employee #3 – and the process of making the elements come together to form a memorable experience.
Roger, a former musician, made the leap to talent buying in 1989, when he booked the Ventura Theater, where he realized the he could create experiences grounded in music for others without the added pressure of being on stage.
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
ListenSD: How long does it take for the lineup to come together?
Roger LeBlanc: It generally takes about a year in advance; a lot has to do with how far in advance the artists are planning their touring. Some artists are more inclined to look at touring earlier in the game, while some are more inclined to wait until later. The conventional wisdom is to put it together a year out, though today some artists are starting to plan even further out.
ListenSD: Do you go to the artists, or do the artists reach out to the festival?
Roger: Initially, we were a new festival, so no one knew who we were and what we were about. I believe we have two sets of customers – the ticket buyers, but in our industry, the artists are also the customers. KAABOO has become a festival that because of how we treat our artists, the production, and also our clientele – which is perhaps a little more affluent, which is a tough client to get to for some of these artists, so they really like to be in front of them – we’re starting to see artists reach out to us not only because they want to fill a calendar date, but also because they want to be a part of the festival.
ListenSD: KAABOO seems to serve two customer sets – a younger crowd, as well as the more affluent slightly older crowd; as the talent buyer, how do you serve both of those audiences?
Roger: I like to think of it as kids of all ages. What’s great is that as a music consumer, as well as being in the industry, we try to create a musical adventure of music, art, and food. But at the same time, what has moved me is the ability for parents to share the event with their kids. If you saw St. Paul and the Broken Bones at last year’s festival, they went on before Hall & Oates. I was watching people with their teenaged kids, and you see the kids take the parents to go see St. Paul and the Broken Bones, then having the parents say, hey, if you like this, stay and check out these guys, and the kids were digging Hall & Oates .There was a real sharing of music that was going on between these generations, which is something we try to create.
If we’re not creating memorable moments, we’re not doing it right. In the process, hopefully we’re creating a great experience for everybody, and it can be an annual thing that everyone can go to and have a fun time. In Year One – standing on the side of the stage, watching the Killers, and seeing the crowd take it all in – that was a memorable moment for me.
ListenSD: When it comes to creating the lineup, does it start with the headliners, and build down from there? How does it come together to create something cohesive?
Roger: Yes, pretty much. It’s like playing a game of 3D chess; we start, and create it because everyone has a different journey. We both may want to see Tom Petty this year, but we have a different path to get there by the end of the night. When my team looks at the grid, we don’t look at it at a linear fashion for one stage. you’re going to walk in the door, and one customer may go to various stages and wind up at Tom Petty, but another customer is going to have a different path to get there. We look at that, and try to create different paths for different customers who come to KAABOO. We can’t be all things to all people, but we try to find ways to create a different journey for people to get to the same place.
There are also acts we identify that are acts that will work for our audience no matter what. We’ll try to get some of those early on, but there are the obvious budget constraints and other factors that make it important that you do start at the top, to create those multiple paths to get to the headliners. Sometimes you see where you might need to be weighted in a certain direction – we need to make sure to get a band to serve the younger audience, or vice versa, and maybe we’re weighted in rock and need to get more hip hop or EDM.
ListenSD: Is there a concerted effort to differentiate from the other festivals?
Roger: It’s more about knowing who our customers are and trying to reach out, and knowing who our partners are, whether culinary, food and beverage, to meet our strategy, which is Entertain, Educate, and Evolve. We look at our core customers, and we have to entertain those people. But at the same time, a certain portion of the talent budget is for the educate model, which is to get bands people may not know who we think they will love. As we go in to Year 4 next year, we may get some positive feedback on our Educate acts, and that will give us the opportunity to expand the audience and grow.
We have a responsibility to our audience to make it an affordable event. When you’re going to KAABOO, our GA ticket is similar to the experience of a lot of other festival’s VIP experience. We have places to sit, the food is good, you’re not overcrowded, and we’re constantly working on making that better. People are going to see some wonderful evolutions from everything from our footprint, to the traffic pattern – these are things that we’re constantly working on together.
ListenSD: Is part of that a response to last year’s overcrowding after the headliners on Saturday night?
Roger: I think we try and learn every year. Without speaking too much to that, we really look at everything from year to year – that’s super important to us. If there’s one thing that matters to KAABOO, it’s creating a customer experience. The one thing our leader, Brian Gordon, has instilled in me is that our customer experience is the determining factor in what we do and don’t do. And he means it –that is from the talent we book, to the footprint of the festival, to the amenities at the event – we make it a priority. We looked at 2016, and in 2017, we’re looking to do it even better.
ListenSD: Who are the unknown acts on the undercard this year that people really shouldn’t miss?
Roger: That’s a loaded question! Not doing it, I won’t do it. I don’t book them if I don’t think they’re great. I want to tell everyone who is reading this to go on Spotify, to go and check out the artists playing the festival. Go on whatever you use, and check it out.
Roger was kind enough to share his personal playlist with ListenSD, which is below:
KAABOO returns for year three at the Del Mar Fairgrounds from September 15 – 17. Tickets are available at kaaboodelmar.com, and ListenSD will be there all weekend with your coverage and incredible photographs.
Interview By: David Israel