How I weath­ered the big­gest storm of my ca­reer

Inc. (USA) - - LAUNCH -

a lot of rain and high winds. When you have 40,000 peo­ple on your fes­ti­val site, which is grass, and you have five to six inches of wa­ter de­scend upon that site within an eight-hour pe­riod, the re­sult is a field of mud. There’s not much you can re­ally do to com­bat that. We laid down ply­wood, sand, and land­scaper’s hay, but ev­ery­thing just sank. Around 8 p.m. on Fri­day, when we started get­ting 40 mph wind gusts, we knew we had to cut the show. Kings of Leon had their head­lin­ing set can­celed that night, and they were sched­uled to fly to Lon­don for a gig they had on Sun­day. We gath­ered in our trailer back­stage with their book­ing agent and man­agers, look­ing at Satur­day’s sched­ule and try­ing to fit them in—which bands we could shift, who had to shorten their sets. We ended up squeez­ing them in in the mid­dle of Satur­day.

We knew a lot of the Fri­day sin­gle-day ticket buy­ers bought their tick­ets mostly to see Kings of Leon, so we mes­saged peo­ple to tell them Fri­day ticket hold­ers could come in on Satur­day. In the days af­ter the fes­ti­val, we got on the phone with every per­son who emailed us ask­ing for a re­fund or crit­i­cized us for the ex­pe­ri­ence—a few thou­sand peo­ple in to­tal. When you’re a small-busi­ness owner, you have to bal­ance cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion with pro­tect­ing your bot­tom line. We tried to give tick­ets for the fol­low­ing year to as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble. We gave some cus­tomers their money back, but in most cases, peo­ple were OK with the comp tick­ets—or just wanted to have their voices heard.

We had to re­pair the park and re­turn it in good con­di­tion. We in­curred $750,000 in ad­di­tional ex­penses be­cause of the weather, but still fin­ished in the black. At the time, we were a three-year-old busi­ness, and I wasn’t even 30. I had never been through any­thing like this be­fore. It was a tough week­end, fi­nan­cially and emo­tion­ally. But you make it work, and you come out of it all the stronger and all the wiser.

The New York City mu­sic fes­ti­val mar­ket is tough to crack, thanks in part to the com­pe­ti­tion for limited real es­tate. Tom Rus­sell started Founders En­ter­tain­ment along with two friends, Jor­dan Wolowitz and Yoni Reis­man, in NYC when they were in their mid-20s. Founders stages the Gov­er­nors Ball Mu­sic Fes­ti­val on Ran­dall’s Is­land, sit­u­ated in the East River, and the Mead­ows Mu­sic and Arts Fes­ti­val in Queens. In 2013, the Gov Ball was in its third year and grow­ing when a trop­i­cal storm threat­ened to ruin ev­ery­thing. “We were hop­ing the storm’s path would veer east or west,” says Rus­sell, “but the day be­fore the fes­ti­val started, it be­came clear it was go­ing to hit us head-on.” Did it ever. –As told to Kevin J. Ryan

KANYE AT THE BALL Although it was nearly washed out in 2013, the Gov­er­nors Ball Mu­sic Fes­ti­val now draws 50,000 peo­ple per day—150,000 for the week­end—with acts such as Kanye West (be­low), the Strokes, the Black Keys, Guns n’ Roses, Outkast, Drake, Kings of Leon, and the Killers.

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