Megapromoter Live Nation buys majority stake in the 5year-old Napa music festival.
Live Nation Entertainment, the world’s largest concert promoter, has acquired a majority interest in the 5-yearold BottleRock Napa Valley music festival, a boutique venture that had a rough patch at the start but has become a big part of the Northern California music calendar.
The deal was announced on Friday, Jan. 13.
Beverly Hills-based Live Nation adds the annual threeday event in downtown Napa to its expansive portfolio of music festivals worldwide, inlcluding Lollapalooza in Chicago, Governors Ball in New York City and Tennessee’s Bonnaroo.
BottleRock’s producer, Latitude 38 Entertainment, whose founders Dave Graham, Justin Dragoo and Jason Scoggins took over the festival in 2014, say the deal will provide vital support in one of the most competitive markets for live music in the country.
“We’re somewhat on an island over here, constantly having to pull a rabbit out of our hat to bring in the right bands,” Graham said. “Bringing in a partner like Live Nation puts us at the front of the line.”
Live Nation, which also owns ticketing behemoth
Ticketmaster, has aggressively acquired festivals across the country in the past few years, angling to be a viable competitor to the state’s other major music festivals: Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in Indio (Riverside County), which is produced by competitor AEG Live (via its Goldenvoice subsidiary); and Outside Lands in San Francisco, presented by Superfly and Berkeley’s Another Planet Entertainment.
These transactions have resulted in a consolidation of the multiday outdoor concert business.
But corporate involvement isn’t always a blessing for developing festivals. Many fans felt alienated when the longrunning Los Angeles indie rock event FYF Fest was acquired by AEG in 2010. While AEG helped FYF Fest land superstar headliners, the event lost much of its boutique feel, ticket prices went up, and larger crowds presented infrastructure issues.
Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino has previously promised to give acquisitions autonomy, with the company acting as more of a silent partner than a controlling force.
Latitude 38 isn’t worried.
“The deal would not have gone through had we not agreed to run the festival in the long run,” Graham said. “They’re going to leave us alone until we need help.”
It was not disclosed how much Live Nation paid for its stake in the festival, which draws some 120,000 fans every Memorial Day weekend. But in 2014, Live Nation reportedly paid $125 million for a majority stake in C3 Presents, which produces Lollapalooza and the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Texas.
This year’s BottleRock, scheduled for May 26-28 at the Napa Valley Expo, will be headlined by the Foo Fighters, Maroon 5 and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The outdoor festival also showcases the region’s food and wine offerings, helping spur the sales of tickets (early-bird threeday passes sold out within minutes this month).
But BottleRock has struggled to establish itself in the crowded summer concert season. In spite of booking major headliners like the Black Keys and Kings of Leon, the event stumbled after its 2013 launch when the original producers, BR Festivals LLC, reported an $8 million deficit, ultimately filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Since acquiring BottleRock, the Napa Valley locals — Graham, a seasoned technology startup investor; Dragoo, a former NFL linebacker and president of Oakville’s Gargiulo Vineyards; and advertising executive Scoggins — have worked at rebuilding the BottleRock brand. Just last year, they agreed to stage the festival at the 26-acre Napa Expo site through 2026 in an $8 million deal with the fairground authority.
“Our mission has always been to create the most elevated festival experience in the world,” Graham said. “Having a partner on board that can help us do that is key.”
Crowds respond to the X Ambassadors at the BottleRock 2016 music festival in Napa.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers, the festival headliners, perform as the closing act of BottleRock 2016.