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Goldenvoice's Coachella and Stagecoach Festivals Couldn't be More Different Yet Each is a Booming Success

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A little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll, and a whole lot in between.

No, Donny and Marie Osmond won't be performing at next weekend's 10th annual Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, which is being headlined by Paul McCartney (Friday), The Killers (Saturday) and The Cure (Sunday).

Nor, thankfully will the Osmonds play at the following weekend's third annual Stagecoach: California's Country Music Festival, which — like Coachella — takes place on the 78-acre grounds of the Empire Polo Club in Indio. This year's Stagecoach lineup features such favorites as Brad Paisley and Reba (April 25), along with Kenny Chesney and token rabble-rouser Kid Rock (April 26).

That tickets are selling well in such a battered economy for these back-to-back events is a dual victory for Goldenvoice, the Los Angeles concert company that created books and produces both events under the auspices of its parent company, concert industry giant AEG Live. Despite the festivals' shared desert location, they could almost come from different countries, if not planets.

A hipster's paradise, Coachella is rooted in indie-rock, electronica and other contemporary styles with a distinct, cutting-edge flavor. Its audience includes mostly young fans from around the globe, along with film stars (Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz) and rock icons (Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, Aerosmith's Steven Tyler).

The family-friendly Stagecoach is built on a foundation of mainstream country, with nods to Americana, bluegrass and barbecue (as both a consumptive and competitive event).

Yet, it is Stagecoach, the upstart festival that is planted firmly in the middle-of-the-road, which appears to have the greater momentum only two years after debuting in 2007.

"I think this year we're going to sell out Stagecoach (about 45,000 each day), which for me is shocking, because it wasn't until the fifth year — with Radiohead — that Coachella got to that point," said Goldenvoice president Paul Tollett, mastermind of both festivals.

"Even more than Coachella, people want to go to Stagecoach because it's a great escape."

The differences between Coachella and Stagecoach, where Confederate flags are not uncommon, are visible as well as audible.

Stagecoach has reserved seating, a large camping area for fans who come in their RVs and a family campground with a strict noise curfew. Coachella offers none of these options.

The menu at Stagecoach has an array of barbeque chicken, ribs and beef dishes, plus pulled pork, but dispenses with the organic tempeh items available at Coachella.

Then, there are the names of the festivals: Coachella, which has no title sponsor, versus ABC Daytime SOAPnet Presents Stagecoach Festival Powered by Toyota. As part of this sponsorship deal, actors from "One Life to Live" and other TV soaps will introduce some of this year's Stagecoach acts and do autograph sessions and giveaways "from a branded RV and tent" at the festival.

PlayStation, the official video game sponsor for Stagecoach and Coachella, will have an air-conditioned structure with free games for fans to play at both festivals. Coachella also has a partnership with AT&T, which just introduced its "official Coachella iPhone application" for fans. The application includes an interactive festival map, a schedule with Coachella performers and set times, a photo uploader and a friend finder.

Still, the corporate presence at Coachella is more low-key than at Stagecoach and at other AEG-produced rock festivals, such as Seattle's Bumbershoot, which last year was presented by Samsung.

"You'll never see a presenting title sponsor or overt (corporate) signage at Coachella," said Andrew Klein, AEG's executive senior vice president of global partnerships. He is also the head of AEG's new festival network, yourbrandsourfans.com, which was created to maximize sponsorship opportunities at all of AEG's festivals.

"We're in a down economy and sales for our festivals are up," Klein said.

"Without sponsorship dollars, we couldn't keep our ticket prices (low)."

Stagecoach, which drew 55,000 people to its 2007 debut, saw attendance jump to 120,000 last year, when it added a third day and had The Eagles headline it. This year, wary of the economy and the absence of another act with The Eagles' drawing power, Stagecoach has returned to a two-day format.

This year's highest priced two-day VIP ticket packages have already sold out, despite a price of $799 (plus service charges). But Stagecoach is also thriving because of its new $99 two-day general admission ticket (down from $175 last year).

"What Stagecoach did by lowering their prices this year was a proactive reaction to the economy," said Gary Bongiovanni, the publisher of Pollstar, the concert industry's leading weekly publication.

"Country audiences are more price-sensitive and this year's festival is very affordable. If you're a country fan, it doesn't get better than Stagecoach. And it's the same for Coachella. The tickets are not inexpensive, but for the amount of entertainment you get, it's a tremendous value."

Coachella, which only expanded to a three-day format in 2007, sold out all 180,000 tickets that year in a record 10 days. But attendance dropped to 150,000 last year, despite — or perhaps because — the headlining slots were given to mellow singer-songwriter Jack Johnson and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Prince and Roger Waters, who didn't fit Coachella's usual bill of fare.

Neither, in theory, does this year's Friday headliner, former Beatle McCartney. As of March 31, though, Friday is the only one of the festival's three days for which single-day tickets had sold out in advance.

"Now, with the 10th year of Coachella, I want to keep the show great all the way through, quality-wise," Tollett said. "It has to do big enough numbers that I don't lose money, but the show needs to be great. And we're going to do more, attendance-wise, this year than we did last year. As of mid-March, we were already clicking past last year (in ticket sales)."

Coachella debuted in 1997. Headliners included Rage Against the Machine, Beck, Tool and at least five artists who will be returning for next weekend's edition: Morrissey, Spearhead, Rahzel, Christopher Lawrence and Lollapalooza co-founder Perry Farrell. The 1997 festival lost at least $750,000 for Goldenvoice, then an independently owned and operated company, and did not return in 1998.

"We never dreamed we'd have a 10th anniversary, because it didn't seem like there'd even be a second Coachella," Tollett said. "We went a year thinking it was over."

Enter AEG, the nation's second-biggest concert promotion company and its biggest producer of music festivals. AEG bought Goldenvoice in 2001 and convinced Tollett to try Coachella again.

He did, although it took until 2003 — when the headliners included Red Hot Chili Peppers, White Stripes and the reunited Stooges — for the event to turn a profit. In addition to Coachella and Stagecoach, Tollett also books the two-year-old All Points West festival in New York, which will be held July 31 through Aug. 2 and stars Tool, Coldplay and Beastie Boys.

"We believed in Coachella," he said. "But we didn't have the money to do it again and AEG did. They've been patient and it worked out for them and for me and Rick" (Van Santern, his late business partner).

Tollett also plays a role in other AEG-produced festivals, including the 40-year-old New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and such rock-oriented events as Seattle's Bumbershoot, Denver's Mile High and Michigan's Rothbury.

But Stagecoach is Tollett's only country-music festival. And while he expects this year's event to sell out, Stagecoach's 2007 debut fizzled.

"The first one lost us money, but we'd kind of seen that move before with Coachella," said Tollett, who spent nearly a year learning about country and Americana music before booking the first Stagecoach. "The people who went loved it, so you just have to hang in there and get the formula right."

FESTIVAL INFORMATION

Tickets for the Stagecoach and Coachella festivals are available at all Ticketmaster outlets: ticketmaster.com or 1-800-745-3000. The festivals take place at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif.

Information/schedules: coachella.com and stagecoachfestival.com.

To find out more about George Varga and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2009 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.



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