The Rise and Success of Artist-Curated Events

In 1991, the band Jane’s Addiction was at the height of their accomplishments. Their third album, “Ritual de lo Habitual,” had broken through to mainstream success. Still, behind the scenes, things weren’t great. The band wasn’t even sure they were going to tour to promote the record.

Then, an idea came to lead singer, Perry Farrell: a tour that was as much an event as it was a concert. “Like a Lollapallooza,” Farrell allegedly said. “It means someone or something special, excellent, or exceptional ... It also can mean a giant lollipop.”

The idea that finally emerged was a tour that would visit several cities and include a lineup of diverse bands from various genres, headlined by Jane’s Addiction. In addition to the music, the tour featured booths that encouraged people to register to vote or become politically active or support a cause. It also included art installations by local artists that varied from city to city.

It was a massive success (although, Jane’s Addiction was not so lucky, breaking up shortly after the tour ended). The Lollapallooza tour would continue for the next seven years, although Farrell stepped away from managing the event in 1996. The tour was canceled in 1998, but then revived in 2005 and today exists as a two-day festival that is managed by Live Nation Entertainment and held in Chicago’s Grant Park.

While the current iteration resembles many other multi-day music festivals run by large management corporations, the ’91 Lollapallooza tour and the next few that followed are the very definitions of what we would call today an artist-curated event.

An artist-curated event is a festival where a singular vision is the guiding force behind its creation. In the case of the original Lollapallooza, Farrell had a hand in the selection of the bands, booths, venues, everything. He even, reportedly, wanted more diversity in the political representation by trying to get representatives from the National Rifle Association and the military to attend (A U.S. Army spokesman replied to the invite by saying, “Why should I bother getting into a pissing match with a bunch of left-wing rock & roll punks?”).

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Photo Credit: Blink 102 FM

For a while, artist-curated events took a back seat to the larger music festivals run by management associations, but they are seeing a resurgence. And the reason why is clear.

Take as an example, Post Malone. The rapper announced that he was holding a festival, Posty Fest, in his hometown of Dallas, TX and it sold out in two hours – before a lineup was even announced. Posty Fest will be the first major music festival to be exclusively based in Dallas, TX.

Another example is Chance the Rapper who put on his festival, Magnificent Coloring Day, in 2016. Held in Cellular One Field, where the Chicago White Sox play, Chances’ event was the first time the park sold every single seat. The White Sox won the World Series in 2005 – World Series games were played at Cellular One Field – and yet it was Chances’ fest that sold it out.

Magnificent Coloring Day featured performances by Skrillex, Kanye West, John Legend, Lil Wayne, Alicia Keys, and Chance, yet it wasn’t just a music festival. Magnificent Coloring Day was pitched as a tribute to Chicago, Chances’ hometown and the fact that small, local restaurants and businesses were on hand selling their wares was part of the attraction.

Photo Credit: Chicago Tribune

For both of these festivals, it’s not just that an artist is putting on a show – it’s not even that a local artist is putting on a show. The real draw is that an artist has clearly put thought into the event that he (in both of these cases) is holding in his hometown. There is thought put into even the selection of vendors.

People didn’t need to know the lineup of Posty Fest because they know the artist. They know that if they like the art that Post Malone creates, they will like the majority of the acts at his curated event.

These festivals succeed on multiple levels as a benefit to the audience, the region, and the artist. In fact, people walk away from an artist-curated event feeling like they have a better understanding of and relationship with the artist than ever before.

That’s why artist-curated events are succeeding in an era where other music festivals are struggling.  Additional examples include the group Florida Georgia Line who is hosting “FGL Fest” at the Indianapolis Speedway featuring Nelly and Cole Swindell, J. Cole with the Dreamville Festival in Raleigh, N.C., and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver with the Eaux Claires festival.

Eaux Claires is a fest that Vernon has been hosting in his hometown of Eau Claire, WI for the past four years. Like most artist-curated events, Eaux Claires is a collaboration with several artists and is as much about the music as the art installations that populate the festival grounds (one of which, a massive pipe organ sculpture known as “Baroque,” is now a permeant feature in an Eau Claire park along the banks of the Chippewa River). In fact, the 2018 event did not announce a musical lineup until festival-goers had arrived on site.

Photo Credit: Classical MPR

The personality that’s infused in artist-curated events makes them equally appealing to audiences and sponsors. Not only do events like Posty Fest and Eaux Claires enable a brand to reach a very specific audience, but the artists themselves are also more likely to shout out sponsors on social media when they are supporting something that seems like a labor of love.

Still, there is a reticence by some artists to actually seek out sponsors for these events. The goal for many of these events is to create something new and authentic, and, for many, traditional modes of advertising seems anathema to that objective.

However, that is a real opportunity for sponsors. Not only is there a chance to be an exclusive (or, at least, majority) sponsor at an artist-curated event, brands can also discover creative ways to become part of the scene. The opening is there to integrate with an event beyond merely being a logo on a banner.

“It’s not just having bands come, play their sets, and get a paycheck,” Vernon said in an interview with Pitchfork. “That’s what is not cool about something like Lollapalooza, which says, ‘Hey, be what you were, and we’ll pay you.’ This is about people coming together and creating something new for themselves. The audience gets something out of that, too.”

Ah, poor Lollapalooza. Still, that festival’s labyrinthian path from where it was to where it is likely serves as a wake-up call to artists and sponsors alike. An artist-curated event cannot continue without earning a profit, yet the desire to remain artist-driven, authentic, and focused on the experience (as opposed to income generation) is essential to success.

Creative sponsorship is the answer. Finding a way for sponsors to become integrated with an event is a win-win solution.

We can help. If you would like to find ways to creatively incorporate your brand with an artist-curated event give Event Architecture a call at 972-323-9433.

sofia krsmanovic