KAABOO Del Mar might sound like the name for a spooky, Halloween-oriented event.
The producers of this ambitious, three-day music and food marathon - which will be held Sept. 18-20 at the Del Mar Racetrack and Fairgrounds - hope to scare up large crowds by offering several twists to the festival-going experience. Those twists include high-quality cuisine from top area restaurants, an array of wine and craft beer offerings, a comedy stage and a level of amenities geared to a festival-going demographic that prefers sitting to standing and comfort to roughing it.
The producers also hope the diverse lineup of KAABOO , which has a seven-figure budget and will feature 100 musical acts on seven stages, appeals to fans of Street Scene. That homegrown San Diego festival drew more than 100,000 fans annually at its peak in 2003, but ended its quarter-century run here in 2009 after being beset by financial problems and dwindling attendance. KAABOO will feature internationally known headlining acts
“The San Diego community seems to miss Street Scene in a lot of ways, and there’s a void in what is a vibrant, very active metropolitan area,” said KAABOO mastermind Bryan E. Gordon.
“So, from our vantage point, while it’s obviously too bad for the city and the producers of Street Scene that it fell by the wayside, it’s encouraging for us that there is an appetite for such an event in San Diego - and for an event that will be uniquely for, and about, Southern California. And, hopefully, we can take that legacy and build on it.”
The lineup for KAABOO Del Mar will be formally announced on Feb. 23, the same day tickets will go on sale through the festival’s website. A limited number of discounted advance tickets will go on sale in early February, before any of the performers have been disclosed. Both single- and multi-day passes will be sold, as will hotel packages and shuttle service. Ticket prices have not yet been finalized.
“We’ll feature classic rock, indie and alternative, along with a little bit of alt-country and some singer-songwriter stuff. But it’s primarily focused around rock from the 1970s to the present,” Gordon, 53, said.
“Regardless of whether you have a general admission pass or a VIP pass, our goal is to have the basic ‘Boo’ experience be quite elevated, compared to the norms within the music festival industry. And that will be evident in everything from the quality of the beverage and culinary offerings to the quality of the restroom facilities. We aim for everybody to have a very delightful and comfortable experience.
“Most of us don’t stop loving music by the time we reach 25. But we get a little less hardy, physically, and we have different needs in terms of jobs, kids and responsibilities. A lot of great music festivals are not built to cater to those issues. So there’s this whole universe of people over 25 - who are largely sidelined by the music festival establishment - that we want to attract.”
Gordon and his partners looked at potential festival sites up and down the West Coast, before settling on the Del Mar Racetrack and Fairgrounds.
“Maybe San Diego is ready for a festival like KAABOO ,” said John Wojas, the San Diego vice president of Goldenvoice, which produces the annual Coachella festival in Indio. “I’ve been surprised through the years at how attendance has grown at venues in San Diego, from arenas to amphitheaters, and how new venues continue to open here.”
The Del Mar Racetrack and Fairgrounds is not a new site for music festivals.
The 2007 edition of Street Scene - which featured such headliners as Muse and The Killers - was originally scheduled to be held at the same Del Mar location as KAABOO , before being moved to what is now Sleep Train Amphitheatre in Chula Vista. In 2005 and 2006, the fairgrounds hosted Festival Del Mar, a two-day festival that featured such diverse artists as reggae pioneer Desmond Dekker and jazz trumpeter Christian Scott.
“Del Mar was definitely on our short list,” Gordon said. “When we had the opportunity to secure the racetrack and fairgrounds, I sort of knew we’d found our home. We thought it was the perfect venue and locale for us. We wanted something in a destination resort-type market which San Diego and Del Mar clearly are, a place with extraordinary weather, ease of access, an extraordinary infrastructure and a large population center that is also easily traveled to from other places.
“The bonus was that, shockingly, there was not a major festival in the market, and this is one of the 10 largest metro areas in the U.S. So we thought Del Mar offered us pretty much everything we were looking for, including lots of great hotels nearby.”
At least 80 percent of the KAABOO lineup has already been confirmed, according to Gordon, who last year founded HorsePower Entertainment, specifically to produce the fledgling festival.
“This will be definitely be a first for us. We’re really very excited about hosting this festival,” said Linda Zweig, the Del Mar Fairgrounds’ spokeswoman.
KAABOO creator Gordon is founder and chairman of the Denver-based The Madison Companies, LLC, a private investment holding company he founded in 1996. Madison has, according to its website, invested over $1 billion in a varied portfolio of market-leading, middle-market companies and properties worth over $3 billion.
While Gordon is aware it can often take several years, or longer, for new music festivals to make a profit - assuming they last that long - he is confident that KAABOO will build traction. To help the event achieve maximum potential, he has formed a team of several dozen consultants with decades of experience in the concert and festival production fields. Among them is Pipeline Productions, a Kansas-based company that produces the 11-year-old Wakarusa rock festival and the three-year-old Thunder on the Mountain country music festival, both in Arkansas.
“I’m very definitely not a gambler,” Gordon said. I’m a serial entrepreneur and professional investor. And I don’t know of any business we’ve developed (at the Madison Companies) that we expected would become profitable in less than 2-4 years. That’s the nature of start-ups.
“Anybody who goes into any business who is is not mentally and financially prepared for the initial rigors of a start-up is not prepared. We are fully prepared to make the time- and financial-investment to see this - like all of our businesses - through to profitability and franchise traction.”