What happens when three guys who never planned an event in their lives take over ownership of a music festival that went bust after its inaugural outing and drove its organizers into bankruptcy? A completely soldout 2016 BottleRock Napa Valley, that’s what.
When Jason Scoggins, Dave Graham and Justin Dragoo, the partners who make up Latitude 38 Entertainment (L38), decided to get into the event planning business on a megascale, they were looking for something to root them back in the Napa Valley, where they’d grown up.
“We all moved back to Napa after 20 years of being gone, with college and careers outside of the valley,” says Scoggins, who is the company’s chief revenue officer. “We were looking for something meaningful to do in an entrepreneurial way, that wasn’t a restaurant, that wasn’t a winery, and we were struggling to find that, to find a way to have a future career path in the Napa Valley.”
As luck would have it, the opportunity the trio of entrepreneurs was seeking emerged from the ashes of the original BottleRock Napa Valley, the valley’s first large music-food-wine festival, which was held in May 2013. Put on by Bob Vogt and Gabe Meyers of BR Festivals, the event took place at the Napa Valley Expo fairgrounds and drew a large crowd. But the four-day event earned only $14 million against expenses that topped $20 million, according to the bankruptcy papers that BR Festival would be forced to file.
“We picked up the scraps, dusted them off and rebooted the second year,” Scoggins says. “We had the good fortune of seeing that there was consumer demand for the festival. And we had the ability as entrepreneurs to look at BottleRock’s first year with hindsight and say, ‘Hey, that worked. Now, if we just don’t do these four or five things that messed it up and ended up forcing those guys to bow out.’” One change: trimming the festival from four days to three to reduce costs as well as stress on the neighborhood.
So Scoggins and his partners took the leap, bought the assets, covered a substantial part of the BR Festival’s debt and put on their first BottleRock Napa Valley event in 2014.
The Latitude 38 Entertainment team quickly discovered that it takes a lot of planning to put on an event that lasts for three days, brings in over 100,000 people, needs at least 1,500 staffers to make it run smoothly and requires a slate of appealing musical acts along with culinary personalities to fill in the time slots for a festival that starts at noon and ends at 10 p.m. each day.
“The first year that we took over, people from the music industry were sitting on the sidelines, thinking that this was going to be a complete disaster,” Scoggins says. “We knew they were saying, ‘Who are these newbies? The first year was a disaster, so why wouldn’t the second one be, too?’ That rippled into what bands we could have a look at and which ones were willing to play the festival.”
Add in the massive logistics of building five stages, VIP lounges, merchandising areas, food booths that served up dishes from Napa Valley greats like Mustards Grill, Redd, Bouchon Bakery, and Pizzeria Tra Vigne, wine cabanas pouring the likes of Rombauer, Blackbird, Clos du Val and Silver Oak and craft-beer stations tapping local favorites. To say nothing of moving approximately 40,000 people each day in and out of that same relatively small fairgrounds. Plus there were the community relations to massage (the venue is situated in the midst of the main residential section of Napa), festival sponsors to recruit and the planning for off-site parking and shuttles, green waste disposal, portable restrooms and much more. The L38 team had their work cut out for them.
Impressively, the 2014 BottleRock Napa Valley festival went off with only a few minor hiccups; for example, some parking lot exiting traffic jams. The next year was even smoother. After being in the red in 2014, “we turned a profit in 2015 and landed on our feet in a really solid way,” Scoggins says. So solid that both the 2015 and 2016 festivals were completely sold out of every level of ticket.
The now-experienced L38 event planners keep ramping up their festival to new heights. They’ve added exclusive packages that have proven to be robust revenue streams. “Our VIP experience has really taken off,” Scoggins says. “You come to Napa for a VIP experience already and we’re just trying to exalt that.” BottleRock offers three levels of VIP pass, from General ($599 for three days) to Plus ($950) to Platinum ($3,000), which includes a Platinum Lounge and meet-and-greets with the bands, who are now clamoring to play the festival. Stevie Wonder and the Red Hot Chili Peppers headlined the 2016 lineup, for instance, with 70 other bands and numerous celebrity chefs joining in as well. On Friday, musician Michael Franti, radio personality Robin Quivers and Today Show anchor Billy Bush joined Michelin-starred chef Mourad Lahlou to discuss cooking techniques and health tips, while on Saturday famed “Iron Chef” Masaharu Morimoto served spicy rolls to the audience with the help of Tre Cool and Mike Dirnt from Green Day.
For planners, the BottleRock Napa Valley organizers suggest booking one of their Sky Box suites. “Unequaled to what you’ll find at any other music festival, these suites are like luxury boxes at Formula One races and major PGA tournaments,” says Dave Graham, CEO of BottleRock and Latitude 38 Entertainment. “They are customized for each group, provide premium food and wine from iconic Napa Valley restaurants and wineries, and enjoy incredible views of the main stage. Some of our past sponsors include Google, Founders Circle, Silicon Valley Bank and Morgan Stanley.” Scoggins says this year the suites went for roughly $20,000 per day for 30 guests.
Long-term planners can rest assured that BottleRock is going to be Napa’s largest annual event for years to come: L38 recently signed a 10-year, $8 million contract with Napa Valley Expo, lasting through 2026. BottleRock Napa Valley is always scheduled for the last weekend in May, which is often Memorial Day Weekend; the 2017 dates are May 26-28.