How do you physically construct a world-class three-day music festival? Latitude 38 Entertainment partner Justin Dragoo spoke in detail this month about the planning and production of BottleRock 2016.
“Planning actually started in earnest during the previous festival,” Dragoo said. “During the 2015 festival in May, through video, through drones, through detailed note-taking, we were already figuring out what we wanted to change for the following year. That’s what led, for example, to significant changes in the layout of our VIP areas, the way the restaurant garden will flow, differences in where the stages are positioned.
“We had a user-experience consultant attend BottleRock last year with the idea of helping us with the layout for 2016. We did a formal postmortem review with that consultant right after the festival. We also do what we call ‘360 reviews’ with all of our vendors, multidirectional views of every aspect of each vendor’s involvement. That includes feedback from each person on how we can make our festival better. All of that happens through the months of June and July.”
Dragoo said that by August the physical design of the festival was underway. The team uses CAD (computer-aided drafting) technology to create the layout at Expo for the coming year. “In terms of time spent,” he said, “the design of the site is the most mind-bending, thinking through how 40-some thousand people are going to flow through this site seamlessly, and all have the right experience.”
He explained that there’s a good deal of math involved in the site design. “You’re using square-footage guidelines, looking carefully at crowd movement, space for queues, choke points,” he said. “There’s a stat that says that everyone should have at least 7 square feet to themself.
“The size of each bar at each location is based on a mathematical formula related to specific crowd size expectations. For example, the bars on either side of the green in front of the main stage are very large. The same is true for food locations — matching up to a ratio to make sure that there aren’t long lines for food.”
With the CAD map spread before him, Dragoo began to itemize the major projects — he calls them “work streams” — that have redefined BottleRock’s physical environment for 2016. “Looking at our CAD map,” Dragoo said, “I count 17 work streams that we’ve done separately, and I’m probably missing some.
“We create specs for different projects and offer them to different firms to bid on, both on price and to help us to refine our design. For almost all of those, I can’t think of any exception, it’s our business practice to go out for multiple bids.
“Examples of major work streams are a new main stage (JaM Stage) that’s bigger with bigger video screens, the repositioning of the second stage (the Midway Stage), an entirely new Platinum Lounge and a new viewing deck overlooking the Culinary Stage, which was such a hit last year that it got overwhelmed. This year it will be in a new location. It will be bigger and it will have video capability.”
Dragoo enthusiastically described a new double-decker structure, 35 feet high and the length of a football field, running along the eastern edge of the green in front of the JaM stage. “There will be suites, think sports stadium-type corporate suites, the entire length of the lower level of the structure,” he said. “The upper level we’re calling the ‘Sky Deck,’ a separate VIP-related viewing area that we sold as individual designated tickets. This area is multi-tiered and arranged as lounges with a bar.”
BottleRock has significantly expanded its “merch,” and the settings for its sales. “Merchandise is entirely new,” Dragoo said. “We’re designing all the merchandise this year, doing it all in house. It’s much better quality compared to any type of concert or sporting event that you’ll go to. And this will not be just a tent. This is a totally redesigned construction project. And we will have three different merch locations. The Miner Stage will get a much enhanced merchandise area plus a bank of restrooms that were not there before.”
The preparation of the Expo site is carefully scrutinized by both the state and the city. “This is a state property that’s inside a city,” Dragoo said. “We have a state special event permit and the process associated with that, and the state fire marshal inspections and sign-off. We also have a city special event permit and work with local fire, emergency response and the Napa police.
“To some degree these are duplicate processes that we need to go through. We think it helps, though. It gives us more talented eyes on the project to make sure something’s not missed.”
Considerable attention is paid to noise abatement. “Unlike many rock festivals,” the Latitude 38 partner said, “because we’re doing this in the middle of a city, there are some unique challenges to putting on a world-class audiovisual show with residential homes nearby. Expo created a noise ordinance that we need to comply with. So how do we comply with that better and better each year?
“We’ve altered the positioning of stages once again trying to be sensitive about where the sound is pointing and where the video lights are. We think that the towering sky deck, running parallel with Silverado Trail, will be a tremendous help as a sound barrier.
“We’ll continue to invest in the monitoring for decibel levels that happens in the neighborhoods. There are listening posts out there, people with decibel measuring devices, both downtown and in the neighborhoods to the north and east of the site. That’s been done in the past and we’ve learned from it.”
To enhance production leadership this year, Latitude 38 has hired Dirk Stalnecker as BottleRock operations director. Stalnecker is a seasoned music festival and special event professional, whose experience includes a decade or more at both the Austin City Limits Music Festivals and at the Lollapalooza festivals in Chicago.
Taken as a whole, it is obvious that BottleRock is not resting on its laurels, that nearly every major element at Expo is being evaluated and refined in hopes of improving the fan experience.