After losing a reported $5 million on the inaugural HullabaLOU, Churchill Downs Inc. cancelled next year's festival and put down its entertainment division today. In a press release, CDI blamed the festival's poor showing on hot weather and a cold economy.
But Bonnaroo, Lollapalloza, Pitchfork and countless other music festivals make it work year in, year out, in the same circumstances. And the success of Louisville's own Forecastle Festival shows you can't blame HullabaLOU's failure on the city. You won't read it in any CDI-issued press release, of course, but the problems with HullabaLOU began and ended with HullabaLOU.
Now, I've never planned events bigger than cocktail parties (which are fabulous), but should CDI resurrect HullbaLOU here are some suggestions for how it be profitable--or at least lose less than $5 million.
Host individual concerts rather than a festival
Anecdotal evidence showed that many HullabaLOU attendees were mainly interested in one of headliners (Bon Jovi, Kenny Chesney and the Dave Matthews Band). So rather than paying for supporting acts that weren't much of a draw--which would be most of them--why not just have each of those headliners or a similar big-name acts perform a regular standalone concert? Call it the HullabaLOU Concert Series and host a show a month in between the spring and fall racing seasons.
Rather than going for broke on the first attempt at hosting a festival (in which case, well done), CDE could've started smaller, with a one- or two-day event. Sure, it would've had less earning potential, but (business jargon alert) it would've mitigated CDE's risk and given it a chance to learn how to put on a festival.
Book acts that are emerging or have more buzz
Rather than up and coming acts, HullabaLOU's lineup focused on came and went ones. Performances by Huey Lewis, Michael McDonald and Kansas aren't newsworthy enough to generate free publicity for the festival. And they're not going to draw the young fans willing to travel great distances that help a festival be profitable. Vampire Weekend, MGMT, Broken Social Scene or any of the bands getting attention on Pitchfork would have been helped. And young and hungry bands might even be cheaper than fat and happy ones.
Photo: Courtesy Richard Marx