Music News & Reviews

Heavy metal music fest draws thousands of head-bangers to Discovery Park

When Lyndsey Young and three twenty-something friends piled into a convertible in Vancouver, Canada, on Friday, the destination was Sacramento.

A 14-hour road trip on I-5 awaited with the goal of making it to Sacramento by Saturday morning. The prize: two days of heavy metal music – the head-banging kind.

The four made it just in time to catch the opening band of the third annual Aftershock Festival, which is at Sacramento’s Discovery Park through Sunday night.

More than 15,000 are expected to attend the each day of the festival, organizers said. Sacramento County this year raised the capacity from 15,000 to 19,000.

The popularity of the festival is something of an anomaly for the city, which lately has seen its share of bad news concerning some of its arts organizations and festivals.

This fall, Sacramento’s professional opera and orchestra went dark because of financial pressures, and a budgetary shortfall may doom the 41-year-old Sacramento Music Festival – the latest iteration of the once-popular Sacramento Jazz Festival and Jubilee.

However, no such bad news has visited the Aftershock festival or the upcoming TBD Fest, which will be presented Oct. 3-5 in West Sacramento, with Moby and Blondie as headliners at a new venue.

Of the two, it is Aftershock that has provided the strongest evidence that music festivals can thrive in Sacramento.

In 2012, the first year Aftershock was presented here, the festival sold out its one-day slate of rock bands. Last year, the festival was expanded to two days and came close to selling out both days. Young and her crew not only spent 14 hours on the road, but they also shelled out $241 each for two nights at a local hotel.

“Sacramento is a market that has a lot of music history, but in the music industry the last few years, Sacramento was starting to be seen as a market where you could not sell tickets,” said Danny Hayes, CEO of Danny Wimmer Presents, which presents Aftershock.

For the last eight years, the company has made a profit by moving into such markets, he said.

To do so, Hayes is keen on booking a string of big-name headliners. In 2008, the company presented its first heavy metal concert festival in Columbus, Ohio, a city that had a similar reputation, Hayes said. Today, that festival – called Rock On The Range, is the flagship of the 12 concerts Hayes produces nationwide. That festival is presented over three days and sells 120,000 tickets.

“Actually, the Sacramento market reminds us of Columbus,” Hayes said. “It has the right amount of feeder markets within a 500-mile radius.”

The ease of routing bands to Sacramento from the Bay Area and other areas of California made Aftershock doable, he said.

“This year, we’ve upped the ante in Sacramento and spent more on talent than we spent last year,” he said.

Saturday’s slate of 23 bands included headliners Weezer and The Offspring. On Sunday, the festival will again present 23 bands over three stages with Godsmack and Rob Zombie as headliners.

For the city and its hotels, Aftershock is a welcome event, said Mike Testa of the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The festival in 2012 generated 1,500 hotel-room bookings. Last year, 2,137 rooms were booked, Testa said.

“From a convention standpoint – we love conventions that generate more than 2,000 hotel rooms. So to have a music festival on a weekend generating what they do is just a huge chunk of business for Sacramento,” Testa said.

No music festival has hit that number of hotel bookings in the recent past, Testa said. Aftershock organizers are spending more than $800,000 to put on the festival.

Another festival that is helping define the local music-festival scene is TBD Fest. Formerly known as Launch, TBD is a Sacramento-based festival that has evolved since its inaugural year in 2007, when it was presented at Cesar Chavez Plaza.

This year, the festival will be presented in a new venue called The Barn, near the River Walk in West Sacramento.

The festival expects roughly 30,000 to attend over three days.

Testa said it is too early to tell how well guest hotel bookings are doing for TBD Fest. However, the festival has already generated the booking of 700 rooms for the staff needed to put on the festival.

TBD Fest co-founder Clay Nutting is taking a cautious approach to the festival’s success.

“I would not say that we’re going gangbusters each year,” Nutting said. “We have grown, and we have gotten closer to hitting goals.”

Last year, the festival drew roughly 6,000 for its first day and 8,000 on its second day.

He said the health of the festival depends on whether it generates enough money to get through the next year – which has been no problem.

“If you look at the festival landscape across the country, a lot of these festivals took several years to turn a profit,” Nutting said. “We’re hitting our target much sooner than we anticipated, and that is telling us that our idea – that Sacramento would be able to support something of this size – is giving us enough confidence to try to do something bigger and better.

This year, TBD Fest will present 70 acts on four stages, bringing more artists from outside the region. Nutting is marketing the festival to other markets.

Nutting said securing a major sponsor remains a top goal for the festival.

At Aftershock, the growing pains include having to mitigate the effects of the invasive nature of a two-day music festival.

The existence of big events – like Aftershock – on the American River Parkway is a point of contention to the Save the American River Association.

That group has a lawsuit against Sacramento County over such use of the parkway.

SARA released a report last year detailing some of the effects of the festival, which included lawn gouging, trash that was improperly collected and the unauthorized pruning of trees at the concert site.

“There have been a series of permits granted for things on the parkway that are in violation of the parkway plan,” said Stephen Green, president of SARA. “We tried and tried to get the county to do what they are supposed to do, and they will not.”

Green said SARA wants the city and county to issue a monitoring plan for large events along the parkway but that neither entity has met its commitment, which was agreed to in 2008.

County officials could not be reached in time for this story to comment on the lawsuit or a monitoring plan.

Hayes said Aftershock organizers are working with the city and county to leave a pristine site this year after the festival.

If it manages to meet expectations of ticket growth this year despite triple-digit temperatures, it is likely to expand to a three-day festival at Discovery Park, he said.

“If it goes to a three-day festival, then you can put us down for as a ‘yes’ for next year,” Young said.

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