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Gibson Ranch cranks up the crowds with Aftershock

Abe Cunningham of Deftones reflects on two decades of rock and roll

Abe Cunningham, drummer for the Sacramento-based band the Deftones, reflects on two decades of band history told through photographs.
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Abe Cunningham, drummer for the Sacramento-based band the Deftones, reflects on two decades of band history told through photographs.

Gibson Ranch in Elverta will transform from a family-friendly park into a heavy-metal mecca this weekend. A combined-day attendance of 45,000 is expected at the 2015 Monster Energy Aftershock Festival, a massive crowd that will test the park’s capacity to hold large-scale events.

Organizers say ticket holders will travel from more than 40 states to see bands such as Sacramento’s Deftones, Slipknot, Marilyn Manson and dozens more. The two-day festival is the largest event ever held at the 325-acre park, which is owned by the County of Sacramento but operated privately by real-estate developer and former congressman Doug Ose.

Aftershock is expected to generate much-needed monies for Gibson Ranch. The park has operated at a deficit since 2011, the year Ose was approved by Sacramento County to run the park as a private venture. Ose says Gibson Ranch is on track to turn a profit for 2015. He credits an increased number of events held at the park, including Aftershock.

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It’s been a bumpy road to financial solvency. August’s City of Trees music festival at Gibson Ranch was marred by nightmarish traffic jams, overflowing portable toilets and other logistical missteps.

But now, with site improvements and a more expansive traffic plan, Ose and Aftershock organizers are testing how well Gibson Ranch can handle crowds. The ultimate goal is to expand Aftershock into a three-day event with a combined attendance of 120,000.

“Now, it’s game time,” Ose said while driving a well-worn Chevy truck around Gibson Ranch on a recent morning. “I’m not going to say we aren’t going to make mistakes, but I think we can do this. Can we get to 40,000 (per day at Aftershock)? I don’t know. Can we do 25,000? Yes. But talking about it and doing it are two different things.”

Aftershock is produced by Danny Wimmer Presents, a prominent organizer of large-scale music festivals around the country, including Philadelphia’s Rock Allegiance and Louder Than Life in Louisville, Ky. Aftershock debuted as a single-day event in 2012, with a lineup at Discovery Park that included bands such as Deftones, Stone Temple Pilots and Bush. The festival moved to Gibson Ranch this year after maxing out Discovery Park’s capacity as a two-day event with a daily attendance of 19,000.

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Aftershock is not a touring festival; it appears only in Sacramento. Danny Hayes, CEO of the Los Angeles-based Danny Wimmer Presents, says the capital city was chosen as the site for the festival despite a checkered history in the music world.

$11 millionAmount Aftershock 2015 is estimated to add to the local economy, according to the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau

“Sacramento had historically a strong rock market, but had gotten a reputation, frankly, among the music industry that it was a bad ticket market,” Hayes said. “You look for markets that are underserved. Personally, I feel this festival is two years behind where it should be growth-wise. The demand is there. We believe we can do a three-day, 40,000 (per day attendance) festival.”

Aftershock is poised to have a significant financial impact on the city. According to the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau, Aftershock 2015 is estimated to add more than $11 million to the local economy, a number that’s significantly higher than many citywide conventions. By comparison, Aftershock contributes nearly four times the amount brought in by the three-day Unified Wine & Grape Symposium held downtown.

“The festival isn’t just a home run, it’s a grand slam,” said Mike Testa, chief operating officer at the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau.

But questions remain if Gibson Ranch will be able to accommodate an increased crush of concertgoers.

The park, which includes horse stables, a fishing pond, camping sites and open space used for soccer tournaments, was established as a Sacramento County facility in 1962. It has hosted concerts in the past, including a Country in the Park festival sponsored by KNCI radio and the multigenre Heritage Festival. But none have drawn the kind of numbers expected at Aftershock.

During August’s City of Trees, an alternative-rock festival sponsored by Radio 94.7, Gibson Ranch struggled to accommodate 9,000 people – less than half of Saturday’s projected Aftershock attendance. Some concertgoers complained of being trapped in Gibson Ranch’s parking lot for two hours while trying to leave. Others griped on social media about a main water refilling station going dry, as well as a lack of lighting and traffic attendants in the parking lot.

Representatives from Danny Wimmer Presents attended City of Trees to get a better understanding of how Gibson Ranch operates as a concert venue. Afterward, Ose said they offered him some unvarnished feedback. “On their way out, they started laughing at me,” he said. “I said, ‘What are you laughing at?’ and they said, ‘You just (screwed) this up.’ We just didn’t do a good job. There’s no other way to put it.”

Despite the problems, Gibson Ranch collected more than $15,000 in revenue from City of Trees from usage and rental fees as well as a percentage of the ticket sales. Ose said he expects Aftershock to generate between $40,000 and $90,000 for Gibson Ranch.

According to Jeff Leatherman, director of Sacramento County Regional Parks, Discovery Park collected $60,000 in fees from Aftershock 2014 for park usage and rental fees.

“We want Gibson Ranch to be successful,” Leatherman said. “In all parks systems, there’s a balance of recreational uses and special events. We want Doug to find the balance where he can be successful. Whether or not (Aftershock) grows, that’ll have to be gauged as we continue to host events.”

Ose says that hosting large-scale concerts such as Aftershock and City of Trees will help allow Gibson Ranch to stay open. The park was shut down in 2010 due to budget constraints and reopened in 2011 under a public-private partnership in which Ose operates the park. Under a 10-year lease, Ose pays $1 annually to rent the park and receives funds from the county for deferred maintenance. Any profits are shared between Ose and the county.

I’m not going to say we aren’t going to make mistakes, but I think we can do this.

Doug Ose

The public-private partnership of Gibson Ranch has been a source of controversy since the arrangement was established in 2011. Ose trumpeted his management of the park during an unsuccessful bid against Ami Bera in 2014 for a congressional seat that represented suburban Sacramento County. Public parks advocates have criticized the arrangement, claiming Ose would prioritize making profits over maintaining the park’s natural beauty. Park officials have expressed general satisfaction with Ose’s management.

Gibson Ranch and Ose lost more than $203,000 from 2011 through 2014, according to the Gibson Ranch 2014 Annual Report submitted to Sacramento County’s Recreation and Parks Commission. However, Ose says Gibson Ranch is on track to make a $35,000 profit for 2015 by hosting more special events, including $100,000 generated annually from weddings at the park’s refurbished ranch house. According to Ose, Gibson Ranch earns between $4,000 and $5,000 each weekend from $5 parking fees and monies collected for renting out various sections of the park.

“My ultimate goal is to brand Gibson Ranch as a family venue,” Ose said. “The way I test that is if that if mom isn’t willing to come out here because the litter isn’t picked up, or she’s approached by some lowlife, she won’t come back. For Aftershock, we take (a) weekend a year and utilize it for the broader market that provides the revenue we need.”

Aftershock crews arrived at Gibson Ranch on Oct. 12 to begin building the infrastructure needed to accommodate the crowds. One of the primary concerns has been creating a manageable traffic plan for a venue that’s primarily accessed via a two-lane road leading to the park. Planners found part of the solution on an adjacent property. As many as 7,000 cars will park on neighboring land that is being leased for Aftershock. Organizers have contracted with the traffic management team from the Rose Bowl Parade to help mitigate snarls, and concertgoers can receive traffic updates via text.

“We recognize that the first and last touch people have with the festival is parking,” Hayes said. “We feel comfortable and confident about the plan, but we’re not going to promise five minutes in and out.”

By Sunday evening, it will be clear if Gibson Ranch and Ose successfully can handle Aftershock’s increased ambitions.

“There was a lot of concern that this event would go to a different community, and we’d lose all the jobs and economic activity accordingly,” Ose said. “(Aftershock organizers) were able to live with a jump from 19,000 to 25,000 (capacity), and I was able to live with testing it at 25,000. If we can’t handle 25,000, there’s no point in talking about 30,000. The only way to know is to do it.”

Monster Energy Aftershock Festival

What: Festival headliners includes the Deftones, Jane’s Addiction, Slipknot, Faith No More, Marilyn Manson, Breaking Benjamin and many more.

When: Noon-midnight Saturday, Oct. 24; noon-11 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25

Where: Gibson Ranch, 8556 Gibson Ranch Park Road, Elverta

Cost: $114.50-$134.50 weekend ticket; $64.50-$74.50 single-day ticket; $15 parking

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