Cathie Anderson

How this man landed, kept Sacramento’s biggest music festival

The economic impact of Sacramento’s Aftershock Festival has expanded far beyond that of the original event in October 2012, when eight acts played for about 12,500 people. This year, Ozzy Osbourne, Nine Inch Nails and 34 other rock acts will draw 23,000 fans daily Oct. 21-22.

“People are coming to Sacramento from all over the world for this event,” said Mike Testa, the chief operating officer for Visit Sacramento. “According to the ZIP code report for tickets sales, 10 people from London bought tickets, 500-plus from Canada, 71 from Chile, 8 from Costa Rica, 8 from Moscow, 62 from Hawaii, and 66 from New Jersey. Almost every state in the union is represented.”

Without Testa, this destination festival might not have gotten off the ground, said Danny Hayes, the chief executive officer of Aftershock promoter Danny Wimmer Presents. Hayes and his team announced the festival’s complete lineup earlier this week.

“We currently are operating in 12 different cities across the country, and we’ve looked at 30 to 40 cities around the country, large and small, over the last three or four years,” Hayes said. “Mike single-handedly brought us to Sacramento, and Mike has single-handedly kept us in Sacramento.”

Hayes was so impressed with Testa’s ability to bring stakeholders together and work through challenges that he asked him to join him earlier this year on a panel, “How to Sell Your Event to a City,” at Austin’s enormous SXSW (South by Southwest) festival, which draws more than 200,000 people to discuss and enjoy music, film and more.

Testa said he found it valuable to be standing in a room full of event producers, and a handful of them approached him afterward about bringing festivals to Sacramento. Testa recalled getting the call from Danny Wimmer about creating a music festival here and showing him potential venues on Mother’s Day in 2011. He nurtured the relationship because he saw its potential for bolstering the city’s tax and economic base.

“The key to me is, ‘How can we generate different kinds of business that drives transient occupancy tax and economic impact?’ ” he said. “For me, it is music festivals and sporting events and things that occur on the weekends. I wouldn’t say it’s an untapped market in Sacramento, but it’s a market that offers huge growth potential and it’s something we’re starting to focus on in a big way.”

Hayes said: “Cities have recognized the value and economic impact and want festivals but don’t really know how to go about attracting them. In particular, what I want to emphasize is destination festivals. If you put on a festival for 5,000 and it’s all local, you’re not generating any real economic impact. You’re taking money that would have gone to the movie theater that weekend and you’re moving it to the festival. ... We’re attracting people from outside the region.”

He said he would like to see the Aftershock Festival grow to become the West Coast’s Rock on the Range, a Danny Wimmer event that draws 120,000 people over three days. His organization also would like to bring a country music festival to the region the weekend before Aftershock.

Danny Wimmer spends more than $1 million with local businesses and organizations, Testa siad, and the spending from event attendees is in the millions.

“In terms of annual room nights from events, Aftershock ranks with our top three conventions,” Testa noted. “There are conventions in any given year that bring more room nights, but they are not annual events like Aftershock.”

About 70 percent of the people who attend Aftershock come from outside the region, he said, and 50 percent come from outside California. That not only brings in revenue, he added, but it also raises the profile of the city.

The challenges to starting a destination festival are enormous, Hayes said. City and visitor bureau officials get many proposals, and they have to figure out which promoters are reliable, well-financed and reputable.

Danny Wimmer was part-owner of the Milk Bar club in Jacksonville, Fla., where he discovered the band Limp Bizkit and brought the band to the attention of Flawless Records. He moved to Los Angeles and became a record executive, discovering groups such as Staind, Puddle of Mudd and Kenna. All the while, he continued to promote shows and in 2007, he launched Rock on the Range. That festival and others became so time-consuming that he left record companies. His leadership in the music business was highlighted in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Blink.”

Danny Wimmer presents many of its festivals in parks, Hayes said, so he and his team have to prove to neighborhood and the local officials that they’re sensitive to their concerns. There are many hurdles, Hayes said, and you learn to address those issues right away.

“Some markets are scared of our music. They say, ‘Oh, God, it’s hard rock, and we don’t want that,’ ” Hayes said. “We have to explain that these are 25- to 45-year-olds, people with disposable income above $80,000. Sixty percent are married. They’re not a naughty crowd. They’re coming to have fun and spend their disposable income.”

Hayes’ team provides cities with a list of police commissioners who have records of problem rates at their events, and he also refers prospects to Testa and other contacts. Testa said, the more successful an event like this is, the more successful a city is.

“Danny Wimmer Presents does 12 festivals across the country, and they are the 27th largest promoter in the world,” Testa said. “If they come out at SXSW and say, ‘We’ve had a phenomenal experience in Sacramento, and we’ve had a tremendous partner in Visit Sacramento, and our event has done very well,’ that shows other promoters that there is opportunity in Sacramento, and that gives me the entrée to have the conversation.”

Cathie Anderson: 916-321-1193, @CathieA_SacBee