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Boom or Bust? A Dispatch From Three Days at KAABOO Texas.

After all the hand-wringing over the bizarre curation choices, the confusion over ticketing plans and the online jabs of it becoming the next Fyre Fest, KAABOO Texas finally took place over the last three days at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Developed in 2015, and not to be confused with the similar sounding Bonnaroo, KAABOO has had a run of success with events in Del Mar, California, and The Cayman Islands.

It's marketed as more of a “lifestyle event,” and the festival founders expanded the focus beyond music to include stand-up comedy, cooking demonstrations, local craft markets and artist installations. It’s a concept that makes sense. After all, consumers have almost too many choices and expenses to consider, as a nationwide festival fatigue has been setting in for the past several summers. Could this clustered conglomeration of entertainment actually succeed? That appeared to be the million-dollar question as the doors opened and paying customers began to descend on the vast network of booths and stages that took up the parking lots surrounding the world’s most expensive and luxurious stadium.

Those descending for the first day were initially few and far between. The organizers likely didn’t bank on dreary and unseasonably chilly weather to plague Dallas, but for Friday and Saturday that was the case. Late arrivals were also a common theme over the first two days, as the early afternoon performers, including heady names like Old 97’s, Ludacris and X, were greeted by criminally small audience numbers. There was also a lot of FOMO-inducing anxiety caused by deciding on just what to attend. The Geico-sponsored Humor Me tent featured a variety of top-notch comedians like Garfunkel and Oates, Whitney Cummings, Nate Bargatze and Demetri Martin. To gain access, though, attendees were forced to wait in early-forming lines that prevented them from catching other simultaneous performances. There were some nifty cooking demonstrations happening on the intimate Maker’s Mark Palate stage, but they were tucked away so inconspicuously that they were nearly invisible to passersby.

The whole weekend also could have used a bit more local flavor. There weren’t as many local food outlets represented as we would’ve expected, and only two local brews were available from the vast array of bar tents. Most baffling, however, was the existence of the Coors Light Rowdy stage located behind a walled-off area known as the Bask Lounge. Despite being advertised as a main part of the KAABOO package, the section was actually attainable only by paying a separate admission. Despite presenting my media credentials on several different occasions over the course of the weekend, I was repeatedly turned away and forced to watch the DJ sets from folks like Cash Cash and the legendary Paul Oakenfold on the big projection screens out on the concourse among fellow commoners.

A couple of peeks over the wall didn’t actually reveal all that big of a gathering inside, which likely caused a dude like Oakenfold to wonder what he signed up to be part of. As for the crowd demographics, like the performers, they were all over the map. College students and young professionals dressed up in festival garb posed for selfies in front of stages and the many KAABOO-infused art installations. Grizzled concert veterans showed up in force to support the many assembled classic rock artists and mingled alongside the parents who took advantage of discounted children’s prices and hoisted their offspring up on their shoulders. KAABOO may not end up winning the Observer’s “Festival of the Year” category at next year’s music awards, but should the category exist, it would easily win the award for “Festival Where You're Most Likely to Meet Your Divorced Dad’s New Girlfriend.” You couldn’t turn around without running into a middle-aged man waxing poetically to his nonplussed about his knowledge and love of a particular band.

KAABOO was really all about the musical performances, and much of it worked great. Despite the tiny crowd assembled in front of the Choctaw Maverick stage, both Los Lobos and Old 97’s crushed it with aplomb. A very pregnant Alanis Morissette was in true badass form and absolutely slayed the Bai-sponsored Metroplex stage, which was both the largest and only indoor performance space. Over the course of her 90-minute set, she reminded just how essential and ahead-of-the-curve her grunge-inflected female empowerment anthems were back in the mid '90s.

Despite having to wait to perform because of  Lauryn Hill’s typical 30-plus-minute delay in taking the Ford Pegasus stage, Lionel Richie served up some delectable pop and R&B hits from his five-decade career. Richie proved to be quite the comedian as he seemed to take joy in repeatedly yelling “KAABOO.” He also offered forth a lengthy anecdote concerning a burly backstage bodyguard’s penchant for making love to Richie’s songs.

The magnificent Sting at KAABOOEXPAND
The magnificent Sting at KAABOO
Andrew Sherman

One night removed from their sold-out headlining gig at The Bomb Factory, The Killers closed out Friday’s schedule by performing an energetic yet workmanlike set to an indoor main stage audience that was likely not much bigger than the previous night’s audience. Saturday’s highlights included a boisterous crowd-surfing afternoon set from rap hit-maker Flo Rida, who seemed right at home sipping Patron and even bringing a gaggle of goofy attendees onstage to dance awkwardly through “G.D.F.R.”

Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real lived up to the hype with their raucous 75-minute set that was punctuated with some tunes from their forthcoming album. Rick Springfield didn’t quite blow people away, but the elder statesman still has some youthful exuberance that was illustrated by some nimble walks through the crowd. As the sun set, though, most of the crowd made their way indoors to check out the latest iteration of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Farewell Tour performance. Those walking in were greeted by the legions of Kid Rock devotees decked out in both their profane tour shirts and their MAGA-inspired best. Skynyrd played pretty admirably, warming up for Kid Rock with some searing renditions of their greatest hits. However, I could only make it through a short sampling of Rock’s antics before hitting the exits.

As Sunday brought a return to sunny skies and warmer temperatures, a noticeable bolt of energy seemed to take over the grounds. Drinks flowed a little smoother, smiles abounded, and through the cracks in the fence, some poolside revelers were even spotted soaking up the rays. Indoors, St. Paul & The Broken Bones brought some church to the Sunday crowds with their usual full-force testimonials of spirited joy. Following them, a completely different type of music fan swelled the floor for the top-40 commercial croons of Pitbull. These folks quickly exited following his performance to make way for the Gen X-ers and their families who faithfully sang along to Counting Crows and their bevy of '90s hits. From there, things came to a close with Little Big Town playing out the night outdoors and Sting commencing the proceedings from indoors and ultimately making it all worthwhile. Throughout the final performances, “See You Next Year” signs flashed across the video boards.

While KAABOO 2020 likely is still far from a sure thing, there are indications that signal this becoming an annual event. For one, anything associated with AT&T Stadium and the Dallas Cowboys has brand power. The team is a worldwide phenomenon, with the stadium serving as something of a mecca for its faithful pilgrims. Like almost everything in this area, KAABOO was shined up for maximum effect. "Hey, get a peek at this three-layer pool design we have over here,"  it taunted folks walking by. "Look! It’s Emmitt's and Troy’s Ring of Honor plaques! Let’s get a selfie while Alanis sings 'One Hand In My Pocket.' It’s nostalgic and ironic at the same time, y’all."

Fun, too, but what it all comes down to is money. If the fest made enough or if the potential is there to make more next year, KAABOO will be back. It will be fascinating to chart its course over the next year. Surely tickets and advertisements for the next installment will be rolled out soon and the planning will begin again. Save the dates and start putting some money away now if you want to be a part of it all.

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