Last year's Lone Star Texas Heritage Fest was a concert promoter's nightmare. The free first-year fest, taking place in the paved parking lot outside Gilley's on one of the hottest days of August, struggled to pull a crowd. Those who did show up took refuge in the little bit of available shade. Even nighttime headliners Old 97's and Black Angels played to crowds that barely numbered in the triple digits.
At the time, the likelihood of a second festival seemed low. This week, however, Lone Star announced plans to bring the festival back in 2016, and it looks like they've learned a few lessons from that disastrous first go-round.
"We’re in it for the long haul with Lone Star Beer," says Chuck Butler of Transmission Events, who are helping produce the festival, which takes place in Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio. "There was never a doubt from our team or from their team. We just knew something had to change."
The organizers have made a number of changes this year, moving it indoors to The Bomb Factory and a (somewhat) more hospitable climate on July 1. They've also shortened the event, with doors in Dallas opening at 7 p.m. rather than running all through the afternoon.
"We're talking about some brutal Texas heat in those cities during [last year's] events — and we were asking people to come out and spend all day with us," Butler says. While Dallas had the lowest turnout of the four cities, Butler says Houston and San Antonio's were "well over 1,000" people. It was the Austin event, however — the last of the four — that was really eye-opening.
"We actually had a stage inside with air conditioning and that was a home run," Butler says. "We had a line around the block for a good portion of the afternoon."
Butler acknowledges that the poor turnout last year wasn't simply down to the weather. It was an under-promoted event, as well. "We've committed a larger marketing spend," he admits. Some of that could be underestimating the challenge of working in markets other than their own: "Austin is Transmission's home market, but it's by no means Lone Star Beer's home market. So we're moving forward with some great partners in each city."
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Moving to The Bomb Factory is also a matter of controlling expectations — a mistake that first-year events often fall victim to. Dallas Music District was another first-time festival last summer to be met with a pathetic — and seemingly fatal — fan turnout.
"Part of the appeal is that that room can be scaled down. You can sell that room for 2,000 people and you can sell that room for 4,000 people," Butler points out. "If there's interest there, we can open it more. It's a flexible room. They're good people."
Lone Star Texas Heritage Fest will be charging admission this time around (tickets went on sale yesterday morning for $10 apiece), and will no longer consist exclusively of Texas artists. Charlotte's Shovels & Rope will be co-headlining with Austin's Okkervill River.
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Butler points to the abundance of Texas- and beer-themed music festivals that made it harder for the original concept to stand out. "It's no secret that there's Homegrown and Untapped and lots of other music going on, and Texas artists are playing a lot in Texas," he says. But that's not to say they see themselves in competition with those events: "The concept started as a block party, so it's by no means a 20,000-person festival."
One thing that does stand out this year is the new emphasis on the festival's charity component. Lone Star Texas Heritage Fest is now officially presented by Feeding Texas, with a portion of proceeds going to food banks throughout the state.
"In the state of Texas, for liquor brands to activate advertising in any capacity where tickets are being sold and a bar is being run, there are non profits technically involved," Butler says. "In most cases, the nonprofit or charity doesn't get the real exposure... It's the correct thing to do, but maybe something not everybody else is doing."
Will the crowds show up this time? It's impossible to predict. But simply coming back in the first place was never a guarantee, so maybe that's accomplishment enough.