If you could slap a face on the new Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival featuring Disturbed and Avenged Sevenfold along with Stone Sour, HaleStorm, Hellyeah, Airborne, Hail The Villain and New Medicine, it would be the big, smiling mug belonging to the tour’s co-producer, John L. Reese.
Uproar co-producer John Reese (right) with the tour's production manager Ray Picard.
The Phoenix native got his start working concert security. By the end of the 1980s he was hired by then-Guns N’ Roses manager Doug Goldstein to work as tour manager for the band’s 1989 gigs with The Rolling Stones at the Los Angeles Coliseum. That lead to Reese occupying the same position when the band went out on the “Use Your Illusion” tour, leading to a partnership with Big FD Entertainment.
Over the years, Reese has been an artist manager for bands like The Used, Danzig and Goldfinger. He co-founded, along with Ross Robinson, I AM Recordings, and he also co-founded Entertainment 3Sixty, which partners brands with music tours to reach out to consumers.
Although a man of many hats, this summer Reese is wearing his tour producer’s cap. Working with Warped Tour producer and founder Kevin Lyman, the two men started the Rockstar Taste Of Chaos tour in 2005 and the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival in 2007.
This year Reese has a new tour – Rock Star Energy Drink Uproar Festival. To find out more about the festival as well as get insight into what kind of man can handle a month on the road with the Mayhem Festival only to turn right around and go back out on Uproar, Pollstar recently talked with Reese about the fine art of concert-tour production.
Bojangles Colosseum, Charotte, NC
April 13, 2009
You’re a very busy man, what with festival tours and other music industry-related interests. Do you ever relax?
Today (June 9) we put Uproar on sale. On one hand it’s probably the most exciting day of the past year. On the other hand, I can’t wait until October 15th comes around.
What was the genesis or original idea behind Uproar? How did it begin?
We’ve done six festivals throughout the years. We have a festival called Rockstar Taste Of Chaos, and it was worldwide – we did up to 25 countries in a year. And it had kind of run its course in America. We started it in the back of the whole emo/screamo scene, and essentially we ran out of bands and the popularity of those bands has declined quite substantially.
Taste Of Chaos had a great five-year run. Rather than changing it from what it was, based upon bands like The Used and Thrice, we decided to create a new property that’s more geared to the active rock culture.
Now, Taste Of Chaos is still an outside of North America property, but it’s not taking place in America any longer. So I got together with Rockstar and we decided to make a change to this and go with a different musical style and bring this thing forward.
It sounds like your targeting the same demographic, but aiming it at fans entering the demo rather than trying to keep those who have grown out of the it.
I think you kind of hit the nail on the head. Disturbed has been around for 11 years and Avenged Sevenfold has been around for 8 or 9 years. The goal with Uproar is to put kind of timeless rock n’ roll, not with a metal edge, but a harder edge on it. Because we have Mayhem and that’s a core metal festival.
Musically, how do you describe Uproar?
I would say it’s melodic hard rock. And ultimately I think, come August 17th with our first date in Minneapolis, our goal and what we think and hope will happen, is the 8 bands on Uproar will occupy 8 of the top 15 chart positions in Active Rock Radio.
You open at Minneapolis’ Target Center followed by dates at various amphitheatres. Logistically, is it difficult to take a show of this size from an indoor to an outdoor venue?
There is only a certain amount of amphitheatres in the country and we were always planning on doing 35 to 40 shows. So we had to go with a set of arenas. The way the arena shows will work is that the second stage and festival area will be outside either right by the main entrance to the arena or the main parking lot there. And it’s essentially going to be free.
Everybody can come and enjoy the music we’re putting on there. At 5:15 the doors to the arena slide open. There will also be festival activities going on in the arena.
It’s kind of like a dual-sided thing. I think the spacing of this works better in an amphitheatre. It’s a little more contiguous. But this scenario in an arena gives it two different environments. If it plays in an amphitheatre, it’s a contiguous setup.
Regarding the free activities outside the arenas, will there be any free events taking place outside the amphitheatre shows?
There is a certain amount of amphitheaters where the entire festival will sit inside the gates of the amphitheatre – 7 or 8 of those with the balance – the other 13 or 14 amphitheatres, the festival will sit outside in the parking lot.
20,000 fans descend on the San Manuel Amphitheatre in Devore, California.
What comes first? Do you nail down the concept and then book the bands? Or do you nail down the bands first, and then figure out how to market and promote the tour?
The first thing for this and Mayhem was the title sponsor and having Rockstar Energy Drink, a company that’s really focused on the lifestyle of music. Not necessarily marketing to those people, but bringing a big show with a lot of bands for basically the same price it would cost to see three bands. In the case of Uproar, they can see nine bands.
Uproar started with conversations with Rockstar and it lead into conversations with Disturbed and Avenged Sevenfold and those were our two targeted artists to launch this thing.
With more than 35 dates, how many will you actually see?
All of them. I’m on the entire Mayhem Festival. Mayhem ends August 14 and Uproar begins rehearsals August 16. So I get a day off, which is nice.
Do you ever get time off to see your family?
My family is coming on the tour. I’m getting a bus and my entire family – my three children and my wife – are coming with me. It’s funny. I don’t think I could be away from my family for four straight months. My oldest daughter runs hospitality and will handle the dressing rooms and the buses and so forth. My middle daughter, who is 16, is going to be doing school on the road and will be working a booth and my wife is going to be running the Child Find America charity.
Rock on the Range, Columbus, Ohio
May 17, 2009
How long does it take from the moment you first begin talking about a tour as big and complex Uproar until it becomes reality?
We started the talks at the end of September 2009. That’s when we first decided in a meeting with Rockstar that it was time to put a fork in Taste Of Chaos in America and go with a different strategy and touring concept. From birth to delivery, it’s almost exactly one year.
Do the bands have any input into the tour?
100 percent. Two of my dear, dear friends are both managers. Larry Jacobson of Avenged Sevenfold and Jeff Battaglia of Disturbed are two extremely good friends of mine and I tried to engage them in just about every aspect of it.
We decided to go with wrestling on this festival. Cory Brennan is Stone Sour’s manager, [so] I had discussions with all three gentleman.
We’re doing this for a lot of reasons. How we portray it and produce it shines on these bands. All I want to do is really great work for them. And at the end of the day, they go home and say, “Man I had an amazing time and it was a vision that displays exactly how we want our image and vision displayed.”
If these bands were not appearing on Uproar, do you think this is the type of festival they would personally pay money to see?
Absolutely. We’re doing something called “Uproar TV.” We’re doing an episode every week. It’s almost like a new record release. We release a new version, a new episode, every Tuesday. In episode No. 6, John Moyer, the bass player from Disturbed, talks about how much he loves playing festivals and the good times and the good friends he’s made throughout the years.
It’s a little different. On one of these kind of scenarios, instead of touring with 45 people, you’re touring with up to 300 people and you meet new people. Every night we do an after-show party where we have a barbecue, poker games, drinking and carousing.
Cannibal Corpse finished Mayhem last summer. The lead singer (George Fisher) is a big, burly guy who has been doing this many, many years. He walked up to me on August 15 of last year and gave me a big hug, saying, “Man, this is the best summer I’ve ever had.”
There’s no amount of money, there’s no amount of anything that can replace that. If we can create a big traveling family for seven weeks and people walk away from it saying they had the time of their lives, then cheers.
How do you establish ticket prices?
There’s a lot of study that goes into that. Ultimately, one of our sales points is that tickets are priced reasonably. We’re doing it for the art of it and everything else but at the end of the day, it’s still a business. There’s a lot of study that goes into the pricing structures to make sure the tickets are priced right.
On the streets of Minneapolis.
Other than tickets, what are some of the other revenue streams for a tour this size?
Sponsorship is really important. The bands don’t go into this expecting to be paid less. They go into it expecting to get paid what they’re going to get paid for playing on their own. We don’t do any buy-ons. I won’t name names, but unlike other festivals in the past where they charge artists to play, we don’t do that. We pay every band that plays and we always have. In order to run a successful business, you definitely need other sources of revenue to offset the fact that you’re paying eight bands instead of three and you’re paying top dollar.
You’ve got sponsorship, event merch, vendors, [and] other sources of revenue, but the primary source is still ticket sales.
Are there any restrictions or limitations regarding individual bands and their merchandise operations?
We don’t put any limitations on them. Hellyeah, Airborne, New Medicine and Hail The Villain – the bands playing the festival area – they actually come with a branded tent and they can sell whatever they want to sell. We don’t put any financial limitations on them, such as what they can sell their merch for, and we don’t put any limitations on how many pieces they can sell. It’s they’re game. You got a 10x10 or 10x20 space and that’s your store. You do what you need and we take a small percentage to cover our costs.
How long have you been associated with Kevin Lyman?
I knew him from the Warped Tour and from artists I managed. Prior to doing festivals I was an artist manager for almost 20 years. I had a number of bands playing the Warped Tour and we just became good friends. I approached him towards the winter of 2004 about the concept of doing a winter Warped Tour and that idea essentially became Taste Of Chaos. We started a partnership there. We’ve done probably 600 shows together since then.
“Entertainment still has to be special. If you’re in a band and you’re in the market all the time, it doesn’t make it special anymore.”
Does a lot of your business philosophy regarding festival tours come from your artist management experience?
If I didn’t have that background I wouldn’t know what’s important to artists, what’s important to managers and what things are important in order for these festivals to have long lives.
We’re in year three of Mayhem [and] we kind of feel like this year it’s clicked. “Mayhem” means something.
We’re definitely dependent on our artists to make it successful, but I think we’ve done a really, really good job the first two years and into this year of showing the consumer they’ll get a frickin’ great day of entertainment. A 10-hour day of entertainment for a great ticket price. If we can continue delivering value for the dollar and delivering a great day of entertainment for a fair price, I think we’ll continue to be in business. With year three of Mayhem, that’s now becoming a reality.
Any given concert season’s success or failure is often linked to whomever is touring. After all, venues and promoters love it when U2, The Rolling Stones, Nine Inch Nails or Pearl Jam tours, but most top-drawing bands don’t work every year. Do you see branded tours where the lineups are different every year, like Mayhem, Taste Of Chaos and Uproar, as being strong yearly attractions regardless of how weak or strong a season may be?
My partners in both Mayhem and Uproar – Jason Garner, Perry Lavoisne and Ryan McElrath from Live Nation – and I have discussions about that. We try to make [the tours] special. Unfortunately, the state of the record business and the profit centers for artists have shrunk substantially. My greatest fear, and I think my partners’ greatest fear, is that artists are going to slowly depend upon live performance and merchandise sales to make a living. Hopefully, bands will decide not to over-saturate themselves within the marketplace.
Entertainment still has to be special. If you’re in a band and you’re in the market all the time, it doesn’t make it special anymore. Smart managers and smart promoters will understand that you can’t be on the road incessantly.
It’s become a worldwide thing. You just can’t focus only on the United States. The way to keep the ball rolling is to really focus on all the territories in the world.
How long should a band refrain from playing the same market?
I found the past couple of years is that the third time through America is tough. You can get through twice, but the third time is not the charm.
Is that playing the same market three years in a row? Or stopping in the same market on three separate tours?
Three tours on one album. It seems to me you see in that third go-around a significant drop in ticket sales. You can get through twice, but the third time is tough unless you have hits to follow it up and give the consumer a reason to go see you.
Hanging with the Metal Mulisha freestyle motocross team on the Mayhem tour.
What are you cooking up for next year?
I’m working on something else for the winter. It’s not finalized and formalized yet, but I am cooking up something that’s a whole new concept and idea. I’m producing all the Jägermeister music tours now. I’m working with Rick Zeiler (Jägermeister Director Strategic Marketing), Adam Grayer (Jägermeister Marketing and Band Coordinator) and his team. Entertainment 3Sixty, which is our sponsorship agency, is doing great.
I’m really, really excited about this charity we have for Uproar, Child Find America. We’re going to doing this massive awareness for missing and abducted children in this country. It’s a real epidemic with runaways, abductions and general crimes against children. We’ve instituted a pretty substantial awareness campaign and we’re putting in money and effort to bring some light to that.
What can Child Find America do that already hasn’t been done?
You know the kids on the back of milk cartons? I’ve always envisioned seeing a semi-truck with pictures of missing kids that rolls through truck stops in the center of cities where at least one human being can spot that and say, “I’ve seen somebody who looks like that.”
If we can help find one child, help prevent one abduction or help educate teenagers [about] not running away from home, we’ve won. To me the most terrifying, horrific thing on the planet is for a family to lose a child. I’ve got three daughters and there was a 17-year-old girl abducted and murdered in San Diego a few months ago. I said, “I want to do something. I want to make a difference.”
The “force” has been good to me and if we can do something to give back to these families going through this pain, then it’s worth it.
Is there a message you want to get out but haven’t found the opportunity?
Self-interest is killing this planet. Greed, self-interest and all these things. We can all do our own little part to make a difference. Whether it’s turning off a frickin’ light switch or recycling or helping a family in need. It’s like a one-man army [can] make a difference in this world. I guess that’s the thing I try to do and try to give back.
The Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival begins in Minneapolis at the Target Center Aug. 17, plays Bonner Springs, Kan., at Capitol Federal Park At Sandstone Aug. 18 and Council Bluffs, Iowa, at WestFair Amphitheatre Aug. 20. Other stops include Chicago, Toronto, Atlanta, Tampa, Fla., Tulsa, Okla., Corpus Christi, Texas, Dallas, Denver, Salt Lake City, Vancouver, Saskatoon, Fargo, N.D., San Diego, Madison, Wis., Calgary and Irvine, Calif.
For more information, click here for the tour’s website.