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Making ‘Budweiser Made In America’

05:01 PM Friday 2/1/13 |   |

Scott Mirkin, executive producer of the largest free concert in America – Philadelphia’s “Fourth Of July Jam” – talks with Pollstar about what went into making 2012’s “Budweiser Made In America” festival.

Curated by Jay Z, who headlined along with Pearl Jam, the Labor Day weekend festival was a different kind of event for Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway.  Unlike the always free annual Philly Fourth Of July Jam, Made In America was ticketed event and called for slightly different logistical planning.  Other acts that appeared included Drake, Gary Clark Jr., Rita Ora, The Hives, Jill Scott, X and a reunion featuring the surviving members of Run DMC.

Mirkin had plenty to be excited about when Pollstar caught up with him in late January.  A deal had just been made with VH1 to have the cable channel broadcast the Philly Jam.  To accommodate the TV audience, the Jam will move away from its more conventional concert presentation and will host a series of artists backed by the event’s house band, The Roots.  The agreement was negotiated by Mirkin and Roots manager /  Blueprint Group’s head of touring, Shawn Gee.

Mirkin also had a lot to say about Budweiser Made In America, giving Pollstar an exclusive look behind the curtain of Philadelphia’s newest music festival.

  • Budweiser Made In America

    Scott Mirkin (left) with Philadlephia mayor Michael Nutter at the “Budweiser Made In America” festival.

    (Michael Leff/City Of Philadelphia)

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Budweiser Made In America: How did it begin?

One thing you’ve probably seen, which I’m pretty excited about, the Fourth of July concert is now nationally broadcasted on VH1.

Because I’m the executive producer of the Fourth Of July Concert, the largest free concert in America, me and my partners on that project and the mayor here in Philadelphia always recognized Philly is a great venue.  The Ben Franklin Parkway is a great venue for this kind of music event.  For a couple of years we had been trying to figure out what would make some sense – how can we do this?  It was the first gated event ever on the Ben Franklin Parkway.  So we knew there were some firsts to deal with.

The concept was one that myself and Shawn Gee, who is our production partner with The Roots on the Fourth Of July show, and Geoff Gordon, who is the regional president of Live Nation, have all worked together on the Fourth Of July.  For a couple of years we had been trying to figure out how we could turn Philly into a music destination and create a destination festival.  That’s what started it.

Jeff, through his relationships … saw the opportunity. The opportunity kind of presented itself to Jay Z and the sponsors.  They, I think, wanted to do something and were looking for a destination.  And we presented Philadelphia as the destination for the festival.

How did you set ticket prices?

There was a lot to accomplish on this festival and that was not on my plate, so to speak.  My responsibilities were making sure the venue would work and partnering with the city to ensure all of that, and then I became very, very busy on the broadcast aspects of the festival.  Live Nation and ROC Nation really got into the nitty-gritty on the ticket prices.  Not to speak for them, but I think it was priced like similar events. ... There was some pretty good value there in the ticket prices. There was a pre-sale that went pretty quickly and there was a steady stream of folks purchasing tickets and it was competitive to all the multi-day festivals.

  • Run DMC

    Budweiser Made In America, Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, Pa.
    September 2, 2012

    (Drew Gurian / Invision / AP)

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Other than being the Parkway’s first ticketed event, were there other factors regarding Made In America that were different when compared to Philly Jam?

It’s multiple-stage, multi-day simultaneous artists, a true festival experience for two full days. Lots going on.  Compared to the Jam, the Jam is one giant day on the Fourth Of July when we have a bunch of stuff going on during the day on the Ben Franklin Parkway – family entertainment and smaller stages – and it culminates with the big 8 p.m. show with fireworks.  So lots of differences there.

Also, the Jam has north of 600,000 people in the audience and Made In America festival was about 50,000 a day.  I found myself in a couple of meetings, logistically, with public safety and other folks where, under the heading of terms you never think you’ll hear yourself say, I was saying lots of times when people were making comparisons between the two, … “Remember, we’re only talking about 50,000 people.”

What was great about the venue and what was great about Philadelphia is that other things were happening on the Ben Franklin Parkway, in and around the Parkway district.  Lots of museums and restaurants and a great wonderful destination.  The Budweiser Made In America festival coexisted and can coexist with, for instance, The Barnes Foundation,  which is a relatively new museum on the Parkway, and the Franklin Institute and the Philadelphia Museum Of Art and all the other amenities in the city. It fit nicely. 

Comparing that to the Jam, we have 600,000 – it’s over 10-times the amount of folks in a shorter period of time. 

  • Jay-Z

    Budweiser Made In America, Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, Pa.
    September 1, 2012

    (Charles Sykes / Invision / AP)

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When planning these events, do you sit down with your people in a brainstorming session discussing worst-case scenarios regarding everything that could possibly go wrong?

One of the reasons why Philadelphia, I think, made such a great partner for Budweiser Made In America festival is the city’s experience in hosting large-scale events like the Jam and others.  Yes, there are lots and lots of things that go into the planning under the heading of “public safety” and under the heading of “audience safety.”  Lot of it is safety-related, of course.  Protocols and action plans, there’s a lot that goes into that behind the scenes that makes for lots of meetings, lots of protocols, binders full of information … weather, wind speed, all of those things.  It’s all about safety.  Safety comes first.  All of those things are absolutely thought through. 

Philadelphia has, I think, probably one of the best … under the managing director’s office of the city, public safety, emergency management. I think they one of best in the country, if not the world, in terms of planning those things and having a very large table in which all stakeholders are sitting to kind of go through and drill through some of these scenarios so that we’re prepared for just about everything you can think of. Also prepare for … the proper notification/communication protocols for things maybe we didn’t think of.  Afterwards, we debrief and have the after-action planning. Lessons learned, and all those things. There’s a lot that goes into that and we take it very seriously and commit a lot of time to that.

  • Pearl Jam

    Budweiser Made In America, Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, Pa.
    September 2, 2012

    (Drew Gurian / Invision / AP)

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What was one of the lessons learned from the Budweiser Made In America festival?

The largest lesson out of it, I think, … as I said, we made a lot of comparisons early on.  I think we actually learned this lesson prior to the festival.  When comparing Made In America to the Jam, and the audience size is so vastly different, what works on one event does not work for the other.  I think we made these corrections in our meetings prior to the event happening.  But the safety and security plans for an event that has more than half a million people, you just can’t take that page and apply it to an event with 50,000 people.

Honestly, we are still talking about the success of the fact that we had no real incidents at all. We had no problems with the crowd.  There are no bad stories that came out of this.

Any time you do an event, you look afterwards and you try to think about what you might have done to make it better and cooler. Looking at different ways to utilize the site.  Maybe tweaks to the sight plan.  Ways to create a more efficient manner of supply for vendors and things like that. Little tweaks. 

But frankly, you have to go through a year one to figure out what levers need to be adjusted. Again, credit for the true success of the experience goes to all the partners, particularly the city and their folks really, really wanting this to be successful and an enjoyable experience for the attendees and [to] appropriately coexist with the rest that goes on in any large city.  And those things actually all happened.

Did the adjoining neighborhoods express concerns about the festival?

There’s a dialog, constantly, with the community.  There was dialog prior, there was dialog after.  We have similar dialogs with the community for the Jam.  It’s really about listening. … When you’re doing something that’s different for the first time, there’s a little bit of unknown going on. And folks were definitely saying, “We hope this works well. We hope everything is peaceful and there are no issues.”  I wouldn’t call it a concern, but that was what was on their minds. The event was issue free and had a significant economic impact on the area. Afterwards, the feedback was, “Wow! That was great and it did not disrupt the neighborhood.”  The majority of feedback was positive.

It’s important to have that dialog.  Folks who live right on the Parkway are used to the Jam [and]  the Philadelphia Marathon, a very large, wonderful marathon that has almost 30,000 runners.  There’s a whole host of 5Ks, festivals and bike races, there’s a lot that goes on there. I think what’s important to the community is that … their voices are heard and that there’s a continuing dialog.

Didn’t you and your partners present a very large check to Philadelphia for services rendered – police, public safety, sanitation and other services, making it a zero-loss for the city?

That is correct.  The city does a great job of partnering with anyone who is producing an event that requires city services to ensure, first and foremost, that public safety is paramount and works very, very hard to make sure that there aren’t too many resources, whether it be public safety, whether it be streets, that it’s right-sized. There are folks in the managing director’s office, and the deputy mayor for public safety, a guy by the name of Everett Gillison, works very hard with all departments to understand the scope of what needs to happen and put the appropriate resources behind it.  And it’s only appropriate for this event or any other event to essentially reimburse the general fund so the taxpayer is not left paying for this kind of event or any other private event that may occur on Parks’ property.

  • Rita Ora

    Budweiser Made In America, Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, Pa.
    September 2, 2012

    (Drew Gurian / Invision / AP)

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You had two huge headliners – Jay Z and Pearl Jam.  Were there other acts you were negotiating with but just couldn’t seal the deal?

Jay Z, as the curator, really, really thought very much about who ought to perform and where and when.  I think he and Jeff Gordon and others worked very hard to come up with a variety.  I was walking around, [saying] to folks in the industry and friends, “You want to talk about diversity? Pearl Jam and Jay Z and everything in between.”

It was evident with the audience.  The audience was such a diverse collection of folks that loved every bit of every thing.

As we all know, you can have artists that really, really want to do the show.  Then they’ve got to go and see if it works with schedule, routing and everything else. It was a creative process that absolutely worked.  I don’t think there was any missed opportunity there.  I think it was very, very exciting to be able to have Jay Z and Pearl Jam be the pillars and the Run DMC reunion was very special. Those guys were completely pumped up about it. Gary Clark Jr. – amazing.  He’s just phenomenal. And a great guy, a really, really nice guy.  And an incredible talent. 

I don’t know what’s on Jay Z’s iPod but I think we saw a sampling with the show he put together.

Will there be a Made In America II?

I hope so, but that’s probably a question for Jay.  I know the city of Philadelphia would love to see it return.  I guess we should stay tuned.

  • Making ‘Made In America’

    (l-r) Luke Butler (from the Mayor’s office), Scott Mirkin and Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadephia.

    (Kait Privitera / City Of Philadelphia)

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For more information about Philadelphia’s Fourth Of July Jam, please click here for Pollstar’s 2011 interview with Scott Mirkin.


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