2019's inaugural festival held at AT&T Stadium May 10-12 brings the KAABOO brand to a new market.
Story: Kail Rose Photography: Kail Rose & Tyler Hamner
This past weekend, KAABOO hosted their inaugural Texas festival at AT&T stadium in Arlington. True to form, they brought incredible music, beautiful art, great food, hilarious comedy and an upscale luxury festival experience with some definite highlights to write home about. It was a great weekend. But the gargantuan venue and expansive footprint presented challenges, along with less-than-ideal weather and a definite ‘new kid on the block’ feel. But KAABOO held their own.
Sticking to their vibrant, highly-amenitized brand, KAABOO transformed AT&T stadium into festival central with outdoor Maverick and Pegasus stages set in the parking lots on opposite ends and the towering Metroplex stage inside the stadium. The stadium venue itself was as expected; known for astronomical capacity and a “no expense spared” design, it was huge but it was comfortable. Strategically placed throughout indoor and outdoor areas were food and beverage vendors, comfortable seating and bar tables, art galleries and art installations, the Humor Me comedy stage, the Palate stage, a number of unique Sponsor booths bordering on experiential (Ford indoor arcade? Don’t mind if I do…) and Bask, a central walled-off Vegas-esque dayclub pool area with guest DJs, requiring a separate wristband to enter.
Lionel Richie brings a little flavor to Friday's lineup
Sting graces the stage on Sunday
It was clear that this festival footprint was designed with great numbers in mind - numbers that the inaugural event just didn’t quite pull. The expansive footprint may have been a double-edged sword, as it proved quite a hike between the Pegasus and Maverick stages. With tight scheduling between stacked sets, many people just didn’t make it to the far reaches of the festival grounds. The Maverick stage was grossly under-attended all weekend regardless of hosting huge acts such as Joan Jett, The Avett Brothers and the B-52s.
Some commented that Bask was disconnected from the rest of the venue; people didn’t really understand that separate passes were required, and perhaps didn’t see the value. Throughout the weekend, it remained mostly empty and few attended the sets on the Rowdy stage. The attempt to bring upscale Vegas-esque pool clubbing to AT&T stadium seemed lost on a Dallas crowd, or perhaps there were too many other things to see and do.
Humor Me, the comedy tent, was a little more central but with a line for entry attendees expressed frustration at the need to forego seeing their favorite bands in order to wait in line. It was a nice addition, though; featuring comedians such as Garfunkel and Oates, Nate Bargatze, Whitney Cummings, Demetri Martin and a surprise appearance by Bob Saget. It was well-attended and was the only facet of the many offerings at KAABOO that reached capacity during the three days.
This setup might have worked well for an attendance of 80,000, but for the inaugural event it felt a little empty. Images on social media made the festival look like a ghost town. In light of the 100,000-person capacity of the stadium alone, I’d like to think it was more about an excess of available space. Which, in all honesty, I’m not terribly upset about. It was amazing to have some breathing room away from crushing crowds and comfortable places to sit and relax. A blessing in disguise, perhaps?
As a whole, KAABOO is designed for an older demographic. The thirties-to-sixties crowd were predominant. To a veteran of the festival scene (and in light of the challenges of your average rowdy young festival demographic), this was perfectly refreshing and in many ways humorously appealing. Dallas Observer’s Jeff Strowe put it best: “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.” Fellow festival-goers were jolly, laid-back and convivial; appreciative of the scene, partaking heartily in the ‘luxury’ aspects of KAABOO’s offerings. No jostling, crushing crowd moments and rarely a rowdy drunk (they were all more of the cheerfully mellow, swaying-in-the-back variety), nay a crowd surfer in sight. Besides, any attempt at inebriation would really only be possible if you’d stashed several hundred dollars in the booze fund. The cheapest of cheap beers rang in at $11 a piece and I found myself paying an astonishing $28 for an end-of-night-three celebratory double vodka tonic.
Where KAABOO succeeded astronomically? The music.
Drawing a pleasant variety of old and new rock, hip hop, alternative, indie, R&B, country, blues, folk and pop names, the lineup strategically targeted key demographics in the greater Dallas area. Headliners Sting and Kid Rock, along with throwback stars like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Rick Springfield, Lionel Richie, and B-52’s drew crowds of a less youthful and more affluent generation. It was a smart move on KAABOO’s behalf. Instead of competing in the existing hyper-saturated Travis Scott- or Post Malone-headlined festival market (attended by every college kid and their bestie), they set themselves aside with something specifically targeted elsewhere. A wise choice. Granted, I was surprised at how many 30-somethings we found thoroughly immersed in Lionel Richie and Joan Jett’s respective sets, myself included. Truth be told, Rick Springfield’s showmanship, swagger and ridiculous rose-shredding guitar moves won out over the performances of some of the younger groups. I may be prematurely aging myself in that statement.
Friday pulled an impressive crowd, given the weather. Early sets included the sultry, bluesy, grungy southern rock of Larkin Poe and upbeat, enamoring and steadfast rockers Blue October. Both attracted a sizable crowd for a cool and slightly drizzly Friday afternoon. Crowds grew for the hit-laden sets of Ludacris and the grungy indulgence of Bush on the Metroplex stage. Ms Lauryn Hill stepped foot on to the Pegasus stage after her customary 30+ minute delay, while rain held off for the most part; and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts took over the Maverick stage at the far end of KAABOO grounds. Everyone uttered comments of adoration, admiration and surprise as a heavily pregnant Alanis Morisette staged a gritty and powerful grandiose indoor set. This might have been my personal favorite of the weekend. Even early in the weekend, it was a spectacular lineup, consistently featuring big names. An impressive crowd had convened by the time Lionel Richie stepped his seasoned self upon the Pegasus stage to entertain us with a classic selection of hits. With a minor slip and fall in the drizzle, the crowd gasped, until Lionel bounced right back up with an affable grin announcing; “well I was just telling my crew backstage that I’ve never fallen on stage before.” (Hope you’re okay, Lionel). We wrapped the evening with a predictably spectacular set courtesy of The Killers, who even took a Dave Grohl moment to invite a lucky audience member up on stage to play drums. Admirably well, I might add. It was impossible to be unhappy with Friday’s music.
Blue October wows the crowd with a powerful set
Black Eyed Peas put on an energetic performance
Saturday’s lineup pulled just as many big names and again, a sizable crowd given the cool overcast weather. We spent some time early on meandering through food and beverage offerings; banana pudding ice cream chocolate-dipped waffle cones, texan tacos and fried green tomato BLTs. I enjoyed a half glass of wine from one of the many upscale offerings, which was a refreshing change from the regular dismal festival wine offerings. We took a sneak peek of the comedy before returning to the Pegasus stage for a set by legendary rockers Garbage. KAABOO kept the ball rolling with superstar Rick Springfield shredding roses on his guitar, followed by Flo Rida showering the Pegasus stage crowd with champagne during Right Round. Again, almost too much to take in; Lukas Nelson, Violent Femmes, and Black Eyed Peas performed before Lynyrd Skynryd set the stage with the latest iteration of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Farewell Tour performance. While I’m not a huge fan, Kid Rock put on an energetic headlining set and certainly made an impact. Drawing his own posse of fans and appealing to a unique demographic that evening, he was a wise addition to the lineup. It became a sport to spot many a Kid Rock devotee decked out in MAGA-nificently profane Kid Rock tour swag, a beer in both hands and an overwhelm of rowdy enthusiasm, people scattering to get out of the line of fire.
Sunday saw warm sunny weather, the stadium rooftop open, and an enthusiastic crowd expanding into the sunny festival grounds. We started our day with a flawless and hearty warmup set by Texan native Israel Nash, followed by the charm and lovable kitsch of The English Beat. Superstar Andy Grammer hit his stride on the sunny outdoor Pegasus stage to a surprisingly significant and energetic crowd for so early in the day. We dashed inside to catch the soulfully outrageous psychedelic gospel of St Paul and the Broken Bones before a moment of chart-topping hit after hit with Pitbull. Counting Crows drew a crowd with a slew of 90’s hits indoors, but we didn’t stay because we wanted to catch B-52’s outside on the far Maverick stage. Who played exuberantly, colorfully and slightly out of tune; but still enormously entertaining with their cult-classic party tunes. Little Big Town stole the evening in flawless harmony on the oversized Pegasus stage to a packed crowd. And finally, it was time for our headliner Sting to woo everybody and their mother with hit after hit from his own catalog and that of The Police.
I'm the first to admit I may be biased after previous incredible KAABOO experiences. February’s Cayman Island festival was probably one of the best I’ve attended. Despite some mixed sentiments from others, the inaugural KAABOO Texas was a resounding success - particularly given the challenges of establishing a unique festival concept in a previously under-served region. Crummy weather on day one and two didn’t help. There’s definitely something to be said for a setup with space, comfortable amenities and luxury beyond your typical cheap wine, lukewarm pizza and a picnic blanket in the grass.
Where they advertised “KAABOO is everything a typical music festival is not,” they were not wrong. I’ve not seen anything like it. When they claim to host an “entertainment and arts experience designed around comfort, hospitality and good times,” they certainly delivered. With a promise of “every detail designed for your enjoyment and clean, comfortable amenities (that) inspire you to break from your busy life, let loose and enjoy the experience”?? They did an excellent job: Mission Accomplished. Team dRiFFt looks forward to the 2020 iteration of KAABOO Texas, and in the meantime we have KAABOO Del Mar to look forward to on September 13-15, featuring Kings of Leon, Dave Matthews, Mumford & Sons and Duran Duran.