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INTERVIEW: GARY SPIVACK, Executive VP / Talent Buyer for DANNY WIMMER PRESENTS – February 2020

| 8 February 2020 | Reply


According to a recent press release: “Two-day passes are now on sale for the second annual Sonic Temple Art + Music Festival, which returns to MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on Friday, May 15, Saturday, May 16 and Sunday, May 17, 2020. As previously announced, Metallica–recently named the world’s biggest all-time touring act by Pollstar–will exclusively headline all five Danny Wimmer Presents hard rock festivals in 2020, including Sonic Temple, in a unique collaboration unprecedented for any American festival promoter or band. In addition to Metallica, who will perform two different sets (Friday, May 15 and Sunday, May 17), chart-topping metal act Slipknot will headline Saturday, May 16. The diverse lineup of talent also includes Deftones, Bring Me The Horizon, Evanescence, Staind, Sublime With Rome, Rancid, Dropkick Murphys and many more, including the recently-announced The Hu and other emerging talent across the spectrum of rock and metal.” With the killer lineup established for 2020, we went behind the scenes and spoke with Executive Vice President and Talent Buyer Gary Spivack regarding the festival and other things rock…

Toddstar: Gary, thank you so much for taking time out. I appreciate it.

Gary: My pleasure.

Toddstar: I want to talk about Sonic Temple Art + Music Festival specifically, but the entire process as you are the talent buyer for Danny Wimmer Presents (DWP). Regarding the five major festivals you guys produce, you had a major coup this year in that you’re roped in Metallica for five festivals. As a talent buyer, what was it like to be able to put that jewel in your crown this year?

Gary: Well, they’re the kings. Metallica’s is not a metal band or a hard rock band. They are legitimately their own genre. We just have so much respect for not only the music but who they are as people and how they treat their fans and the entire Metallica community. It’s one of a kind. So when we went to them and we’re talking to the Metallica team at Q-Prime and we said, “Metallica 2020.” And their first reaction was, “Oh, okay, so you probably want us to headline your Sunday night and blah blah blah.” And we say, “You know what, let us get back to you.” So Danny Wimmer came up with this extremely progressive and groundbreaking idea as we were just talking through things and we went back to Q-Prime and said, “You know what? You’re our Grateful Dead. You know, you’re Phish, but bigger. Why not Friday and Sunday two sets, two different unique, completely different sets on Friday and Sunday.” And they were like, “Okay, now you’re talking.” Because Metallica is all about thinking outside of the box and pushing the envelope and doing different things that they just weren’t interested in “Okay, we’ll headline your Sunday night and we’ll be that band.” They wanted to do something different and this really connected with them as it did with us. And we put all our chips on black.

Toddstar: So to speak.

Gary: Yeah. And I love it.

Toddstar: Here in Detroit the band attempted to make the Orion festival a destination here locally, but it was viable and didn’t work out. Do you think they would have come on board as a headliner anyway, but that second night kind of clinched it?

Gary: Maybe. But yes, when we came up with an original kind of, again, progressive idea, that’s what they’re all about. That’s the, “Okay these guys, DWP, they’re thinking, they’re thinking outside the box, they’re thinking forward progress. That’s who Metallica is, always paving new roads. And we worked out the arrangement and the deal points and they were completely on board and we did a press conference at the Metallica headquarter on October 10, 10/10/2019, with ours to announce it all, which I they loved that idea and that got worked out with Lars. Yeah it was all systems go and petal down once we arranged that and it is going to be their only shows in America in 2020, our events.

Toddstar: That’s an amazing get for you guys. You mentioned they’re your Grateful Dead, they’re your Phish only much bigger. Your festivals, whether it be Sonic Temple Art + Music Festival, Epicenter, Fort Rock and everything else, they’ve always been destination festivals. This is something that will pull people from everywhere. You guys have attendees from just about every continent showing up at one of your festivals. Was that kind of a grab for you guys or do you guys really just want to take it to the next level because you got nowhere else to go?

Gary: No, I think what we decided too, is in addition to Metallica, let’s not stop. Let’s keep on swinging big. That’s why by getting Slipknot for the Saturday night and then getting things like Lynyrd Skynyrd in their home state for Welcome to Rockville, we didn’t want to stop. Because we could have, “Yeah, let’s just get a bunch of crap under Metallica.” A, Metallica wouldn’t be into that and, B, either would we. We have to give our fans and the consumer a complete three day experience and not just have it be about one band. Now with Metallica in two sets in two nights, that that very much changes anybody’s model. So we had to adjust and redo Arts and swing bigger. So we didn’t rest. So it became, “Do we just have Metallica or do we have Metallica and Slipknot and bring back Bring Me the Horizon and have a band like the Deftones, and keep on going. And that’s what we decided to do.

Toddstar: What’s the secret sauce in these destination festivals versus the old school touring festivals that started way back when. What is keeping these alive where those festivals kind of fall by the wayside in your opinion?

Gary: That’s a really good question. I think number one, it’s all about the music. At least from our vision first and foremost, but to have repeated business and to have a great brand, you have to give the fan what we say, “The days of corn dogs and stale beer are over.” We’ve got to give them great food, great drink, a great experience, which includes a vendor village and a VIP experience and have art. And just create, like you said, a destination music festival where it’s first and foremost the music, but it’s not just, “Let’s just throw a big stage up on a concrete slab and, rock out.” We have to supply and give the audience so much more. Because if it is just on a concrete slab, they’re not going to come back the next year.

Toddstar: That’s one of the reasons I haven’t been back to Rocklahoma – you mentioned the concrete slab. Not a dis to them, but…

Gary: Right, I get it.

Toddstar: You’ve mentioned Metallica, you’ve mentioned Deftones, Slipknot, getting Skynyrd for Florida, things like that, but who for you was your own personal musical taste this year that you were excited to sign for Sonic Temple Art + Music Festival?

Gary: It wasn’t really one. I think for Sonic Temple, the idea of having Cypress Hill, and Sublime, and Rancid, and Drop Kick Murphys in addition to having bands like Code Orange and Power Trip and Jinjer really… when we think of rock and roll, our net is a lot wider. We can go Cypress Hill and we can go Code Orange. We can go Royal Blood on one side and then we could go Suicidal Tendencies, if you will. So to us it’s not just one thing down the middle. Sure, we have a lot of good down the middle, like Evanescence, Staind, and Alter Bridge, but that’s just one kind of big square peg for our whole kind of curation. Again, we can go left with things like Pennywise and Rancid and then go right with Code Orange and Power Trip and be that number one big rock festival. It’s all in the rock umbrella for us.

Toddstar: There are so many people that try to fit every band into a specific genre, so it is nice to see a festival and organization that pulls them all under the one umbrella. It’s a nice fit for your clientele.

Gary: Yeah, I like to think so. And it’s part super serving, give the people what they want with big rock, again like an Evanescence, Slipknot, and Staind, but also maybe educate a little bit and give them something like Flatbush Zombies or City Morgue. These are very kind of intense, almost metal hip-hop acts. If the attitude and the energy is there, that’s the criteria for us.

Toddstar: Speaking of that, a few years ago, Rock on the Range rebranded. How hard as a buyer was it to push the rebrand when people were so familiar with the old terminology? What was it like for you as a buyer to go out and try and sell a rebrand to some of these artists?

Gary: Well, I think they respect who we are as promoters. That wasn’t the big fight or the primary focus. The primary focus was on the fans and making sure they know that although it’s a new name, it’s still the biggest and baddest rock festival in America.

Toddstar: I was looking at the website and we’re under a hundred days until Sonic Temple Art + Music Festival. You mentioned you guys did the Metallica announcement, 10/10/19. At what point do you already start thinking 2021?

Gary: Oh man, let us get through May, brother. But having said that, yeah, we’re always thinking, we’re always looking for ways to raise our own bar and our own expectations and, yeah, of course we’re thinking about 2021. We haven’t sent any offers or anything like that out. We’re very hyper-focused on making sure May 15 – 17 could be the very best it could be because Sonic Temple Art + Music Festival is our franchise. That’s the first to party. That’s the one that started at all, so we always have our eyes set on what could we do to make sure that’s still the premier rock event in America for the year.

Toddstar: Well, nobody ever stops to think about the talent buyer, the promoters, the people behind the scenes. Gary, what was the first memory you have of a rock concert or a rock album that even just put a notion in your head that “God, I’d love to be in this industry someday.”

Gary: I love that question. Thank you. My first rock concert ever was Foreigner, Double Vision Tour at the Forum. And a week after that, I saw Boston and two weeks after that I saw Heart, Dog and Butterfly Tour. So I got the bug, that late 70’s rock. But I wouldn’t be talking to you today if it wasn’t for this festival called the U.S. Festival in the early 80’s outside of Los Angeles in San Bernardino, which had everything from David Bowie to a very early performance by a band called U2. That changed my life. I cite U2 at the U.S. Festival as a life changer for me. That it was this festival environment. It felt like a community, a very tribal experience where everybody, all walks of life, all races and colors gathered together and in an almost apolitical sense and it was about the music. And I just loved it and it really kind of grabbed hold of me and I got the bug and sadly I haven’t been able to get rid of the bug.

Toddstar: There’s nothing wrong with that. Like they said, “Do what you love. You’ll never work a day in your life.” You know?

Gary: Yeah, true, true.

Toddstar: What was the first signing for you once you became a buyer where you felt, “I’ve made it, I did it.”

Gary: Well, I’m going to go with the first Rock on the Range in 2007. Very few people believed in us and believe what we were doing. We knocked it out of the park and sold it out, but it was the second year where through relationships in the records community, we helped reunite the original lineup of the Stone Temple Pilots for 2008 and they headlined. We booked that, that was their first public show in seven years at the time and that was a moment where we felt, “Okay this is legitimate. We could do this.” That moment really stood out for me. And then back-to-back years of having the Chili Peppers headline Rock on the Range. And then of course the mighty Metallica gracing that stage. Having them walk on, if you remember 2017, with crazy thunderstorms and evacuations, but we made damn sure they were going to be on that stage. And sure enough when they hit the stage, that was like, “If lightning hit me tonight, I’d die tragically, but a happy man.” STP and then having the Chili Peppers and Metallica back-to-back.

Toddstar: Very cool. I know you’re busy, so I’ve got one more for you. What’s the one album that stands out the most in your mind that you wish if you were talented with music at all, that you could have been a part of it?

Gary: Good Lord. The Beatles White Album. Although there was cracks in the armor of the Beatles. And how did that record just for some reason came out when you asked that question? Man, I would have to go with Led Zeppelin’s IV because I think that they figured out, “Okay we could rulers. We’re at the top of our game.” And you can feel it on that record and if we were all in that room together watching Super Bowl Champions of rock just dominate. And so much confidence and intensity is in that record and you can just hear it in that album. So those are the two. Wild question. I like it.

Toddstar: I look forward to celebrating two out of three nights of Metallica with you in Columbus in May. And we wish you well until then.

Gary: I appreciate the call. Make sure everybody checks out It’s all there, all ticket information and the lineup information and it’s going to be one for the ages.

Toddstar: We’ll definitely throw that out there. Thanks a lot for your time, Gary.

Gary: All right. I appreciate it, man.





Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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