Local

Big rock show in Houston Labor Day

Friday, August 29, 2008

Ali Fazeli, a Houston promoter, is planning a big 80s rock bash this Labor Day at the old Astroworld site with more than 100 bands. We sat down and talked to him about the festival and what it takes to make it happen.

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Mike: There has been a lot of talk around this town right now about Rock The Bayou. What made you do it?

Ali: It's been a lot of years since a real rock festival has been here in Houston, about 20-25 years since the Texas Jam days in Houston and Dallas. We're really wanting it to celebrate the rock genre, and the music that represents the whole 80's and 90's rock genre, and that was the determining factor of having the rock festival here.

Mike: Because that music has started to come back where even now kids are starting to listen to it, so the music really is having a resurgence.

Ali: That's right, and from the five and six year old kids to the 15 and 16 year olds. It's also getting their parents back to that music. Maybe they're not listening to that type of music everyday anymore, but when they go home and their kids are playing Alice Cooper "School's Out" 15 times at home on the Rock Band game, they start just singing along and they start to get back in the groove of things again.

Mike: This is going to be a massive amount of land to fill.

Ali: Well, it's a big festival. This is what they call in the industry as a "Mega Festival." We're going to have over 50 bands, three stages. We have a huge ferris wheel; we have a drive-in movie theater. So not only are you going to be able to come out and see some bands that you haven't seen in a very long time perform live, bands or performers such as Lita Ford who hasn't performed in 15 years, Sammy Hagar hasn't been here in two or three years, Alice Cooper, but you're going to be able to have that festival feel; to have the international cuisine, to be able to watch a movie late at night on a big drive-in screen, to ride the ferris wheel, to have a lot of interaction with interactive games that we're going to have there. So we're going to fill up that 150 acres pretty quick.

Mike:You expect people to camp out there and actually stay overnight?

Ali: Absolutely, absolutely. We've sold a lot of camping site parking already on the premises. We have people coming from 26 states now as far away as Alaska, so we plan on having some people stay on the premise. I should probably mention, we're up to seven countries now that are coming to Houston to watch this.

Mike: You can tell that by who's bought the tickets so far?

Ali: Absolutely. Absolutely, because of the billing address on the payment on the credit cards.

Mike: So we talked a little bit about rock music in Houston, that there has been criticism out there that there really isn't a market for it, but you say there is.

Ali: There absolutely is, there absolutely is. We feel that the rock genre has kind of been forgotten here in Houston. It's not like there's not a whole lot of fans, obviously there's a lot of people listening to XM Radio. Maybe it's not present on the radios that we're listening to everyday driving back and forth to work, but it's absolutely not true that this type of music is not wanted here in Houston--and our ticket sales would show differently.

Mike: Now you talked about the big acts coming in, but also in the genre you have other acts that might have not been the mega sellers.

Ali: Absolutely, absolutely. Bands like Dokken, and Enuff Z'nuff, Lillian Axe, they come around every once in awhile. Yngwie Malmsteen, he's doing the only US stop, only US show, here at Rock The Bayou. So yeah, I mean to see Yngwie alone be up on stage is worth the price of admission.

Mike: I take it you are a rock fan naturally?

Ali: I am. I grew up with this stuff, so I like it.

Mike: This type of music, if you want to call it hair metal, glam metal, whatever, has later on been kind of laughed at, but still there's a huge group of people who like it.

Ali: It has a huge fan following. With so much emphasis put on hip hop, and so much emphasis put on pop music, rock does seem to get forgotten about. But look at the music that we're talking about now, after 20-30 years people are still listening to it, still buying albums, still downloading it off of iTunes, so there's still a lot of people out there that like the music.

Mike: How much did Rocklahoma help make this more possible? Did that make it easier on you, or do you say this is kind of a different situation?

Ali: Yeah, it's a different situation. Our lineup is different than what Rocklahoma has had. As far as made it easier, they paved the way as a 2nd year festival. I really got to salute them for bringing the music back, because they really did pave the way in that. But our festival's a little different, probably going to be a little bit bigger and a little bit more diversified lineup probably.

Mike: It's probably easier to get to Houston vs. Pryor, Oklahoma, right?

Ali: Correct. Nine out of ten people know where the old Astroworld used to be. So many Houstonians have so many fond memories of Astroworld, whether you were a kid, or a teenager, or even a grownup, and it's a beautiful site to have a festival at.

Mike: I want to bring that up, because there was a lot of anger with Houstonians when the place closed down. This is the first time we've actually seen evidence of something happening on this site. What made you pick it?

Ali: Well you seldom have a 150 acres sitting vacant inside a city limit anywhere, whether it's Houston or Oklahoma. It made great sense for us to approach the owners and try to do a deal with them, as the land is sitting vacant. It's accessible, everybody knows where it's at. It's just a natural; it's a natural fit for what we're trying to do.

Mike: Is it helpful that, I guess like you said, it's in the city that people know where the Astrodome is, and also beyond that there's a historical context that the Texas Jam did happen there-- I'm sure that hasn't escaped you.

Ali: Yeah, right across the street. We are trying to figure out a way how we can celebrate the Texas Jam being across the street 24 years ago. We haven't exactly figured out how we're going to do that yet, but we're trying to and we definitely have not forgotten that.

Mike: Just a quick question, is there going to be parking across the street? Will people be able to park in the Astrodome complex, or are they going to have to park somewhere else?

Ali: We are working with [the Reliant complex] diligently trying to get that worked out, and we should have an answer on that within the next week or so.

Mike: Do you have that bridge, so you can walk right across?

Ali: Yeah. The bridge actually belongs to the landlord, so it's on the Astroworld side--not on the previous Astroworld location site. A few logistical things we have to get worked out with the folks over at Reliant, but we look forward to getting that worked out with them.

Mike: So right now tickets went on sale, but these were the four day passes. Have the other tickets gone on sale yet, where you can just buy day of?

Ali: There's not going to be any daily tickets as of now. It's just basically going to be a four day pass. We have really tried to, and I think have succeeded to make this the most affordable festival of its type--$99 for four days is not a huge price tag for all of these bands. It's very unlikely that we're going to be selling daily passes. If we do sell daily passes it will be the day of the event, it will not be anything sooner than that. [* UPDATE: The festival tells us there is now $55 per day admission. *]

Mike: Talk about how you got started; I think that's an interesting story.

Ali: My partner and I, Chris Kehoe, started a small ticket agency here in Houston back in 1987, called The Ticket Company. We changed the name since than to Online Tickets as so much of the entertainment tickets are being sold now on the Internet. We have been in the ticket brokerage business now for over 20 years, one of the leading ticket brokers in the nation. We have over four million tickets to over 70,000 live events on our website published for customers all around the world. We see so many concerts come and go and we have a very good feel for what fans are really looking for. And that is what evolved into the Fazeli Group in trying to promote a major festival such as this.

Mike: So you have the connections from that business to get all this stuff. Because obviously it is a very difficult task to try to pull all this together, I would imagine.

Ali: Yes, it is. There is a lot of details. When we first started I think we had something like 1,200 action items that we had to take care of. We are down to the last 100, but those 1,200 small details turned out to be one big huge event. One thing that goes wrong can have a domino effect. So it is a lot of details but we are getting it all done.

Mike: Did you meet any resistance as far as where people were saying, "This shouldn't really be done in Houston. It won't work."

Ali: Not at all. Not at all. We have had nothing but good feedback on the festival from the first day that we announced it. Even before we announced it, when some of the managers....we didn't want to announce the concert too early until we had all of the bands booked. When some of the managers and some of the booking agents leaked some of the information of the festival, we had nothing but good response from everybody that heard about it.

Mike: What is it like, and obviously I know you can't go into details, but what is it like? I am sure a lot of music fans would love to be in your seat. What is it like being able to negotiate with these bands and their managers? I mean, it has got to be quite a weird world...different from other business negotiations.

Ali: Yes, it is, but it is also fun. It is challenging, but it is rewarding at the same time. If you really know the music, and you understand it, you understand the genre, and you know that a band like Warrant has sold 20 million records or a band like Skid Row that has been forgotten about, kind of, has sold 20 million records. It is great to get them on your bill. Once you get them on your bill it is like, "Wow, I got Skid Row, or I got Warrant, or I got anybody on the bill. Could this get any better?" So it is rewarding at the end of the day.

Mike: Is this one of the best things you have ever done?

Ali: Yes, this is the biggest project I have ever worked on. Absolutely.

Mike: Well I want to know what is next. I mean, if you are putting on something like this we have got to see something in the future. Do you have plans for something else, or maybe even Rock The Bayou next year, depending on how this starts.

Ali: We are. We plan on making this an annual event. I am not sure what the lineup is going to be next year, because obviously we will have to change the lineup somewhat, but we are still going to have our emphasis on rock and maybe change it up a little bit. Maybe invite somebody like BB King out and maybe try to change up some of the other genres to get a four day festival to give some of the other direction of what is important in the music industry.

Mike: Do you see this going where this music would start having festivals all over the country as this becomes more successful? If you prove this is something that can really be done do you think we will see other shows like this?

Ali: Well you know, festivals like Bonnaroo, Coachella, Lalapalooza, they have been very very successful. The official numbers are not out yet for Bonnarroo, but they expect they will have over 100,000 people a day at Bonnaroo. And that is in Manchester, Tennessee in the middle of nowhere. They have been very successful. A lot of it has got to do with the booking of the bands and the talent. There have been a lot of mega festivals that have failed simply because they didn't have the right talent there. So I think if you book the right acts and the facility can handle it, it can definitely be more successful and they can pop up all over the place.

Mike: One thing I saw on your site is you are looking for local bands, right?

Ali: We are. We are actually working on a very interesting contest with local bands. We are trying to find out who the best rock local band is in the city. We are going to do that by votes on the stages of Rock The Bayou. So if you like a band after you have seen them all play or you know that you like that band, you are going to be able to text in and vote for your favorite band. And we are going to have a major prize for that first place band.

Mike: Anything you want to add?

Ali: We are offering a $49 ticket for all four days for active and retired military personnel. And that is one way that I feel, a small way that I feel that we can give back to those that are putting themselves in harms way to protect our country. So we invite all of the military personnel, retired and active. If you are here this Labor Day weekend come out and join us at Rock The Bayou. We are giving a dollar from every ticket sold to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, One Star Chapter.

We are also trying to go green. We have hired a professor from Cal-Berkeley who has taken the event green. When I say we are going green, we are trying to go 100% green! Some of the things that I didn't even think about such as charging your batteries by bringing in bicycles and hooking them up to a car battery and cycling and charging up your battery. He has got us doing a lot of things to make sure. Beyond just recycling and putting the plastics where the plastics go and the papers and the composite wools go. So we are in an effort to try to make the show 100% economic and environmentally friendly.

Mike: One thing you are saying online, for the $277 tickets there are VIP tents, air conditioners. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Ali: Yeah. The VIP tents are going to be flanked on both sides of the reserve seats, on the left and on the right. In these tents you are going to be able to get out of the hot Houston Heat and be able to have access to an air-conditioned tent. We are going to have TV screens in the tent so you can see what is going on on the Main Stage and on the second stage and on the third stage. If the band that you want to watch is getting on stage you are going to be able to go back out there and get out in the stands and watch the band.

Mike: Now is there going to be food or a picnic setting?

Ali: There is going to be concessions there. Keep in mind, we are in a 150 acre field that has no running water. So there is only certain areas we can have the actual food at. So the food is going to be out in the concession area, but there is going to be vending and concession stands within those VIP tents.

Mike: Any meet and greet with the bands?

Ali: That is per band basis. When you start talking about 50 bands, meet and greets get very hectic. It adds a dynamic to the whole festival that is very burdensome, especially when we are trying to keep the entertainers out of the heat as much as we can. We are going to keep the entertainers at a hotel in a staging area and have them escorted in no earlier than 10 or 15 minutes. Just imagine when you go work out in the middle of the summer. And we are asking the entertainers to get on stage for an hour and 10 minutes or an hour and 20 minutes, it gets pretty straining. And that is one reason why we haven't done any meet and greets or have not published any meet and greets. But if the first couple of days, if it seems like it is working, we are going to maybe have a stand by meet and greet. There is definitely going to be a media tent out there that every performer and every artist is going to go to for interviews and pictures. Meet and greets have a tendency to get pretty long winded. When you get 100-150 people at a meet and greet and you have a performer that really doesn't want to be rude and just say, "OK guys, I am leaving because I have go get on stage and perform for an hour.", it gets a little difficult.

For more information see rockthebayou.com.

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