Better than 50 percent. That’s the chance Ashley Capps gives to a future installment of Vegoose, the 3-year-old music festival that won’t be returning for Year 4 this October.
“People can make of this what they want, but really all that’s happening is that we felt like this year we needed to push the pause button,” insists Capps, whose Knoxville, Tennessee-based AC Entertainment has co-promoted Vegoose with New Orleans’ Superfly Productions since its inception. “The Vegoose experience has been too good the last three years to just drop.”
Forgive us if we don’t rush to the betting window based on those odds. Remember Junefest? EAT’M? Stadium shows at Sam Boyd? Driven past the Huntridge Theatre lately? History has taught us, in this town especially, when something goes away, it hardly ever comes back.
Then again, there’s also cause for optimism, and you don’t have to search all that far to find it. The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, set some four hours to the west in the Southern California desert, struggled at its inception, too. After starting out as a two-day event in early October 1999, Coachella took 2000 off entirely before returning as a single-day event in 2001 in its now-customary late-April slot, where it has grown into one of America’s premier annual (and now three-day) music fests.
Capps says he and his business partners are currently considering such revisions to Vegoose’s three-year model: two days, aligned with Halloween weekend, housed at the Star Nursery Field behind Sam Boyd Stadium and bolstered by late-night concerts at casino venues along and near the Strip. “We’ve had a lot of fun in Vegas, so we’re really just re-conceptualizing the event,” Capps says. “It’s premature to say what it’s going to look like. We have a lot of ideas—changing the time of year is just one. But the feeling is that it needs a little bit of retooling in order to achieve its maximum potential.”
Ironically, Vegoose did just that its first time out, drawing by far its largest crowds—some 72,000 for the main event, and more than 45,000 for the offsite shows—in 2005. The inaugural festival featured a diverse lineup (Beck, The Flaming Lips, Jack Johnson, Primus, the reunited Meters, The Arcade Fire, Ween, Atmosphere, The Shins, Spoon, The Decemberists), anchored by a slew of jam bands (Dave Matthews & Friends, Widespread Panic, Phil Lesh & Friends, Trey Anastasio) performing on a large-scale stadium stage that would not be utilized again. “That first year was almost magical in terms of the synergy,” Capps remembers. “It was pretty amazing.”
Year 2 saw Vegoose’s gate drop by about half, despite the presence of headliner Tom Petty, Vegas’ own The Killers and another varied slate of acclaimed performers (Widespread Panic, The Black Crowes, The Mars Volta, The Raconteurs, The Roots, Medeski Martin & Wood, Fiona Apple). And though attendance rebounded in 2007 (from around 30,000 to just shy of 40,000), another strong lineup—this one featuring Rage Against the Machine, Daft Punk, Muse, Iggy & The Stooges, M.I.A. and Public Enemy—again failed to generate 2005’s critical mass.
“Each year I personally have felt like the event was extraordinarily successful in terms of the experience that it gave everyone that attended, but I think that reality has dawned on us the last couple of years that perhaps that time of year is no longer what it once was,” Capps says, pointing to October school and work conflicts for potential attendees, the increased costs of visiting Las Vegas and the poor state of the economy as factors for Vegoose’s declining profits.
Las Vegans ought also to look at themselves if Vegoose doesn’t return. A city of more than 2 million full-time residents should be able to send 50,000 music fans through the turnstiles for a weekend event offering dozens of quality acts, many of which would never come through town otherwise. Yet in all three years, the host city was soundly outdrawn by Southern California at its own festival, as sad a eulogy as any if the curtains have indeed been drawn on Vegoose for good.