Let’s just say that crowds weren’t a problem this year at B.O.M.B. Fest.
Actually, from a certain perspective, that was the problem.
About 8,000 people paid to attend (an average of 4,000 per day, with another 500 total comped in) the two-day music festival Saturday and Sunday at Comcast Theatre in Hartford, where organizers Frank Bombaci and his son, Frank Jr., had assembled a varied lineup of talented national and local acts, including big names such as Weezer and Snoop Dogg, along with a selection of smaller indie-rockers, electronica artists, hard-rock, punk and hip-hop acts. (Read Saturday's review here, and Sunday's review here.)
Ticket sales fell below the Bombacis’ early predictions of 10,000 per day — indeed, attendance was light enough that B.O.M.B. Fest cut the single-day price by half Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday in an attempt to attract more people to the 24,000-capacity venue. The number of people buying tickets at the gate was “miniscule,” Bombaci Sr. said backstage Sunday afternoon.
“We still don’t understand why crowds didn’t connect with it,” Bombaci Sr. said. “It’s disappointing from a numbers standpoint," but successful as a creative venture.
Ironically, the latter is a result of the former. The sparse crowd was a big part of what made B.O.M.B. Fest enjoyable: there were rarely lines, it was easy to move around the grounds from stage to stage and the low numbers made for unexpectedly intimate sets from acts such as Weezer, which usually plays for larger audiences.
The biggest drawback, unfortunately, was significant: B.O.M.B. Fest was billed as a fund-raiser, with all proceeds going to charities including Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford and Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Ashford. With no proceeds from the festival, which lost money, the Bombacis will contribute themselves.
“We’re going to find a way from our family foundation to donate to all three charities, no matter what happens here,” said Bombaci Sr., who helped found the company that makes VitaminWater and Smartwater.
There are several possible reasons why the festival didn’t connect with fans. The event was originally scheduled to take place on the campus of Western Connecticut State University, which rescinded the invitation at the end of March because of concerns (unfounded, as it turned out) about crowds and traffic. Moving the festival to Hartford caused “a lot of disconnect,” Bombaci said.
B.O.M.B. Fest isn’t the only festival happening over Memorial Day weekend, either. That means Connecticut must compete for talent with more established events such as Sasquatch! Music Festival in Seattle and Primavera Sound, a three-day fest in Barcelona, Spain. A handful of acts played both B.O.M.B. Fest and Sasquatch, or Primavera and Sasquatch, but none managed to hit all three — and the others are high-profile, major-market plays.
Then there were ticket prices: $99 for a two-day pavilion pass and $70 for a single-day pavilion pass, with slightly cheaper options for the lawn. Bombaci Sr. said he thought those figures represented “a pretty good value,” but some of the B.O.M.B. Fest acts perform frequently in the area at smaller venues where tickets are cheaper — no small consideration for the festival’s young demographic.
Bad luck didn’t help: three acts canceled just days before the festival, including George Clinton of Parliament/Funkadelic, who was hospitalized in Los Angeles with a staph infection in his leg. Also, the rapper Wiz Khalifa, one of the festival’s most highly touted performers, pulled out at the last minute Sunday, which organizers blamed on bad weather in Chicago grounding his flight to Connecticut.
It’s also possible that Connecticut simply isn’t able to support a festival weighted toward up-and-coming indie-rockers.
“We created a great lineup, but Connecticut might not be the right market for this lineup,” said Bombaci Sr., an Old Lyme resident.
That’s probably true, but it’s a shame: it was a great lineup, and from that standpoint, the festival was a creative success, even if the third-annual version ended on rocky financial footing.
Will there be a fourth incarnation in 2012?
“I’m thinking about it, definitely,” Bombaci said. “I may have to do it with some partners.”