Paul Tollett of Goldenvoice thought allegations that AEG owner Phil Anschutz had supported anti-LGBT group were explosive enough to sink his long-running Coachella music festival and wanted an immediate response, according to a recently published profile in The New Yorker.
"He'd better say, 'No fucking way.'" Tollett told New Yorker staff writer John Seabrook in his wide-ranging feature "The Mastermind Behind Coachella." The story covered everything from Goldenvoice's early days under pot smuggler Gary Tovar to Tollett's first Coachella festival in 1999 where he reportedly lost between $850,000 and a million dollars forcing Tollett to sell his home.
The feature also tackled the challenges Tollett faced dealing with aggressive booking agents pushing for a larger font size on the Coachella poster and his efforts to bring a festival to Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, but it was the anti-LGBTQ donations by Goldenvoice's owner that show Tollett operating in crisis mode.
"No one wants to wake up to see a headline that says, 'Coachella owner anti-gay,' he explains in the article after discovering news site Uproxx had dug up past donations from Anschutz to several groups including the right-wing Alliance Defending Freedom and the Family Research Council. Timed to the release of the Coachella lineup poster, the news of Anschutz's political donations sparked a "Boycott Coachella" hashtag and pressured artists to pull out of the event.
"I was offended," Tollett told The New Yorker, arguing that headlines that accused "the owners of Coachella" of being anti-LGBT were false and inflammatory. "I run the festival, but it's rude to say that when you're a partner with someone."
Anschutz would later issue a statement distancing himself from the charitable groups, saying he cut funding after learning of their anti-LGBT activities, calling the media reports "nothing more than fake news."
Tollett said he thought the "fake news" line was a bit dramatic, but noted "I'm telling you, these types of things can kill you." He went on to say, "There are big ships that go down over small things. You're riding high, but one wrong thing and you're voted off the island. It's scary."