Desert Trip Exec Jay Marciano Breaks Down How That First Weekend Went

Billboard

"By and large it went very well," says Jay Marciano, chairman of AEG Live and Chief Operating Officer of AEG, parent company of Desert Trip producer Goldenvoice, of Desert Trip's first weekend. "There were a few things operationally that we think we can fix between last weekend and this weekend, and there are a few things we'll fix if we decide that there's ever an opportunity to do something like this again."

Given the financial and artistic success of Desert Trip's opening weekend, it does seem likely that concept of this mega-concert will be repeated, but the lineup will be hard to top. Double bills of Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones (Oct. 7 and 14), Neil Young with the Promise of the Real, and Paul McCartney (Oct. 8 and 15) and The Who and Roger Waters (Oct. 9 and 16) represent rock royalty, and some of the most commercially viable and artistically respected names in history. The event was conceived and booked by Goldenvoice president Paul Tollett, founder of the Coachella and Stagecoach festivals, both of which are held on the same Empire Polo Grounds site as Desert Trip. 

The feeling among fans and the industry alike is that the Desert Trip artists lived up to the artists' reputations as elite live acts, and that the overall experience was a success. "Most of the inbound emails I'm receiving are not complaints," says Marciano. "They're mostly congratulations, from fans, from artists, from people in our industry that attended and have seen enough other events to have an opinion about [Desert Trip]."

While the bottom line is his responsibility, and a winner certainly makes everyone at AEG happy (none moreso than owner Phillip Anschutz), at this point Marciano is basking in the glow of transcendent performances that seemed to keep getting better as the weekend wore on. "Every time an artist would come on I'd say, 'wow, that was strong,' and then the next artist would arrive and I'd say the same thing," he tells Billboard. While admitting picking a favorite performance out of this group is a tall order, Marciano gives particularly high marks for the compelling song choice, audio, and visuals for the closing Roger Waters set, especially the crystalline, "surround" sound from Clair Brothers Audio, and compelling video on the stage's 240-foot screen.

"The sound quality throughout the weekend was excellent, but [Waters] took it to another level. In all the years I've been doing this, I've never heard live concert sound that was as great as that," says Marciano, adding that Waters "worked very hard on it. There were a number days that he and his team were out sound checking. He also worked very hard on his visuals, taking full advantage of that large screen."


In addition to the attention-grabbing audio visuals, Waters also made headlines for his political messaging from the stage, not only hammering presidential hopeful Donald Trump, but also expressing support for the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) movement, a controversial position at best.


Asked if Desert Trip producers would ask Waters to tone down the rhetoric a bit going into next weekend, Marciano replies, "Never. It's their platform. It's artistic for them to be able to express themselves. We may not agree with their point of view, but I think it's rare that you will hear of a promoter trying to persuade an artist not to say or not say something.

"That's why we love them," Marciano continues, "because they are artists, and they are sensitive to things that we're probably not. They see the world through a different lens, and that's why we pay to see their interpretation of the world."

The core concept of the "big swing" is producing events from "from a fan's point of view," Marciano says. "Yes, it's still a business, and many times we are faced with difficult choices, but we start from the perspective of, 'as a music fan, what is important to my live music experience?'"


Though a Boxscore report is expected when Desert Trip wraps, Marciano declines to reveal financial figures before the event's conclusion. Billboard estimates the final gross to be about $130 million for the two weekends combined of about 75,000 in attendance per night.