Producer Quint Davis says something clicked when the audience in LSU's Tiger Stadium erupted during Kenny Chesney's closing set at the first Bayou Country Superfest. Chesney was headlining Sunday of the two-day country music festival in 2010 — the night after Taylor Swift performed her first headlining performance in a stadium.
"The audience was such a great country audience, was such a great music audience, that made it into this sort of incendiary event," Davis says. "For me, that was like getting hit with a lightning bolt. It's thrilling because it was a new event at the time, but then you discover that it's sort of the right thing in the right place, and that there's an audience for this. That's just really strong."
Bayou Country Superfest will mark its 10th anniversary this weekend in Tiger Stadium, a major homecoming for the festival after two years in New Orleans.
Chesney, back for his fourth Superfest performance, will headline Saturday, with Florida Georgia Line, Dan + Shay and Cassadee Pope. On Sunday, headliner Jason Aldean, who also played the festival's inaugural edition, Kane Brown, Brett Young, Chase Rice and Baton Rouge's Parish County Line are booked.
Along with its milestone anniversary and the country music bigwigs rocking Death Valley, this year's Bayou Country Superfest is notable for being its first in the stadium since 2016. The Superfest relocated to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in 2017 and 2018 while Tiger Stadium underwent offseason renovations.
Tiger Stadium itself — and LSU's football culture — has been a key part of the Superfest's success. When he was pitching a country music festival to investors back before 2010, Davis told them to go check out an LSU tailgate.
Bayou Country Superfest returns to LSU's Tiger Stadium this weekend for its 10th edition.
With tens of thousands of people tailgating around the stadium, "it felt like it could be a country festival happening," Davis says. "And that was kind of the goal, to have that — particularly when you've got two days and you're in a holiday weekend — to have that kind of fun atmosphere."
Bayou Country Superfest is produced by a subsidiary of Davis' Festival Productions Inc.-New Orleans, along with AEG Presents and the Messina Touring Group. Festival Productions and AEG also produce the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Where it began
That first Bayou Country Superfest brought out more than 85,000 people, organizers said soon after the Memorial Day weekend, staking a claim that it would be an annual event in Baton Rouge.
Over the years, the festival has featured country giants like Tim McGraw, Eric Church, Miranda Lambert, the Zac Brown Band, Carrie Underwood and Blake Shelton. And, it has had its share of noteworthy moments, like hosting a stop on George Strait's 2014 farewell tour and Taylor Swift's return in 2015 on her "1989" world tour — although that Tiger Stadium performance wasn't officially billed as part of Bayou Country Superfest, at Swift's insistence, since she had transitioned into being a pop artist.
Superfest attendance steadily grew until it peaked in 2014 — the festival that year added Friday to its schedule — attracting 135,000 people. Around 125,000 in 2015 and about 100,000 in 2016 attended the then-three-day festival.
In August 2016, festival producers were seeking to stage the festival in Tiger Stadium again when they were told the facility wouldn't be available. Producers inquired about several college football stadiums throughout the Southeastern Conference but ultimately settled on the Superdome.
The Bayou Country Superfest is headed home to Baton Rouge next year.
Around 60,000 people attended the first Superfest in New Orleans, a two-day festival featuring Shelton, Lambert, Brooks & Dunn, Rascal Flatts and Hank Williams Jr. Several things may have kept the Superfest from making the same splash in the Crescent City: a move from an outdoor festival to an inside one; a lack of tailgating; and the general massive amounts of festivals that happen in New Orleans.
The next year, Superfest scaled back to a single night in the Superdome, with Strait (who said retirement is permanent?), Chris Stapleton, Little Big Town, Kacey Musgraves and Midland. And the event sold out all 53,000 tickets — along with the Superfest, 2018 was a packed year for the Superdome that also featured concerts by Beyoncé and Jay-Z, Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran.
Making an impact
Davis says that hosting Superfest in New Orleans was a good experience. But as producers began planning this year's event, they saw that Tiger Stadium renovations were complete, and there was a lot of enthusiasm from state and local officials to have the festival back in Baton Rouge.
The event has had a noticeable impact on the local economy, especially for area restaurants and hotels during the normally sleepy Memorial Day weekend. During a news conference to announce this year's lineup, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser asserted a comparison that 10 Superfest weekends about equals the tourism benefit of one Super Bowl.
"Unfortunately on Memorial Day weekend, Baton Rouge is not really a destination, unless there's an event going on," says Ben Blackwell, area manager of operations at the Downtown Courtyard by Marriott and the president of the Louisiana Hotel & Lodging Association. With the Superfest back, "we've definitely seen an uptick in occupancy rates."
Before its move to New Orleans, local hotels saw occupancy rates of between 90-100%, Blackwell says. That "dropped 30-40 points at the bare minimum" the last couple of years.
Kenny Chesney, Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line will perform when Bayou Country Superfest returns to Baton Rouge where the Memorial Weeke…
Similar to previous years, financial incentives from the state and locals are being provided. Visit Baton Rouge and The Louisiana Office of Tourism are each contributing $350,000 to support the festival. And the city-parish is rebating its 2% local general fund sales tax on ticket purchases, the same arrangement as in the past.
LSU's contract with Bayou Country Superfest to use Tiger Stadium is also similar to previous years, says Robert Munson, LSU senior associate athletics director.
"We've had such a positive experience working with Festival Productions, so I think that's why these agreements have remained basically the same," Munson says. He added the university is excited to have the festival back.
LSU will receive $100,000 for use of Tiger Stadium along with a cut of concessions and parking for the event. Superfest will also cover part of LSU's costs in putting the show on.
Collateral damage of the festival is the Tiger Stadium field, which has to be replaced after each edition. Munson could not say how much that would cost, but "part of the agreement is Festival Productions making an investment in that as well."
Saturday marks the double-barreled return of Bayou Country Superfest and Cassadee Pope to Tiger Stadium.
Second first impressions
Advance tickets for this weekend's festival are now on sale: Single-day tickets start at $65; two-day ticket packages start at $130. Day-of tickets will also be available to purchase starting at 10 a.m. at the festival box office outside Tiger Stadium.
Even though it's going into its 10th year, Bayou Country Superfest hasn't changed all that much, Davis says. The formula — LSU tailgating, Memorial Day weekend, massive country names — that led to that lightning bolt during Chesney's 2010 set is still working.
Still, it was important to come back strong, Davis adds, "so you can re-excite everyone there. It's a second time to make a first impression."
Bayou Country Superfest 2019
Saturday, May 25, and Sunday, May 26
LSU Tiger Stadium
Tickets start at $65
4 p.m.: Doors open
5:30 p.m.: Cassadee Pope
6:40 p.m.: Dan + Shay
8:10 p.m.: Florida Georgia Line
10 p.m.: Kenny Chesney
4 p.m.: Doors open
5:15 p.m.: Parish County Line
6 p.m.: Chase Rice
7:05 p.m.: Brett Young
8:25 p.m.: Kane Brown
10 p.m.: Jason Aldean