Extra Superfest day boosts EBR spending _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Lee Brice performs at the 2014 Bayou Country Superfest in Tiger Stadium. The organizers of the country music festival said Monday the event is on hiatus until further notice. Over the years, the festival featured country superstars such as George Strait, Tim McGraw, Miranda Lambert, the Zac Brown Band, Carrie Underwood and Blake Shelton. Superfest attendance steadily grew until it peaked in 2014, when the festival added Friday to its schedule and attracted 135,000 people.

The Bayou Country Superfest has been put on hiatus until further notice, organizers said Monday of the country music festival that's been a Memorial Day weekend event in Baton Rouge or New Orleans in recent years.

“We thank the fans who came for the party and the event sponsors who helped make the festival a Memorial Day weekend tradition,” said a post put up Monday afternoon on the festival’s official Twitter account. Officials from Festival Productions Inc., which produced the event, did not respond to calls or email requesting comment.

The first festival was held in Tiger Stadium in 2010 and brought out more than 85,000 fans, staking a claim that it would be an annual event in Baton Rouge. Over the years, the festival featured country superstars such as George Strait, Tim McGraw, Miranda Lambert, the Zac Brown Band, Carrie Underwood and Blake Shelton. Superfest attendance steadily grew until it peaked in 2014, when the festival added Friday to its schedule and attracted 135,000 people.

But the 2019 festival, which returned to Tiger Stadium after two years in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, had about 50,000 attendees over two days. That was despite a lineup that featured Kenny Chesney, Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line.

Paul Arrigo, president and chief executive officer of Visit Baton Rouge, said when the local tourism agency was preparing its 2020 budget, it didn’t anticipate spending any money promoting the festival or receiving any money from the event. In 2019 Visit Baton Rouge and the Louisiana Office of Tourism each contributed $350,000 to support the festival. And the city-parish rebated its 2% local general fund sales tax on ticket purchases.

“We’re very thankful for the years we had it,” he said. “Even when it was not as well attended as other years, the impact we had from visitors was significant.”

Arrigo said even though the crowds were significantly smaller in 2019 than in previous years, the revenue and occupancy rates at LSU-area hotels weren’t down that much. That shows the decline in attendance came from locals, not from out-of-town visitors.

In the early years of the festival, it received direct subsidies from city-parish government. Bayou Country Superfest received $900,000 in state and local funds to subsidize the first concerts in 2010. In 2012 the amount was $600,000, which included money from a BP tourism grant allocated to the city-parish.

James Gilmore, the afternoon DJ at 100.7 The Tiger, a local country music radio station, said the festival lost momentum in 2017, when it had to temporarily move out of Tiger Stadium because of major renovations being made to the concession stands and restrooms between football seasons. “For a couple of years, they took the festival away from us and people were disappointed,” he said.

While the festival was in New Orleans, attendance dropped further. About 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 abundance of festivals in New Orleans.

In 2018, Superfest scaled back to a single night in the Superdome, and the event sold out all 53,000 tickets thanks to a lineup that featured Strait, Chris Stapleton, Little Big Town and Kacey Musgraves.

Gilmore said the festival was great for local country music fans because of the talent it attracted. “We would field calls starting in November from people asking about the lineup,” he said. “This year, people were really, really, really hoping Garth Brooks would show up.”

Arrigo and tourism officials credit the festival with making Memorial Day weekend a busy one for hotels and restaurants near Tiger Stadium. Traditionally the weekend had been slow as people headed to the beach or other traditional vacation destinations.

“We would hope that we get Bayou Country or a similar event in place for 2021,” he said, “but it’s difficult to find events like that for the slow period around Memorial Day.”

Email Timothy Boone at tboone@theadvocate.com.