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Why This One-Stage Music Festival Cost $100 Million

The inaugural Desert Trip—held over two weekends in October in Indio, California—was reportedly the highest-costing (and highest-grossing) music festival of the year.

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Photo: Goldenvoice

Most music festivals utilize multiple stages for their performers, but only one was needed for the inaugural Desert Trip, which was held October 7 to 9 and October 14 to 16 at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California. That's because the sold-out festival, whose production costs reportedly totaled about $100 million, only had two acts performing each day. 

The event had one of the biggest price tags ever for its superstar talent—about $35 million for all six acts, according to Rolling Stone. Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones took the stage on Friday, while Paul McCartney and Neil Young & Promise of the Real performed on Saturday and Roger Waters and the Who performed on Sunday. 

AEG Live, via its subsidiary Goldenvoice, produced the event, which grossed a reported $165 million—far outpacing the Goldenvoice-produced Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (another six-day event at Empire Polo Club), which grossed an estimated $84 million in 2015, according to Forbes. (Coachella's total grosses for 2016 have not yet been disclosed, but it is expected to be close to the previous year's total.)

Bolstering those numbers was strong attendance. As many as 75,000 people attended each day of Desert Trip, according to the Washington Post. Another factor was the target audience: Baby Boomers attracted to the lineup of performers from their youth. The more mature audience was equipped to pay for ticket prices that cost as much as $1,599 each for three-day V.I.P. passes.

Festival amenities included a Culinary Experience area with more than 100 food and beverage vendors. An exclusive area called Outstanding in the Field had a four-course, prix-fixe seated dinner in a shaded setting. There was also a Craft Beer Barn, as well as an art gallery with photos of the Desert Trip artists.

Payments company Square powered all vendors at the festival with hardware enabling them to accept mobile payments like Apple and Android Pay. Square brand ambassadors facilitated the use of electronic payments at checkout, encouraging attendees to pay with their phone and keep lines moving quickly.

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