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IQ talks to Superfly co-founder Rick Farman about the company’s long-running love affair with experiential and the future of live events
By Anna Grace on 22 Nov 2019
Superfly, the company behind festivals such as Bonnaroo and Outside Lands, has been making major moves in the experiential space.
Founded in 1996 by Rick Farman, Jonathan Mayers, Rich Goodstone and Kerry Black, Superfly has a history of exploring different kinds of immersive, live events from comedy festival Clusterfest to music and arts festival Bonnaroo.
More recently, the company has invested in businesses including sensory experience specialist Listen, immersive entertainment hot spot Two Bit Circus and event technology company LiveStyled, part of its commitment to marrying music with technology.
IQ catches up with Superfly co-founder and music-tech specialist Rick Farman to find out more about the paradoxical relationship between new technology and live events and the potential for music in the virtual events space.
Superfly has invested greatly in the immersive entertainment space recently, why?
There are certainly a few aspects to this. Due to Superfly’s background, we have a great vantage point for the entertainment and experiential industries at large, so we can identify companies with great potential for growth that we can have a very meaningful impact on.
With these investments, we are trying to find crossover with other companies. We have seen over the years on both sides of our business – be it as an event creator and operator, or as a brand agency business and service provider – that there’s a lot of scope for this.
At the same time, we are not a typical music company or promoter – the core of what Superfly does is create experiences that impact people in positive ways with a high level of creativity. We are interested in all different kinds of artists and art forms – anything that helps people find where their passions lie. So, as we grow our business, we are seeking to explore all different types of entertainment and create more diversification across the board.
“The core of what Superfly does is create experiences that impact people in positive ways with a high level of creativity”
How does this translate into your festival business?
We build festivals by trying to replicate that big experience on stage. It’s about performance, but with heightened participation. Outside Lands, for example, does this primarily through food and drink: people learn about wine from the region, talk to those who make it, do wine tastings etc.
What was really brand new and cutting edge for Outside Lands this year, was that we had sales and consumption of cannabis on-site. Globally, no other major festival has done this. Other events have concessions, but we built out a whole different experience from it for people to learn about cannabis – there was a smell wall, information on how it’s made, and we worked with leading brands in the cannabis eco systems. It’s all about bringing that immersive quality and tying it into that culture – that’s the general way we approach that kind of thing at festivals.
It’s like what we’re doing with the Friends and the Seinfeld experiences, too. The idea came out of our comedy festival, Clusterfest, to present immersive experiences with leading media IP from TV shows. We created the format and exported the Clusterfest ideas into standalone installations. The Friends Experience sold out in New York when it launched and recently opened in Boston too.
“It’s an interesting paradox in a way – live music is growing both because of and in spite of that innovation”
The consumer demand for the experiential has increased massively in the past few years, what are the main reasons behind this?
In many ways, there is a direct correlation with the ways in which people experience entertainment at home and the advent of a more digital lifestyle. We have seen this happen before with the explosion of the festival market, especially in the United States, which was driven by advances of technology around digital music. Having access to all that content makes sense when you can then go and see it all at a festival – they’re like mirror experiences.
This is similar to what is happening right now, but with even more interactive digital experiences – people are not just watching but participating in the digital space now, and they are looking for experiences that feed into that real world experience.
For example, visual social platforms like Instagram create a level of needing to get out and experience special events firsthand. All of this increases the desire to go to a festival or event. On the other hand, a festival is an experience that lasts for days, away from screens and technology, so it provides a respite from that digital life.
It’s an interesting paradox in a way – live music is growing both because of and in spite of that innovation. I personally think it’s awesome when these things happen – the convergence of what your experiences are in the digital world with what you’re getting from the live experience.
“Technology can be an amazing tool for artists and Superfly has a real opportunity to play within that overall emerging space”
Could you argue that technology is taking away from the real, lived music experience in any way?
For me, technology only adds to live experiences. The whole artistic universe – streams, merch, live – is being translated to a different context, where a lot of young people interested in entertainment and culture are living, so there is great potential.
The virtual events space is ripe for music to be one of the leading components. There is obviously momentum there already, the watershed moment being the Fortnite x Marshmello concert, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
What is so cool about the gaming format, and what’s developed with streaming platforms like Twitch, is that the level of interactivity that the artists can have with the fan is really incredible. We are now transcending the normal ability for an artist to participate with the audience and having more of a conversation and feedback element. Layer on top of that, all of the magic that can be created in a CGI environment and there’s something really special.
I believe that technology can be a really amazing tool for artists and Superfly as a brand has a real opportunity to play within that overall emerging space.
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