FAIRFIELD — When Napa-born businessman Dave Graham watched The Black Keys at last year’s inaugural BottleRock Napa Valley festival, he had no idea that, one year later, he would run the show.
In fact, without Graham and his business partners – Justin Dragoo, Jason Scoggins and Joe Fischer, who comprise Latitude 38 Entertainment – there would be no BottleRock festival this year.
The three-day music festival returns Friday to the Napa Valley Exposition with English alternative rockers The Cure, reunited Atlanta hip-hop duo OutKast and North Carolina country singer Eric Church headlining a roster of more than 60 performers.
During the past year, the festival’s future fell into question after months of financial fallout. Debt for BR Festivals Inc., which produced the 2013 installment, ballooned to more than $9 million to various creditors, including the city of Napa, stagehands, vendors and more, according to bankruptcy court documents filed in February.
While concert industry powerhouses such as AEG Live, Live Nation and Another Planet Entertainment expressed varying degrees of interest in taking over, as deadlines loomed to make a 2014 installment possible, Graham and his cohorts came into the picture.
The quartet formed Latitude 38, named after one of Napa’s axis coordinates. The Napans took over the festival with a combination of cash and converting BR Festivals’ debt into equity, eliminating $4.3 million in dues while taking over the name and other assets, said Graham, Latitude 38’s CEO.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Graham said. “Most people thought we couldn’t pull it off given the baggage.”
Graham, whose business experience includes building startups, said Latitude 38 made three promises to officials who run the Napa Expo, host site for the festival, as well as to the community: Help to eliminate the debt, retain a Napa spirit and commit to a 2014 installment.
The final promise, Graham said, is what distinguished Latitude 38 from other proposals, many of which he said looked to postpone a second event until 2015, after bankruptcy proceedings ended.
“No one was willing to take on that obligation,” Graham said. “People don’t realize that the festival wasn’t going to happen in 2014 unless we stepped up and did it. The festival wasn’t going to happen this year. . . . a lot of the interested parties didn’t want to deal with the debt situation. We were the only ones willing to stand up and make a bad situation less bad.”
Doing so presented Graham and his cohorts with the challenge of untangling the financial knots of the 2013 festival while simultaneously raising funds, building a team and preparing for the realities of this weekend’s installment.
“We realized really quickly that everything was going to need to be done in parallel,” Graham said. “It has been seven days a week since November.”
With the deal finalized in January, Latitude 38 had just more than 40 days to pull together a lineup. Joining The Cure, OutKast and Eric Church are artists such as Weezer, TV on the Radio, LL Cool J, The Fray and Heart.
Booking artists proved complicated due to the small time frame as well as “radius clauses,” contractual stipulations that limit when and where artists already booked for other events can perform.
“This year was really difficult for us,” Graham said. “The industry doesn’t know us. They don’t trust us. All they know is BottleRock owes people money.”
Part of the process involved going to creditors owed money from last year’s promoters and convincing them to continue doing business with the BottleRock brand.
“We did feel bad about what happened,” Graham said. “In the beginning, it took two to six conversations for it to understandably compute.”
Eventually, Graham said, many of them came around. He remains hopeful this year’s event can restore faith in the BottleRock name, but said he thinks many concertgoers will attend this year’s festival unaware of the financial drama.
“We knew there was possibility for the brand and we knew there was a possibility to pull this thing off,” he said. “We do have a vision for the future. We’re not paying attention to that vision until we pull this off. On June 2, we’ll start talking about that.”
For more information on tickets, a complete lineup, hotel reservations and more, visit BottleRockNapaValley.com.
To read more of Nick DeCicco’s blogs, visit http://dailyrepublic.typepad.com/forthoseabouttorock. Follow him on Twitter @ndeciccodr.