Fair board OKs long-term contract with KAABOO

Zac Brown Band was among the performers at the inaugural KAABOO Del Mar. Courtesy photo
Zac Brown Band was among the performers at the inaugural KAABOO Del Mar. Courtesy photo

KAABOO Del Mar will be back at the Del Mar Fairgrounds — for at least five more years.

The three-day music festival announced its return to the racetrack just hours after it made its debut in September, but the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which runs the state-owned fairgrounds, didn’t approve the long-term contract until its April 12 meeting.

“Arguably, we have the best racetrack in the country,” said Board President Russ Penniman. “When you look qualitatively in how fairs are ranked, we run the best fair in the country. ... It would be wonderful to have, what I think has potential to be, the top music festival in the country.”

The inaugural KAABOO kicked off with more than 100 acts on seven stages, including headliners No Doubt, The Killers and Zac Brown Band. Although the full lineup hasn’t been announced, the second annual event is set for Sept. 16-18 with musicians Jack Johnson, the Goo Goo Dolls and Gavin DeGraw, among others. Tickets are already on sale from $249 to $2,499.

Despite noise complaints from a number of neighbors, the festival could be at the fairgrounds for the next decade under the deal approved by the board.

“Although I love hearing from Del Mar and Solana Beach … and I respect the neighboring communities, we have a broader scope,” said board member Lisa Barkett, noting that she represents all San Diego County residents. “Our allegiance can’t be to one certain group.”

The board unanimously approved the contract with Kaaboo Del Mar LLC, which would bring the festival to the fairgrounds for the next five years, with up to five one-year extensions. The board voted 8-0 with board member Kathlyn Mead absent, although she, too, expressed her support in a letter.

Under the contract, event organizers will pay is $1.15 million annually to lease the fairgrounds and cover other expenses, with potential bonuses for the fairgrounds based on festival attendance. The organizers will also cover security and medical personnel.

“We’re anticipating that within the first five years of the agreement, the fairground will net in the neighborhood of $5 million,” said fairgrounds CEO and general manager Tim Fennell. “Over the course of 10 years, we anticipate that it will be $10 million. I think that’s a conservative number.”

KAABOO founder and CEO Bryan Gordon said the event will continue to benefit the fairgrounds, surrounding communities and the rest of San Diego County.

More than 50,000 people attended the first-ever KAABOO, which Gordon said Rolling Stone named one of the top five festivals in the country last year. The event generated approximately 2,000 jobs and between $2 million to $3 million in “direct economic benefit” to San Diego County, he said.

Organizers also donated more than $72,000 to local charities last year and expect to donate $144,000 this year.

“We’ve created, already, a leading cultural live entertainment event in this region after only one year,” Gordon said. “In two to three years, we’re very confident this will be a leading cultural and live entertainment event in the country, and in five years, we’re confident this will be a leading cultural and live entertainment event in the world. That’s impact.”

More than a dozen people spoke in support of the event. The organizers also submitted more than 80 letters from local businesses, organizations and community members in support of KAABOO.

“In my entire life, my most favorite event that has ever happened on these grounds, is KAABOO,” said one San Diego native who currently lives in Solana Beach. “It’s an upscale, beautiful, cultural event — world-class. I would hate to see it leave this area. I think we benefit from it greatly.”

“KAABOO, by far, has been the best event, to date that I’ve attended,” agreed a Del Mar resident. “It was a fantastic experience.”

“Many Solana Beach residents, including myself, did have some concerns about the festival, including traffic, parking, security, noise, littering,” admitted one Solana Beach resident. “But after KAABOO concluded last September, everyone that I spoke with in my community was pleasantly surprised at how smoothly everything went.”

Still, KAABOO did not go smoothly for everyone last year.

Del Mar officials said they received a total of 43 phone calls and emails regarding noise last year, with many of the complaints coming from the communities of Carmel Valley and Del Mar Heights. The event organizers set up a hotline, which received 91 calls.

KAABOO has to adhere to Del Mar’s noise ordinance. “To further stimulate compliance to the noise ordinance, for the KAABOO festival only, the noise ordinance has been further defined and fines associated to it have been increased to a greater level than other events held at the fairgrounds,” the staff report states. Organizers will face fines of at least $1,000 if they violate sound level limits.

Outdoor amplified music must cease by 10 p.m. each day of the festival and at 9 p.m. on Sunday evening. Indoor amplified music can be performed on Friday and Saturday night after 10 p.m. and prior to 2:30 a.m. provided that it complies with the noise ordinance.

Jim Dorroh, production manager for KAABOO, explained that noise will be monitored by sound experts. This year, organizers will control the sound levels that artists produce. Artists will also be contractually obligated to abide by noise levels, he said.

“We’re going to turn it down,” Dorroh said. “At the end of the day, we control the knob.”

“I want to applaud you for learning from last year’s experience,” board member Frederick Schenk said in response. “I’m glad to hear that this year you not only have your hand on the knob, but you really have your finger on the pulse of what this community’s looking for.”