OVO Fest is back, y’all. Next month, B2K, Mario, Ying Yang Twins, Chingy, Bobby V, Pretty Ricky, and Lloyd will make their way to Toronto. It’s a lineup that sounds like it’s vying for a spot on BET’s 106 & Park countdown.
While I’m often critical of poorly-executed nostalgic efforts, I won’t hesitate to call out smart moves. This pairing makes perfect sense for several reasons.
First, these artists already banded together this past spring for the Millennium Tour. Final numbers haven’t been released, but several shows pulled in over $1 million gross revenue–including major U.S. markets like the Bay Area (Oracle Arena) and Los Angeles (The Forum). It’s B2K’s highest-grossing tour by a longshot. In 2003, the group’s Scream III Tour stopped in the same arenas but earned less than $400,000 per show. Part of that difference is driven by inflation, but it’s mostly driven by the maturation of B2K’s millennial fanbase. It’s a little easier for them to attend concerts in 2019 when they no longer rely on parental supervision or income from summer jobs. B2K’s reunion tour follows the success of New Kids on the Block-Backstreet Boys tour (which was the most successful tour for both of those groups too). And since the Millennium Tour never made its way to the 6–North America’s fourth-largest city–it might as well happen on Drake’s dime.
Second, Team OVO spent far less time and money to curate this festival lineup, secure acts, and negotiate rates. The “Millennium” squad was already together, which made it easy. If Drake had tried to lock in big names like Travis Scott or Cardi B, he would have spent a lot more money or had to promise verse-for-verse swaps on a future album.
A festival with Travis Scott or Cardi B would have been far more generic too. Uniqueness matters. It’s a challenge that I wrote about last year in Why Rappers Started Running Their Own Music Festivals:
Here’s a chart from Pitchfork that measured the uniqueness of festival lineups in 2017. The higher the number, the more unique the festival was:
From Pitchfork: The uniqueness score is essentially the reciprocal of the average number of festivals that will be played by a given festival’s lineup—the more unique the lineup, the higher the score.
Bonnaroo was once a beacon in festival culture, but it’s now one of the least unique festivals. In 2016, attendance dropped 46% from it’s all-time high. The festival has since struggled to maintain profitability. This year, Eminem was a headliner at Bonnaroo. He also headlined this year at Boston Calling—the most basic music festival on the chart above. According to an Eventbrite survey, 1/3 of festival organizers said they struggled to stand out to sponsors. The best way to stand out is to cater to a specific audience.
Most music festivals won’t have lineups like this year’s OVO Fest, and that’s how it should be.
This year’s OVO Fest will also get a “pass” because of the energy in Toronto right now. The Raptors’ NBA Championship has given Drake some leniency on having a star-studded lineup. The city is already in turn-up mode. People are more willing to spend money on festival tickets to have a good time and enjoy the summer. It’s a cost-effective win-win.
But if I ever found out that Drake promised Bobby Valentino a guest verse as a form of payment for OVO Fest, I would take all my praise back!