Rock on the Range — the 12-year-old Columbus, Ohio, festival that was headlined this year by Tool, Alice in Chains and Avenged Sevenfold and hosted 140,000 fans across its three days — will reinvent itself next May and change its name to the Sonic Temple Arts & Music Festival. It'll still focus on hard rock and metal, but the event's co-creator and promoter, Danny Wimmer, plans to follow Lollapalooza and Coachella and broaden its scope to include gourmet food and liquor, a circus tent of rising bands, art displays and expanded camping. His company, Danny Wimmer Presents, is also splitting with promoter AEG Live, the festival's partner since the beginning, which, Wimmer says, didn't agree on the new vision.
"I want to do more than just give [fans] A-plus rock acts — I want to give them an A-plus experience," says the 45-year-old veteran promoter, whose Louder Than Life festival, later this month in Louisville, Kentucky, is a blueprint of what he hopes to do with Sonic Temple. As Rock on the Range, the festival has sold out for the past six years, and in an exclusive interview from his L.A. office, Wimmer emphasizes the headliners won't radically change, but everything else will.
HOW COME YOU'RE SPLITTING WITH AEG?
DANNY WIMMER It's a constant fight of always wanting bigger talent, a better experience, a better food experience. It's always been a fight over dollars. Rock on the Range is the biggest rock festival in America, but for some reason, when I leave there, I feel like I'm disappointed, because the fans deserve so much more.
WHY NOW? ROCK ON THE RANGE SOLD OUT WITH 140,000 PEOPLE THIS PAST MAY.
It's going to give me the power to show what the next 10 years of rock is going to be. We hear all the time "rock is dead," [but] every one of our Danny Wimmer Presents shows is growing — and it's because we're investing in secondary entertainment. I'm very proud of what we have accomplished with Rock on the Range. I don't want to take that for granted. But the Columbus fans deserve what [fans] get at Louder Than Life. It's going to help this festival be around for many, many years.
CAN YOU SPELL OUT HOW SONIC TEMPLE WILL BE DIFFERENT FROM ROCK ON THE RANGE?
What we have done at Rock on the Range is put some bands up on the stage and that's it. If you go to Louder Than Life, we have this massive bourbon experience, this secondary experience, and that festival is going to do over 35,000 a day [in attendance]. I've heard so many times, "why doesn't Columbus get that?" and it's been killing me. AEG is not allowing me to invest like this festival deserves.
SO THE WAY TO ENSURE THE FESTIVAL'S FUTURE IS NOT THROUGH TOP HEADLINERS, BUT THROUGH FOOD, ART AND DRINKS?
I'm watching what every major festival is doing around the world. I've been to Hellfest in Europe, and the experience is better than any festival I've ever seen. I've been to Glastonbury. I go to Coachella. I go to Lolla. If I don't make these moves, we'll wake up one day and the festival will be dead.
TO BE CLEAR, YOU'RE NOT CHANGING THE STYLE OR CALIBER OF THE HEADLINERS, RIGHT? IT'S STILL A HARD-ROCK FESTIVAL, AND BANDS ON THIS YEAR'S BILL LIKE TOOL AND STONE SOUR ARE STILL THE HEART OF IT?
We're just focused on giving rock fans the best weekend of their life. That's what I want to do with rebranding — shutting down Rock on the Range, and musically give them the core of it, but it's the art and it's the food and it's the beverage experience and it's the interactive bars [like] we're doing at Louder and Bourbon & Beyond. I've never bet against rock & roll, ever. I've built my career on it. These acts are timeless.
YOU MUST BE BOOKING THE ACTS FOR NEXT MAY'S FESTIVAL AROUND NOW. DO THEY AGREE WITH YOUR NEW VISION?
Yeah, we've been spending the last month educating [acts] on why we're doing this, and most of them are on the same page. Listen, the Foo Fighters' integrity means everything to them. I can't become an Ed Hardy T-shirt. I can't be an Affliction T-shirt. How do I get the Foo Fighters, the Tools, the Pearl Jams and those types of acts if I am not reinventing like they're reinventing?
CAN YOU ADDRESS GENERALLY THE FUTURE OF THE CONCERT BUSINESS? TICKET SALES HAVE BEEN STRONG RECENTLY, BUT HOW MUCH DO PROMOTERS HAVE TO REINVENT THEMSELVES LIKE YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT?
I'm seeing signs with festivals that there's fatigue out there — and that's another reason why we are rethinking our festivals. We're adding bigger and better VIP programs. You get a Foo Fighters fan that's 45 years old, he might not want to stand in a field. So I've got to create an experience for him that looks like it might be an arena show.
WILL YOU EVER WORK WITH AEG AGAIN?
That's a hard question. It's not easy when you separate. You never say never. It's not personal. It's a business decision that we believe we have to make. This is the right thing to do to help rock & roll grow.