Will a Large Music Festival Change Plano Forever?

A recap of today's media roundtable, held at the Plano Municipal Center.

On Thursday afternoon, in the confines of Plano Municipal Center, a media roundtable was held, regarding the upcoming Suburbia Music Festival. That is the large-scale concert event scheduled to take place on May 3rd and 4th, at Oak Point Park & Nature Preserve, in East Plano. Esteemed members of the media—from KRLD, CultureMap, Pegasus News, and I—sat across from the Senior Vice President of Live Nation in Dallas, Danny Eaton, as well as a large number of Plano’s top leadership.

On hand was Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere, as well as Mayor Pro Tem, Lissa Smith; Deputy Mayor Pro Tem, Ben Harris; Council Member, David Downs; Deputy City Manager, LaShon Ross; Deputy City Manager, Frank F. Turner; Amy Fortenberry, Director of Parks and Rec; Ron Smith, Recreation Superintendent; Lieutenant Brad Fortune, of the Plano Police Department; David Tilley, Plano PD; Steve Stoler, Director of Media Relations; and finally, Mary Vail-Grube, Director of Marketing and Community Engagement.

Why didn’t Dallas get a crew of civic leaders like this in a room when Homegrown Fest was first announced? I suppose it’s because they didn’t hand over $625,000 to concert organizers. But as I sat across from the most powerful people in Plano, I was reminded of a city leader who has very much been visible in his community’s music scene, City Councilman Kevin Roden, District 1, of Denton. In a 2010 interview with My Denton Music, Councilman Roden said the following about the nearby suburb to the southeast:

Plano can’t wake up tomorrow and decide to be a cultural leader in North Texas, it’s simply not in its soil and it’s not in its soul.

Well, Councilman, Plano woke up. Or it’s dreaming, at least. While Plano has a music festival this Spring, it appears Denton will not have its signature festival this year, 35 Denton, for the first time since 2008. Things appear to be a bit backward in North Texas circa 2014. Denton has a Subway in its downtown square, while Plano’s downtown has the second location of Lockhart Smokehouse. Barbecue was served from Lockhart at today’s meeting, which is still working on its downtown Plano Location. It was said that the new Lockhart should open sometime in January, or “in the next couple weeks.” Mayor LaRosiliere says he’s going to “hold them to that.” The Fillmore Pub, one of Lockhart’s future neighbors, was already serving burnt ends chili from Lockhart over the holidays. It had beans in it, but I ate it anyway.

This is a long game for Plano, with economic and cultural implications that could alter the public perception of the city for decades to come, should the festival prove successful. “We know that Plano is renowned for the quality of life we offer to our citizens,” said Mayor LaRosiliere. But the mayor immediately acknowledged that has largely been a matter of employment and commerce, as opposed to outdoor concerts or cultural events. “We work hard in Plano, we’re going to play hard in Plano. This is a signature event that is going to allow us to provide a venue for families across the spectrum, young and old,” LaRosiliere said.

The idea for Suburbia came about approximately three years ago, when higher-ups at the largest concert promoter in the world decided they wanted to hold a “major festival in the Northeast Texas area,” according to Eaton. Eaton explained that nobody at Live Nation felt that there was an area festival that could compare with the larger events across the country. He proudly lists off the local venues that Live Nation handles, twice: Gexa Energy Pavilion, American Airlines Center, House of Blues (which it also owns), and Southside Ballroom.

It was another music festival a little over 500 miles from Plano, where Live Nation sourced its organizational talent for Suburbia. Voodoo Fest, in New Orleans, sold a majority stake to Live Nation last October. Voodoo founder Steve Rehage was then hired as president of Live Nation’s Festivals Division, specifically for North America.

Look no further than the Voodoo Music and Arts Experience to get an idea of where Suburbia might eventually be headed. “This festival will be produced very similar—as far as the footprint goes—to what Voodoo Fest is,” Eaton said. He brought up the fact that Voodoo Fest takes place in New Orleans’ City Park, for instance.

It’s safe to say that Plano is a bit different from New Orleans, culturally, however. The award-winning Voodoo Festival started in 1999, so it’s equally safe to assume that Rehage knows more about throwing a music festival than just about anyone in North Texas. The region is still losing top talent to other cities. For example, 35 Denton’s particularly gifted programming director, Natalie Davila, now works for Chicago’s Windish Agency. Lucky them.

One of the most surprisingly confident moments of the meeting was when it was suggested just how long Suburbia is envisioned as being a dominant music festival. “The people that are here and going to this festival, 30, or 40, or 50 years from now, will look back and go: Who were those visionaries, that had the foresight to put something like this together in this beautiful nature preserve?,” Eaton said.

If you’re a resident wondering if Plano is suddenly turning into some wild, all-night, landlocked Ibiza, you needn’t worry. The music is ending at a relatively conservative hour. “Our agreement with Live Nation has the music ending at 11 o’clock on Saturday, and 10 o’clock on Sunday,” Fortenberry said. So, that operation ordinance for noise seems to only be stretched one hour for Saturday. Oak Point Park is usually open until 11 pm anyway. “The park will be closed 30 minutes after the last band walks off stage,” said Eaton. If you’re managing a bar in Plano, I’m advising you right now: Start advertising your after-parties immediately. You could find it handsomely rewarding.

The acts at will play on one of three stages, in a designated 60 acres, out of the park’s available 800 acres. Though there are some confusing entries on the bill, such as the painfully irellevant Third Eye Blind, there is also enough stylistic diversity between dance, hip hop, and rock, that the festival is cautiously allowing itself room to expand in years to come. Covering the interests of the demographic spread seems to be a concern. Danny Eaton remembers fondly aloud of the time he helped with a Violent Femmes show at another venue, the long-defunct, Bronco Bowl.

Finally, I asked the question I’ve been burning to ask upon the first announcement for Suburbia, since Plano famously ended its decades-long ban, and started selling liquor last year: Has anything been determined with alcohol being sold at the fest? Will it be beer or liquor, or both? “It will be both,” Eaton said. “We’re still working with TABC to nail down some of the details of that, and the logistics of that. And again, some of the details of that will be contingent upon which concessionaire we actually use. It will be available.”

Live Nation subscribers can purchase tickets from January 17th to the 21st at an early discount. Those tickets will be $79, or “a little less than two dollars a band,” according to Danny Eaton. There are still some acts who will be announced soon, but for the entire current lineup, go here.







Image: Downtown Plano’s DART stop. Credit: Jason Janik, for D Magazine.


  • Will Dowdy

    I gotta say, i went to college w/ a few Plano guys, and i distinctly remember one of them had a Third Eye Blind bumper sticker on his car….. the rest of them were also super into them. So they may actually be the most relevant band on the bill…. most of those dudes are now 35 year old dads who live in Plano