The Piestewa Stage at Phoenix’s Lost Lake music festival on Oct. 20, 2017. (Dylan Owens, The Denver Post)
PHOENIX — As darkness fell on Steele Indian School Park on Sunday, hundreds of people gathered to watch the giant metal lotuses on the lake bloom with flames. The flowers, which appeared to float innocuously on the water all day, were rigged to shoot fire several feet on the hour after sunset in sync with songs such as Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls on Parade” and Prince’s “Purple Rain.”
Katy Strascina, executive director of Denver’s special events office, was among the crowd, taking in the mesmerizing display.
“Those were so cool,” said Strascina, who stuck around to watch how the pyrotechnic installations were removed from the lake.”It gave me some excitement for what they are going to come up with in Denver.”
This was part of the reason Strascina was at the inaugural Lost Lake music festival, the latest offering from festival producer Superfly. In July, Superfly inked a contract with the city of Denver to throw its next large-scale event on Overland Park Golf Course in the Ruby Hill neighborhood. Strascina, along with seven other officials from across Denver’s special events, police and parks departments — was there to see the New York City-based producer delivered on its Phoenix event.
Lost Lake, which combined a towering roster of musical acts like The Killers and Ludacris with the novel games and food of an adult summer camp, is the second of two festivals Superfly launched in 2017.
In September, the company will plant another new, yet-untitled event that is projected to attract 30,000 to 40,000 visitors to Overland Park each day. But beyond the headcount, few details are known about the festival. Specifics — like festival collaborators and how the event will be styled — likely won’t be finalized until March.
“I know they want to do very outdoorsy kind of things,” Strascina said.
Between now and September, Lost Lake is likely as accurate of a bellwether for Overland Park’s festival as Denver officials will get.
Both are first-year Superfly events. Like Overland Park Golf Course, Steele Indian School Park is light-rail adjacent and is a shout away from residential property. Lost Lake, too, is a no-parking festival.
And while Overland’s acreage isn’t quite comparable, it is scalable. Although not all of it will be used, at 139 acres, Denver’s Overland Park is nearly twice the size of Steele Indian School Park, and is projected to draw about twice the visitors. That’s much more manageable than trying to compare it to Superfly’s other marquee event, San Francisco’s Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park, which is more than seven times the size of Overland.
Designed by Walter Productions, metal flowers shot flames after on the hour on the lake at Phoenix’s Steele Indian School Park, the host of Superfly’s Lost Lake music festival. (Andrew Jorgensen, provided by Superfly)
Denver officials visited Outside Lands before finalizing the agreement agreement with Superfly. Lost Lake gave it a valuable second point of reference to go off of as the festival nears its planning stage. From its security detail — which Denver law enforcement was especially interested in after the mass shooting this month at a Las Vegas music festival — to its complement of oversized lawn games, Strascina said city representatives came away feeling confident.
“Our assessment is, we are definitely ready to do this,” Strascina said.
Roxann Favors, Phoenix’s special events administrator, agreed.
“The programming really was authentically Phoenix,” Favors said. “It wasn’t the kitschy food people think of Phoenix for.”
Superfly co-founder Rick Farman is reluctant to draw direct parallels between Lost Lake and Denver’s event.
“We don’t do cookie-cutter. That’s not who we are as producers,” Farman said in the heavily air-conditioned media tent at Lost Lake. “When we start a new venture, we design it from the bottom up.”
That said, Denver was on Farman’s mind throughout the weekend. Lost Lake was organized into zones that offered a range of different experiences. Oversized lawn games populated one area, called The Lost Playground; another, dubbed “The Agave Experience,” was an ode to the tequila-bearing plant, including a booth that sold high-end flights of the liquor and a shrine to the plant itself.
Overland Golf Course, Farman said, lends itself well to these stages of experience.
“In effect, the different holes on a golf course are meant to be different venues, different little experiences,” Farman said. “I‘m really excited about being able to apply some of that same philosophy.”
“In Denver, in an hour you can be on the ski mountain. We’re right on the Platte River — that’s an interesting aspect. We’re right on the bike path,” he said. “These are things that, as we’re thinking about what’s unique and special, and speaks to the (city’s) cultural make up. Those are all opportunities.”
There is some method to how Superfly goes about weaving in the fabric of a locale. Like any seasoned traveler, the company leans on locals to help it decide what is relevant in the food, beverage, music and artisan communities.
New York-based marketing and event company Superfly has selected the Overland Park Golf Course in southwest Denver as the venue for its next massive music festival. Superfly also hosts the Bonnaroo and Outside Lands festivals. (Gabriel Scarlett, The Denver Post)
For example, Lost Lake tasked Chris Bianco, Phoenix’s nationally revered pizza cook, to help select the dozens of local restaurants and food trucks that populated the event.
Charlie Levy’s Stateside, the promoter and owner of Phoenix venues like the Crescent Ballroom and The Van Buren, spent the last year booking a lineup of locals like Kongos and Playboy Manbaby, who filled out the afternoon hours of the festival.
For Denver’s festival, Superfly has been in contact with a similar who’s-who of local talent. For a potential artisan marketplace, the Denver Flea has taken “a few meetings” with Superfly, according one of its representatives. AEG Presents Rocky Mountains, which was initially Superfly’s partner in the festival, has been the point of contact for booking in Denver.
Some Denver residents have raised concerns that Superfly Denver festival, which is flanked by a residential neighborhood, will exceed the city’s sound limits. Phoenix’s noise ordinance is capped at 100 decibels, 20 higher than Denver’s limit of 80, and the festival still received complaints. Despite that, Strascina said the festival was responsive to its complaints, following a list of protocols that includes adjusting the placement of speakers and taking the day’s wind into account.
As the chatter surrounding a potential Amazon headquarters in Denver recently proved, news of a large, moneyed entity like Superfly encroaching on a city can be threatening to locals. In Phoenix, Superfly joined a scene that already has a complement of established, locally grown festivals in place. As Denver has the Denver Post Foundation-owned nonprofit Underground Music Showcase and the Westword Music Festival, Phoenix has been home to festivals like VIVA PHX and nonprofit McDowell Mountain Music Festival for years.
Kimber Lanning, the founder and director of the local business advocacy nonprofit Local First Arizona, said the city already has “a great local festival” in McDowell Mountain Music Festival, and called the city’s insistence to host the massive Lost Lake a result of “low self-esteem.” (Compare Denver’s five-year contract with Superfly with Phoenix’s 15-year commitment.)
“They’re a machine just like any other,” Lanning said. “That’s fine; just don’t act like (coming to Phoenix) is a favor for us.”
The festival had initially approached Lanning to organize its Found marketplace, which seated nonprofit organizations and local artisan vendors prominently near Lost Lake’s entrance, but the deal fell through. The company didn’t offer any money for her consultation, she said, and claimed that Superfly quoted a pricey buy-in for its marketplace vendors — $1,500 for a booth and 40 percent of gross sales. A representative from Superfly said the Found marketplace curator the company did hire was compensated and vendors paid a $500 flat fee.
“That particular area is something that we do in a way that’s about the best presentation of goods and creators,” Farman said. “There’s not a lot of meaningful economics for us. Our goal is to help promote local businesses and be inclusive.”
While the company is a titan in festival production, Superfly received high marks from the businesses, bands and nonprofits.
Flip Isard, the owner of Phoenix french fry food truck Frites Street, said Superfly asked for 20 percent of gross profits from its vendors, an arrangement he prefers to other festivals that ask for a flat fee in advance of the event. The art for the stage banners at Lost Lake were designed by Phoenix artists the Fortoul Brothers, who printed a rare run of T-shirts for nonprofit The Mollen Foundation, which educates kids about healthy lifestyles.
Playboy Manbaby frontman Robbie Pfeffer said that Lost Lake involved the local music community more than other, locally run events in Phoenix. While he declined to go into specifics, Pfeffer said the organizers made the band feel “like princesses” and paid well, too. “We probably made slightly less money than Ludacris, but we also have a couple less radio smash hits.”
The festival’s nonprofit partner, Phoenix Indian School cultural center, also gave Superfly its blessing — literally. On the morning of the festival’s first day, Phoenix Indian School CEO Patty Talahongva invited members of local tribes to Steele Indian School Park to officially bless the grounds.
In exchange for using the park that adjoins its grounds, Lost Lake hosted a series of American Indian performances in a miniature outdoor amphitheater near the festival entrance, including hoop dancing by Nakotah LaRance.
“Pretty much everything they said they’d do, they did,” said Diana Yazzie Devine, CEO of community center Native American Connections. This included a space for American Indian performances throughout the weekend, and adding headdresses, which have become fashion accessories at music festival in recent years, to the list of prohibited items.
“They have been very respectful,” Talahongva agreed.