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Jackyl Frontman Brought Rocklahoma and AEG Live Together

“I don’t mind people saying what they want to say, but take the time to listen and understand reasons why, because there are legitimate reasons why this festival has been altered slightly,” says Joe Litvag, Senior Vice President of AEG Live, of the newly revamped Rocklahoma to Noisecreep “I think once people understand and take the time to really put the facts together, they can walk away, not necessarily agreeing, but having the understanding as to why it had to change.”

Change indeed. Rocklahoma was once known as the destination for fans of ’80s metal: the more obscure, the better. Of course, music is a business, and if something isn’t making money, it’s not really working. This is where AEG Live comes into the picture. The concert promotion giant partnered with the Rocklahoma owners to give the festival a facelift, while not ripping it completely away from its ’80s roots.

Rocklahoma is held annually in Pryor, Okla. Bands confirmed for this year’s festival include ZZ Top, Godsmack, Cinderella, Buckcherry, Tesla and Stone Sour.

Litvag knew there would be some angry customers and some excited fans that had never experienced Rocklahoma before. Some of those angry customers have silently chosen to not attend this year’s event. Then there are others who are quite vocal. Litvag recalls one angry fan who somehow got his work phone number. The fan left three consecutive voicemails, ranting about the ‘new’ Rocklahoma. Instead of brushing him off, Litvag called back the music lover, and the two talked about the business-end of the festival for 45 minutes. At the end of the call, Litvag says the fan “got it.”

But how did the partnership between the privately-owned Rocklahoma and corporate giant AEG Live even develop? From an unlikely rock star, of course.

Jesse James Dupree, outspoken and wild front man for rock outfit Jackyl, was the first to make a call to AEG. Dupree and Litvag are friends, so when the singer asked the businessman to have a conference call with the Rocklahoma owners, the wheels were in motion.

“I got on the phone with the owners and organizers of the festival, and they were just the nicest guys in the world,” recalls Litvag. “They didn’t come into it with an approach of already having all the answers. They came in with a much more humbled approach like, ‘Look, we’ve gotten this thing to a certain point, but we really need somebody’s help to get it to the next point. Is there any way you’d consider helping us?’”

Several follow-up calls and meetings later, Litvag knew AEG Live could help make Rocklahoma a major player in the American festival circuit. It was after attending a day of Rocklahoma ’09 that really solidified the partnership.

“I kind of walked away saying, ‘I think these guys have something special,” Litvag said. “They’ve got the base pieces in place and definitely there are some things that are tweakable that can help them revive their model a little bit. It was really that entire process.”

One of the very first things Litvag suggested to the Rocklahoma owners was a date change. In the past, Rocklahoma was always the second weekend in July. The heat is pretty bad all over America at that time of year, but especially oppressive in Oklahoma. To fall in line with Rocklahoma’s major draw as a camping festival and AEG Live’s other festivals, promoters agreed to move the three-day event to Memorial Day weekend. Not only does this alleviate the oppressive heat, it also gives Rocklahoma a better chance at drawing top talent.

“There’s strength in numbers and the great news for the other festivals [AEG Live is] involved with is that they, on their own, stand as great, reputable festivals in their respective regions so they don’t necessarily need the help, but there’s always strength in numbers,” he said. “As popular asRockfest is, or as popular as Rock on the Range is for a lot of these bands, if I can throw three festivals at them at a time versus one or two, it makes it that much more appealing of an argument that they need to get their butts to the Midwest in the month of May and play for all the people. It was absolutely one of the factors and kind of worked well for us this year. Hopefully that will continue.”

AEG Live produces Rockfest in Kansas City and Rock on the Range in Columbus, Ohio.

More bands will be added to the current Rocklahoma lineup. Tickets are on sale now.

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