FREEDOM FEST ISN'T FREE—AND IT'S NOT HAPPENING THIS YEAR
When it comes to celebrating the Fourth of July, radio stations usually love to get in the act—but it will be tough going in Tucson for this year's holiday.
After hosting nine Freedom Fest concerts, country station KIIM FM 99.5 had to nix its annual attempt to bring a live, well-known musical act to town for Independence Day. There's a lot that goes into making a concert work, and KIIM couldn't crunch the numbers this time to make it financially viable.
"It's hard to get good talent, because they're spread out all over the country. Everybody wants to do a July Fourth show," said Ken Kowalcek, market manager at Cumulus Tucson, which owns KIIM and four other radio stations in the cluster, including one that employs me seasonally for sports talk. "In order to get good talent, you have to pay a lot of money, and if you can't get the numbers to work—the cost of talent versus the ticket prices—you don't do the show. We couldn't get good-enough talent for the July Fourth show to make it worth our while."
The talent at KIIM's Freedom Fest has ranged from last year's headliners, Tracy Lawrence and Steve Holy, to Jason Aldean, Dwight Yoakam, Jake Owen and Pat Green.
"A lot of it is timing and the routing of the artist," Kowalcek said. "Depending on what the route schedule is like, sometimes you can make it work with big artists, because sometimes you have that date, and they can make it work in this part of the country. Trying to get an artist for what they call a one-off, which means they're flying into Tucson just to do your act, they'll charge you a pretty penny for it."
Freedom Fest has been held at a number of locations over the years, including the Rillito Downs racetrack and the exterior fields at the Kino Sports Complex—although not in the stadium itself.
"It's all about concessions," Kowalcek said. "You can't make money just selling tickets. You have to have a large portion of the (revenue from) food and beverages sold to make it work, and if the contract is not feasible and solid for the promoter, you can't make the numbers work and can't bring an act in. The food and beverage contract for the stadium is not as favorable for most promoters."
Although Freedom Fest isn't working out this year, KIIM has not abandoned the concert-promotion business. The station is looking at sponsoring a show in September or October that doesn't interfere with a UA football game. And it still has its sights set on two major concerts a year, including future Freedom Fests.
Another station that often attempts a concert tie-in with the Fourth of July and the anniversary of its launch is holding an event later in the month. The July 20 birthday bash sponsored by Lotus-owned classic-rocker KLPX FM 96.1 will feature hair-metal acts Skid Row, Warrant and L.A. Guns. The show will be held at Casino del Sol's Anselmo Valencia Tori Amphitheater.