Tailgate Fest Creator Melissa Carbone on Country Music's First Event 'Where We Bring the Stages Truckside'


"We don't want the tailgating to end once the show starts," she says. "It's very anti-climatic."

Country music and tailgating go hand in hand. But cleaning up your setup in time before the show starts can be a drag. Now, a new festival is looking to change that by bringing the artists to the tailgate experience. That's the idea behind Tailgate Fest, taking place Sept. 1 on the grounds the Forum in Inglewood, California. The daylong country music event, which features Toby Keith, Randy Houser, Nelly, Joe Nichols, David Nail, Eric Paslay, Jana Kramer, Parmalee and DJ Bad Ash, will be a first its kind.

And for country music veterans like Nichols, participating in the endeavor will be a great way to grow their fan base in a not-so-Southern market. "I've always loved L.A. and always loved the idea making country music bigger in Los Angeles," he tells Billboard. "So for me, this is opportunity to come out, have a really great time and show people that we're laid back and let people experience what it's like in the parking lot a big country show."

Billboard caught up with Melissa Carbone, founder immersive entertainment company Thirty One Productions and mastermind behind Tailgate Fest, to discuss the inspiration for the event and her plans to give music fans in Los Angeles a "country AF" day.

What inspired Tailgate Fest?

I love tailgating. One things that I started to notice as I became more and more integrated into the culture was that all us avid tailgaters had one unanimous sentiment: We don't want the tailgating to end once the show starts. You are set up with you trucks and your tents and your friends grilling out and then the time for the artist's performance starts nearing and you have to pack everything up to sit in an arena, drink warm beer and eat a hotdog. It's very anti-climatic to what you were just doing outsides. There was not a festival in the country that I found where you could actually tailgate while a show was going on. Tailgate Fest is going to be the very first ever country music festival where we bring the stages truckside.

How did you pick the acts for the inaugural fest?

The lineup for the first Tailgate Fest had to be the soundtrack to the country lovers' lives, meaning I didn't want to have a lineup with a bunch emerging artists that people didn't know. I wanted all these artists to have 3-5 major songs that were some kind iconic anthem to something in a country music lover's life because that is part the tailgating experience. It was important that the music coming from the stage is stuff that people are going to know and that will keep their energy up.

Toby Keith was my first choice so we lucked out. With his Interstates and Tailgates tour, his song "Red Solo Cup," there are so many iconic tailgate symbols associated with him. And then we have Nelly on the set. Strategically, he was a great fit because he has crossed over to the country genre and is recognizable to the country fan. I wanted somebody who could change the energy up for a second and could bring something a little more diverse to the lineup.

How does the ticketing work?

Your ticket designates where you are going to tailgate. General Admission, which is furthest from the stage. VIP Admission is tailgating in the VIP tailgate lots, which has vantage points the stage. And then there is a Super VIP section that is literally right next to the stage where guests get their own private BBQ chefs, DJ and a private performance with Parmalee. We also have a side stage viewing party, which is an actual swimming pool. There is nothing more country than sitting in a swimming pool with a drink in your hand watching Toby Keith or Randy Houser. There is also a Pit Pass in front the stage and a Pool & Pit Pass combo.

Will there be future Tailgate Fests?

The idea is to grow this in L.A. first. We have pretty aggressive expansion plans to bring this to other parts the country but right now, the very short term goal is to make this a giant hit in Southern California. 

I think we'll have some smaller versions Tailgate Fest. Those can be things like it's football season opening so let's roll into a beach parking lot with 1,000 people, put up a bunch jumbotrons and a small stage and have a welcome to football season Tailgate Fest. It can be something that is a three-day Tailgate Fest music festival that has camping and it can be things in between. From a genre standpoint, we picked country because tailgating already exists in the country culture and in the football culture so those are two very easy things in a cerebral way for people to understand. The difference with this is in our model, tailgating is part the model, not a byproduct. We are definitely open to exploring other genres down the line.