Coachella music festival, was summoned to Mick Jagger’s dressing room in Buenos Aires.One day in February, Paul Tollett, the promoter of the
The Rolling Stones were on tour there, and Mr. Tollett had traveled from California. The band’s involvement was vital to Mr. Tollett’s idea for a new event: a once-in-a-lifetime festival of rock giants, including Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, the Who and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, all performing over three days at the same spot in the Southern California desert where Mr. Tollett had built Coachella into the concert world’s most successful franchise.
Mr. Jagger listened to the pitch, and then shot back, as he later recalled in an interview on SiriusXM radio, “You mean it’s like Coachella for old people?”
Mr. Jagger was intrigued, though, and thus was born Desert Trip, along with its stereotype as a boomer-ready version of a 21st-century pop festival, with a telegram-from-1969 lineup and an elaborate complement of on-site luxuries. The average age of the headlining performers is 72, leading to the mocking nickname “Oldchella.”
Snark aside, however, Desert Trip — which begins the first of its two weekends on Oct. 7, at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif. — has already taken its place as one of the most ambitious, and potentially most lucrative, music festivals in history. In part that is thanks to the buying power of older fans, a demographic that has often been overlooked in the concert industry’s festival boom.
Its two weekends, which will each feature two acts a night, will draw a total of about 150,000 concertgoers. Sales of tickets and amenities like camping and food passes will reach an estimated $160 million — far more than any other festival around the world, and nearly double the $84 million take from last year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, according to Pollstar, a trade publication that tracks concert industry data.
Concert executives estimate that Desert Trip, which is put on by Mr. Tollett’s company, Goldenvoice, a division of the global entertainment company AEG Live, could cost $100 million to stage, including what representatives of several of the acts said were extraordinary paydays for the performers.
Mr. Tollett declined to comment on the specific finances of the festival, but said in an interview that he was deliberately paying the performers a premium given the historic nature of the lineup. “The bands are getting what they deserve,” he saidThe financial scale of Desert Trip has raised eyebrows throughout the industry. Tickets range from $199 for general admission on a single day to $1,599, the highest tier for weekend passes to one of 35,000 assigned seats. On average, attendees will spend more than $1,000 each — a remarkable sum given that the average ticket price to the top 100 tours in North America is about $75, according to Pollstar.
“Whatever ceiling there was in the concert business in terms of economics just got blown out of the water,” said Marc Geiger, the head of music at the William Morris Endeavor agency.
Satisfying an affluent crowd that skews toward middle age has become one of the promoters’ main concerns. There is an extensive menu of high-end food, including a $225 four-course meal by chefs like Dominique Ansel and Marcus Samuelsson, and an afternoon-long, all-you-can-eat “culinary experience” for $179. Mr. Tollett said that he and his team had been laboring over logistics to minimize patrons’ time waiting in line, and spent months scouring the region for more than 1,000 flushable toilets.
“We pretty much wiped out everything into Texas,” Mr. Tollett said of the hunt for rentable restroom trailers, which will supplement the more than 300 toilets already on the site.
When asked about the demographics for the show, Mr. Tollett said that all ages were expected, but acknowledged that the crowd would lean heavily toward the baby boomer generation. The festival’s own marketing videos illustrate this, with gray-haired revelers feasting on gourmet food and dancing in the pastel light of the desert dusk.
Older fans represent a steady portion of the concert audience, but have been an afterthought for festivals, which have become the concert industry’s fastest-growing area since Coachella’s arrival in 1999. That matches a wider blind spot in entertainment media about older consumers, said Robert Love, editor in chief of AARP The Magazine and a former editor at Rolling Stone.
“The truth is that there is a lot of advertising and media in general that tends not to focus on people over 45,” Mr. Love said, “even though the people who spend the most money on computers, cars, CDs and movies are older.”
AARP The Magazine, which last year drew headlines around the world for publishing a rare interview with Mr. Dylan, will be sending three reporters to Desert Trip, Mr. Love said. Other media coverage will include a station on SiriusXM devoted to music from the acts on the festival.
Mr. Tollett said that his work on Desert Trip began in May 2015, when he started checking in with the acts and their business representatives — a delicate dance, that, given the stature of the performers, took months.
“None of these artists are easy,” said Marsha Vlasic, Neil Young’s longtime booking agent. “Getting answers from Bob Dylan, getting answers from Neil Young, getting answers from the Rolling Stones — that’s all a workout.”
To win over the Who, Mr. Tollett met with Pete Townshend backstage at Madison Square Garden. “I was like, ‘I want to put a show on, maybe the best of all time,’” Mr. Tollett recalled. “‘Can you help?’”
The participation of the Rolling Stones was crucial, and once Mr. Jagger signaled his interest in February, the lineup came together quickly. Mr. Tollett said that the event was mostly confirmed by March, and news of it began to leak in April, just as Coachella was starting its first week.
At that point the event had no official name; the idea, Mr. Tollett said, was that the names of the artists were branding enough. But a website was needed, and Desert Trip eventually went from simply the web address to the name of the festival itself.
In March, Goldenvoice began selling tickets for a new festival in New York called Panorama, and demand was soft. Spooked by that experience, the company decided to go big in marketing Desert Trip, buying newspaper ads in 17 countries and a festival trailer that played in movie theaters.
Initially advertised for one weekend only, demand was such that a second weekend was quickly added, and most of the tickets to both weekends sold out within a few hours. (A small number of additional tickets, released after seating configurations were completed, were released two weeks ago.)
The festival’s extraordinary lineup — and the ever-present sense that many of the acts may be nearing the end of their touring days — has been the biggest driver of sales. But Mr. Tollett said, as a promoter, that it was also simply about putting on a good show.
“To me,” he said, “the main story is just that it’s three days of great rock ’n’ roll.”