Music, mayhem and eyeballs at the Lost Highway Festival
“Sponsor a music festival? What’s the expected ROI on this investment? No idea? How did you get into my office? Why do you have face tattoos?!”
While basic (or advanced) business acumen is needed to hang your shingle in the motorcycle business these days, there is no business in the nation that needs an X-factor quite like motorcycles. Synergy is the name of the game. And excitement. And hustle.
The Lost Highway Festival is a curious beast. Unlike most motorcycle shows, the rock (and country, punk, etc.) bands aren’t the guys from the local watering hole to make some noise while people look at motorcycles. Unlike most big concerts, the motorcycle display isn’t some corporate semi with all of one brand’s new models. Lost Highway is like a one-night sleepover. The music and the motorcycles are co-equal partners in this one-day festival, and the acts are all over the map.
Just a decade ago, this sort of hybrid team-up would be unthinkable. If it were a music festival, there would maybe be a single corporate motorcycle industry sponsor, and all of the acts would be somewhat in the same genre. Nowadays, however (with the rise of digital music distribution), touring is the biggest moneymaker for a musical artist and getting more people in front of the stage is the key. Lost Highway was a creation of modern data analytics. Concert promoter John Oakes looked at the biggest festivals with the lowest promotional costs, and they had one thing in common: motorcycles.
Motorcyclists and motorcycle businesses are passionate promoters and like to have events to go to. Whether it’s the local charity ride or a big rally (or a motorcycle-driven music festival), motorcyclists like to be a part of something bigger than themselves and their close friends. Luckily for Oakes, one of his close friends is Brandon Quaid of Quaid Harley-Davidson in Loma Linda, California.
Oakes told Quaid of his plan for a concert with a motorcycle component, and Quaid was on board immediately. “Luckily for us, Glen Helen (site of San Manuel Amphitheater) is in our (H-D-defined territory),” Quaid enthused. “Otherwise I’d have had to say, ‘Good luck with that!’”
That was 2015. The whole event was put together, hurriedly, in a couple of months, but everybody saw the potential.
This year, everybody had most of a year to prepare, and they knew how to do it right. Quaid enlisted Kraus Motor Company to build a giveaway bike (that Quaid H-D supplied) and Baggers Magazine to partner with them for promotion. This started a prodigious chain of cross-promotion and shared opportunities.
Kraus signed on to build the giveaway bike, but the partnership didn’t stop there. Kraus’ fingerprints were all over Lost Highway. The company had a display to show its line of performance parts, including its signature front ends, and sell T-shirts, while just across the way, those same front ends were getting hammered on by the Unknown Industries stunt crew. A few of the Unknown riders sport Kraus forks, but Logan, the “Wheelie Pig,” actually had his stunt bike built by the company. On a day that Unknown wasn’t performing, Logan might have also taken part in Super Hooligan racing on another of his Kraus creations.
Meanwhile, Baggers Magazine (of which I was the founding editor) provided a ton of promotion in the magazine, including a cover featuring the giveaway bike. At the event itself, Baggers hosted a bike show (along with sister publications Street Chopper and Hot Bike), which itself was a draw for those focused on custom bikes, or the builders of custom bikes that wanted to compete.
Another draw was Roland Sands Designs Super Hooligan races. It looked to be a draw for gearhead and concertgoer alike. Said Roland Sands, “I want to get out of the motorcycle industry and touch the 98 precent or so percent that don’t ride. That’s where the impact is. ... San Manuel (Lost Highway) is a perfect example of how it can go down.”
The racers were paid only with a ticket to the show, thanks to sponsorship from Indian Motorcycle. That said, it was an extremely low-budget way to either get into the concerts or promote your fledgling brand. There were three classes: Super Hooligan (bikes over 750cc), Run What Ya Brung and Vintage. If you played your cards right, you could bring a bike that qualified all three (as we saw at least one competitor with an old Ironhead Sportster do so). Super Hooligan is in the style of a small short track oval race, but is run on whatever surface is available: dirt, asphalt, concrete or (in the case of Lost Highway) grass.
“The Costa Mesa Speedway guys helped us dial in the track and ran the show,” Sands said. “(There were bikes from) Indian, H-D, Ducati, Yamaha, BMW, Triumph.” The track was a draw with the fans all afternoon, even in the 110-plus-degree heat, even when dust and powdered grass covered faces.
The heat was a challenge this year for the event. The date was locked to Brantley Gilbert’s tour schedule, but since the rising country star is such a draw, it had to be in late July. (Organizers say it may end up later in the year in 2017.) From millennial country acts like Gilbert and Justin Moore to Gen X alternative bands like Social Distortion and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and even 1970s rockers Foghat, the bands were there to entertain. Collecting crossover people and cross-promoting products was the name of the game on both the music and motorcycle side of the show.
Vendors noted that foot traffic was slow due to the heat, and “Who wants to walk around with motorcycle parts in 110 degrees?” asked Sacha Kraus.
It was more a T-shirt and eyeballs crowd for most. Reaching new people and having a good time was what the whole thing came down to. While most were hunting for shade and saving their energy, it was over 20,000 people doing so, in an event area designed for many more.
Sound like something you’d like to do in your corner of the nation? Good. John Oakes’ company SGE Worldwide would like to make this a tour with four or more stops. Super Hooligan racing is in expansion mode as well, led by Roland Sands Designs.
Billy Bartels is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.