After the sun sets and the sky turns purple over Indio Valley's Empire Polo Club grounds on October 7th, Bob Dylan will take the stage. Later, the Rolling Stones will follow. It will be the first day of Desert Trip, a historic three-day concert that will also include Neil Young, Paul McCartney, the Who and Roger Waters – two acts a day, performing full sets with their own stage productions. The event is the result of a year of secret meetings and careful negotiations by Paul Tollett, the CEO of concert promoter Goldenvoice.
For the past 17 years, Tollett has staged the Coachella Music & Arts Festival, also held at the Indio, California, site, which has made its reputation with high-profile reunions like the Pixies, Rage Against the Machine and Guns N' Roses. When the city of Indio granted permission for an October festival, Tollett wanted to top himself. "The theme was rock & roll bands that have been playing consistently since the early days," he says. Added Roger Daltrey of the Who, "It's the greatest remains of our era. I'm glad we made it."
Two years ago, Tollett made a wish list that he says consisted only of the six acts. He traveled to see each one play, and he sold them on the idea slowly. "If I'd made a financial offer first, I would have been rejected," he says. "[The Stones] asked what I was working on. I said, 'I'm working on one of the greatest shows of all time. I don't know what that means, but I'll come back to you.' " The biggest challenges included getting the first act to sign on (Tollett is not saying who it was). "A couple said, 'What are you going to do if we don't do it?' [I said] 'If we don't get these six, we're not going to do the show.' They said, ‘OK, that's kind of interesting.' " The only act Tollett has not met with personally is Dylan: "I live out near him, but he's not the type of guy you run into at 7-Eleven." It's been reported that acts are receiving upward of $7 million per set. "They're all getting what they're worth," says Tollett.
While Coachella has a standing field, a "mini-stadium" is being built for the October event, with a pit up front, seats and a general-admission area further back. Three-day passes will run from $399 to $1,599, not including VIP packages (single-day tickets will be sold for $199). It's steep, but Tollett points out it's not far off from Coachella prices. Despite the big names, it's an open question whether a festival setting will appeal to a baby-boomer crowd: "Every concert is a risk. It's definitely kept me up at night. When we launched Coachella, we knew what the crowd was going to be. This one's a head-scratcher." Adds Scooter Weintraub, who manages Gary Clark Jr. and Sheryl Crow, "I can't imagine this would not do well. This is dream-team stuff."
For Tollett, the concert is the highlight of a career that began when he dropped out of college to promote punk shows in the early Eighties. He's since built Goldenvoice into an empire; Coachella grossed $84 million last year. For part of the year, Tollett lives in a house on the fest site with employees, and hammers out details in late-night picnic-table meetings. "I had big dreams in the beginning, but nothing even close to this," he says. "It's hard to even comprehend."
Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, the Who, and Roger Waters have released teasers on their rumored mega-festival this October.