Even before Fetty Wap took the stage at Nikon at Jones Beach Theater last year, it was clear the Billboard Hot 100 Music Festival was going to be a success.
More than 5,000 fans of the “Trap Queen” rapper had squeezed into the Beach Stage area and thousands more were outside trying to get in. Fans were in a festive mood, even though they were standing shoulder to shoulder, too cramped in to dance.
“The demand for him was incredible,” says John Amato, president of Billboard, the music magazine that produces the festival with Live Nation, which operates Nikon at Jones Beach Theater. “It’s why we had to have him back. He’s the only repeat act on the lineup, and this year he’ll be on the main stage.”
Jason Miller, president of Live Nation’s New York operations, says that the huge turnout for Fetty Wap showed how quickly an artist’s appeal can grow in today’s music industry. “We book these shows 6 months prior,” he says. “We were psyched with how well he did.”
And the Billboard Hot 100 Music Festival producers see Fetty Wap’s success as the template for how they want the event to be known.
Last year’s festival was packed with A-listers like Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne beyond headliners The Weeknd and Justin Bieber and set records for single-day and weekend attendance at Nikon at Jones Beach Theater. But this year, the focus is on establishing the Billboard festival as a place to discover up-and-coming acts and to make sure the festival-going experience is more enjoyable.
“We get one shot to make a first impression and we want it to be stellar,” Miller says. “We did gangbusters last year, but we saw that the lines were a little bit longer than we wanted. We were cognizant of that and we took that into consideration, especially because this festival has a younger audience.”
To make sure the event doesn’t feel too crowded, organizers decided to lower the capacity for each day from 25,000 last year to 15,000 this year, meaning last year’s attendance records will stand.
“We want them to have room to move,” Miller says. “We see this as a way of introducing young people to live music. We take that responsibility very seriously.”
With families looking to enjoy the show together in mind, the venue decided to offer “Homebase” tickets that offer reserved seats at the main stage so that fans can go explore the two other stages without worrying about losing their spots to see the biggest acts, including headliners Ariana Grande, Calvin Harris, J. Cole and Fetty Wap.
Billboard’s Amato says that the festival wants to cultivate audiences for new acts and introduce fans to artists who could be the next Fetty Wap.
“We chose to focus on finding what the Next Big Thing is,” he says. “Last year, we were at the center of the zeitgeist. We think it’s cool for the next year to do something different, not to replicate what we’ve done.”
Amato says they also plan to help fans see all the acts that they may like. “We’re trying to schedule it so that fans are never having to make a really hard decision between seeing one act of another,” he says. “Now that we know the audience is going to be there, we want to curate this in a way that we don’t have acts from the same musical genre playing at the same time on different stages.”
Amato says he is also looking to encourage more Long Islanders to check out the fast-growing festival market closer to home. And that strategy seems to be working.
“We look at the ZIP codes of the ticket buyers and it’s interesting that the lion’s share, about 70 percent, are from Nassau and Suffolk,” he says. “The way I look at it is the more people that go out to see live music the better it is for the music business. And there really isn’t a music festival like this for Long Island. It’s fortunate that we get to bring them one.”