AEG Live opens new Gulf Coast office, acquires Buku promoter Winter Circle Productions

August 4, 2015

Alison Fensterstock, | The Times-Picayune

AEG Live, the massive entertainment company that partnered with the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2004, is opening a new Gulf Coast office, it was announced Tuesday (Aug. 4).

AEG has acquired Winter Circle Productions, which will run the new regional base of operations. Winter Circle has for the past four years produced the annual Buku Music + Art Project. Goldenvoice, the AEG Live company that produces big-name festivals such as Coachella, Stagecoach and Firefly, will partner with Winter Circle to produce Buku.

Dante DiPasquale and Reeves Price began promoting electronic music DJ nights and parties as Winter Circle Productions in 2009, when both were students at Tulane University; DiPasquale in law school, and Price an undergraduate environmental studies major.

Buku, which focuses on EDM, hip-hop and edgy pop music, was founded in 2012. It is held in March. Huka Entertainment, a New Orleans-based production company that has worked on festivals, including Hangout and the Pemberton Music Festival in Pemberton, B.C., partnered with Buku the following year. (Under the new partnership with AEG Live and Goldenvoice, Huka will continue to co-produce Buku.)

In January, Goldenvoice also acquired the 6-year-old Hangout Fest, which takes place in Gulf Shores, Ala., each May.

"We are excited to be expanding our business activities in the Gulf Coast region through this new association with Winter Circle Productions and Dante and Reeves," Shawn Trell, chief operating officer of AEG Live, said in a press release. 

"With our growing presence in the region's music scene through our touring business as well as our partnership with the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and Hangout Music Festival, it made perfect sense to further expand our regional booking presence while adding a home base for us in New Orleans."

Under the auspices of AEG Live, Winter Circle will continue to book events at the Joy Theater and the Republic. DiPasquale, as vice president of talent, will divide his time between New Orleans and AEG's New York office. Price's new title is vice president of operations; other additions to the New Orleans AEG office from the Winter Circle ranks include administrative and marketing director Addie Olsen, who is also Buku's Festival Director, and marketing and ticketing manager Shelby Woolf.

"We love the energy of Buku and of course we love New Orleans," said Goldenvoice president Paul Tollett. "Boutique festivals where the curators understand their market is definitely the future, and Buku has its finger on the pulse."

"It's going to be a lot of fun to have Paul T. and his team at Goldenvoice in our corner," DiPasquale said in the statement.

"It's been a blast to watch Buku pop off over the past few years and we're thrilled to now be able to tap into the great festival minds at AEG who excel at producing tasteful events with loyal fanbases."

Since its sophomore event in 2013, Buku has sold out each year. Notably, after its partnership with AEG Live, Jazz Fest began adding A-list, high-draw mainstream headliners such as Elton John and Ed Sheeran, who played the 2015 festival. Buku, which for the most part focuses on buzzy, rising acts with a couple of marquee headliners each year, is already busting at the seams of its capacity at the indoor-outdoor grounds of Mardi Gras World on the Mississippi River. AEG's considerable firepower could alter the young festival dramatically.

Via email on Tuesday, DiPasquale said that any growth would be managed, and mutually agreed-upon.

"Although AEG Live has acquired a portion of WCP's shares in Buku as part of our deal, BUKU is still a co-pro between WCP and Huka," he wrote.  

"I'm super excited to have AEG Live's resources to tap into, but what's cool is that AEG Live recognizes what we built and trusts our vision to continue taking this festival in the right direction.  As to whether or not we will grow... there's something to be said for the charming boutique vibe of Buku, but expansion is certainly an enticing option."  

"No matter what we do, fan experience will be the driving factor."

AEG Live isn't the only superpower to take a recent interest in New Orleans. In late 2014 Live Nation, essentially the other 800-pound gorilla of live entertainment in the United States, (it includes Ticketmaster, artist booking and management services, and operates more 100 music venues and festivals, including all House of Blues venues) opened a New Orleans office in late 2014. Live Nation's local interests include the House of Blues, Bold Sphere Music at Champions Square, the Voodoo Experience and Gretna Fest.

Also late last year, Bowery Presents, the national indie-rock promotion juggernaut that operates multiple music venues in New York City, Boston, Albany, N.Y., New Jersey, Atlanta and Birmingham, Ala., began booking the newly opened Civic Theatre. In early 2015, it also partnered with the small Uptown room Gasa Gasa. 

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