Originally published May 18, 2016
Texas’ weather can be unpredictable, to say the least. The incalculable circumstances prompted concert promotion company ScoreMore Shows to explicitly outline that JMBLYA, their fourth-annual, traveling music festival will take place “rain or shine.”
The early summertime festival’s first stop in Dallas offered a glimpse into what the sweltering humidity levels and unrelenting sunshine would be like in the foreseeable months for Texans. However, 12 hours after Dallas' uninhibited sell-out, Austin’s thunderstorm forecast left 10,000 ticket holders wondering if the fest would open its doors.
Since its inception in 2013, JMBLYA has positioned itself as one of Texas’ unrivaled hip-hop-oriented music festivals with previous lineups including acts such as Chance The Rapper and Metro Boomin, and headliners like Future and Rae Sremmurd.
Before curating and executing large scale music festivals and hundreds of shows per year, ScoreMore was a small, upstart company founded by Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree Sascha Stone and his partner Claire Bogle as college students in 2009. Their initial intent was to bring a new generation of up-and-coming acts, such as J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, to Texas’ capital city.
As their savvy in the talent buying field matured, so did the company’s business model. Rather than negotiating a performance opportunity for artists in one city, ScoreMore brokered deals to book the entire Texas leg of an artist's tour. The strategy provided daily reappearances between the concert promotion team and the artists’ crew and inadvertently offered consistent brand awareness to concertgoers in multiple cities.
In 2011, the ScoreMore team attempted their first festival during SXSW dubbed Sunday Swagger. The event featured a lineup of acts such as Chiddy Bang, Big Sean, Steve Aoki, Kendrick Lamar, and Skrillex, and was promoted with the surprise element of a “secret headliner." Stone admitted that the blend of genres throughout the festival was nothing more than a social experiment “to see if the dance kids would step aside for hip-hop music and vice versa. But what we saw is that the dance fans stuck around for the hip-hop music and that we were marketing to the same consumer.”
ScoreMore presented its first annual Jambalaya music festival in 2013 listing a bill of hip-hop and EDM acts - though unconfirmed, the festival’s name hints that the mix of genres within the lineup pleasantly complement each other, similar to the blend of ingredients in the Cajun dish. The festival took place in Houston, Austin, and Dallas and brought in a total of 6,000 attendees in its premiere year.
“We lost $186,000 the first year and that was terrifying,” Stone said. “At the time, that was everything. We don’t have investors or big partners. [ScoreMore] was funded from $1,000 I had from waiting tables at Texas Land and Cattle.”
Still, the crew believed they were onto something. In the coming years, ScoreMore made much-needed changes to the festival that included shortening the name to JMBLYA, limiting the show destinations to two cities, and offering a unique ticket selling proposition linked to their loyal customer base.
In preparation for their 2015 festival, ScoreMore gambled off of their reputation as “your favorite rapper’s favorite promoters.” Rather than announcing their headliners first, as most festivals do, they released the desired information last and offered a limited number of pre-sale tickets for $25 without any knowledge of the scheduled performers. “Trust us?” the digital flyer asked. “Then invest in JMBLYA early. Pay the price of a concert ticket and get a festival-caliber lineup.” Ticket prices - that don't peak over $75 for a general admission pass - increased as portions of the lineup were revealed over the course of four weeks.
The bold delivery pushed its 2015 festival to 12,000 attendees over the course of two days, and approximately $40,000 in JMBLYA merchandise sales. In 2016, with increased word-of-mouth via social media and the same blind-sale tactics announced five months in advance, the festival procured north of 25,000 attendees over two days - more than quadrupling its attendance since its 2013 debut.
Though they have seen consistent growth since their kickoff, they still fall short of the approximate 450,000 attendees that concert promoter C3 Presents sees annually with its Austin City Limits Festival (however, the festival takes place over a three-day, two-weekend period). “We can never compete with [Austin City Limits] or Lollapalooza,” Stone said. “That’s not our world. We want to provide the consumer with a festival at a low ticket price, right in their backyard.”
Stone - who also manages rapper Tory Lanez and works as a talent buyer for Toronto’s Pemberton Music Festival - attributes the attendance growth and profitability of the festival to his partner, Claire Bogle, the full-time and part-time staff, and volunteer members that make up the ScoreMore team.
“My job now, more than anything, is to make sure everyone on our team is good,” Stone said. It’s a task that indirectly reiterates the importance of producing a notable music festival, rain or shine.