When student and military tickets went on sale Thursday for the inaugural Botánica Music and Arts Festival in March, it was a day Ileana Gonzalez had long anticipated, even before the former University of Texas at San Antonio student body president graduated in 2016.

While electronic music trio Major Lazer is the act she’s most excited to hear, she’s enthusiastic about the idea of the festival and what it could mean for the city. She’s not alone in her eagerness. As of Thursday evening, pre-sale tickets for Botánica were on pace to sell out by the end of the day.

“I love San Antonio,” said the 23-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, “and having Botánica will help us bring more people from all over Texas, the U.S., and Mexico.”

Gonzalez currently works with the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders. Last year, however, she was tapped to help a live events company, financed by local tech investors Graham Weston and Lew Moorman, give the new music festival a name and brand. She also helped coordinate other aspects of Botánica, including focus groups made up of a diverse set of college students and other young professionals.

UTSA alumna Ileana Gonzalez has worked with Botánica organizers.
UTSA Alum Ileana Gonzalez worked with Botánica organizers. Credit: Courtesy / Ileana Gonzalez

Another local music fan, Craig Stephens, 28, who works at WP Engine, told the Rivard Report that he “would go to that just for Logic and Major Lazer alone. I recognize a lot of those artists in [the initial lineup].”

The music festival industry is booming worldwide. In 2015, 32 million Americans attended at least one music festival a year, including 14.7 million Millennials, according to Nielsen Music.

Some of the country’s biggest, most established festivals regularly sell out – California’s Coachella ($94 million in gross ticket sales, 99,000 daily attendees, six days in 2016) and Chicago’s Lollapalooza (400,000, three days).

The world record holder is 2016’s Desert Trip in Indio, Calif., according to Pollstar, a concert tour industry publication. That festival grossed a staggering $160 million from the two-weekend bill of The Rolling StonesPaul McCartneyRoger WatersBob DylanThe Who, and Neil Young.

But even newcomers to the festival scene can create fairly successful events. An LA Weekly article reported that when Firefly Music Festival premiered last year in Dover, Del., the event drew more than 30,000 people a day and grossed $9 million in ticket sales alone. It’s estimated to have injected upward of $12 million into the local economy.

Vito Valentinetti, co-founder of Music Festival Wizard, a website covering the music festival scene, has attended 65 festivals in 30 countries, most in the last three summers. During that time, he reported on 15 festivals in 15 straight weekends in 15 different countries, calling it “100 Nights of Summer.”

“There are a number of reasons that music festivals have gained in popularity, and I would have to list social media/internet at the top of that list,” Valentinetti said. “Five to seven years ago, you had nowhere near the number of festival attendees snapping photos on their phone and sharing with friends. I’ve met Romanians who went to Burning Man Festival [in Nevada] and Americans who have gone to Tomorrowland in Belgium. I met two Icelandic guys at the Open’er Festival in Poland.”

But the other reason music festivals have become so popular with music lovers of all ages is the ROI – or return on live music investment. “You can see 50 bands for the price of one to two single shows. And nothing quite beats the atmosphere of a festival,” Valentinetti said.

He hopes to see Botánica put San Antonio on the map for music festivals.

“Most of the festival buzz is sucked up by Austin, so that’s always going to be tough competition,” he said. “San Antonio is a huge city, so there’s definitely room there for a few music festivals.”

Botánica investors think so, too, and hope to enhance the local economy by keeping concert production spending and revenues in San Antonio. The group said its first-year, local economic impact goal is $15 million to $20 million, with the intention to grow that number in years to come.

In this evolving industry, where big promoters like Live Nation dominate and some nonprofit-led events are shuttering, there are no guarantees. “I would describe us as hopeful and willing to step into the breach because somebody needed to [produce a music festival],” said David Heard, Tech Bloc CEO and Botánica group co-founder.

“The fact is, these are the questions we get when trying to keep people here. This is one of the things that comes up. Other cities have these experiences and we don’t. We’re used to hearing that. At some level we thought why don’t we pull together a team of investors and partner with the music industry, get this done, and have it as a beautiful thing that becomes an annual thing.

“So we’re working hard and putting everything into it that we can, and we have good support. But we won’t know until we know.”

Music festivals on San Antonio’s event calendar include the electronic dance music and hip-hop music festival Mala Luna, which took place at the Lone Star Brewery in its first year and will be at Nelson Wolff Stadium in late October; the River City Rockfest, now in its fifth year; and the Tejano Conjunto Festival, a San Antonio staple of 37 years.

Also in its fifth year, San Antonio’s indie Maverick Music Festival drew 18,000 attendees this year.

Up the road, attendance at the annual Austin City Limits (ACL) Music Festival, founded in 2002, has grown to 450,000 attendees over two weekends. Last year, ACL pumped more than $277 million into the Central Texas economy – a 24% increase from its 2015 economic impact.

Access to music venues ranks high on the list of qualities that Millennials – people born between 1982 and 1998 – want in a city to call home, according to a survey by Wisconsin-based apartment search site Abodo. San Antonio’s population is 14.6% Millennial to Austin’s 17.5%, the highest among large metro areas in the country, a study by Headlight Data reported.

“We don’t have anything like [ACL] here,” Heard said. “We don’t have a major mainstream music fest. You can find a ton in Austin. We live in a world where young people won’t move here because we don’t even have one. It’s a giant need from our perspective.”

Musicians and other members of San Antonio’s music industry seem to agree.

“There is momentum at work in the music industry, and this is another affirmation of that reality,” said Adam Tutor, community outreach director of San Antonio Sound Garden (SASG), a group that supports the local music industry. “We are grateful to see business leaders establishing new ways to acknowledge the power of music to impact our economy, bringing attention to San Antonio as a place with a rich, artistic landscape.”

In addition to Major Lazer, the Botánica lineup lists acts such as the Deftones, Alessia Cara, Logic, and looks to add more than 40 others. More lead and supporting acts will be announced in November.

“At SASG, we believe in uniting and igniting local music,” Tutor said, “so this is a huge win for the community as festival organizers have included San Antonio-based Carlton Zeus on the lineup. Festivals like Botánica help open doors for artists not only at a national level, but at a local one as well.”

Local flavor is precisely what inspired the festival name, though some have questioned the choice.

“Have any of these tech guys running this been to an actual botánica? Because most of them are on the Westside,” Ricardo Briones, an attorney and owner of a local bar, commented on Facebook. In Spanish, a botánica is a shop that sells herbs, charms, and other items associated with alternative medicine.

“When you name something – anything – people will also ask why, no matter what name you pick,” Heard said. “This was a name that spoke to our culture, but deeper and more resonant, and got us beyond cascarónes and margaritas. It got us away from a ‘touristy’ culture.

“A botánica is a special place,” Heard said. “It’s of the people, a place of rejuvenation, healing, hope and has an interesting fusion of religion, alternative medicine and belief. It’s meaningful but music-fest friendly. It’s a place that can be transcendental. Music festivals can have that effect on people.”

The group tested the name “Botánica” and several other options with college students and young professionals, and it became the “runaway favorite,” Heard said.

The inaugural Botánica will be staged in the parking lot of Six Flags Fiesta Texas at La Cantera on the city’s far Northwest side, off Interstate 10 and just north of Loop 1604, near the UTSA campus. But it’s a venue that Clint Chandler, 37, who works with a real estate startup at Geekdom, questioned. “There’s gotta be better options,” he said.

Botánica will take place in the Six Flags Fiesta Texas parking lot. Credit: Courtesy / Apple Maps

The site was chosen as much because of what it offers as a venue for a music festival, Heard said, as it was for the fact there are so few options for such an event in San Antonio.

In other words, there’s no Zilker Park in San Antonio – wide, open acreage that is cleared and safe – as there is for ACL, and there’s certainly no space like that downtown.

Hardberger Park is beautiful, but there’s not a clearing,” Heard said. “We needed 20 acres. And Hemisfair is not big enough, either. Festivals have to have a secure perimeter, a safe environment, really good infrastructure, and access to highways so you’re not turning the city upside down with traffic snarls.

“This location makes sense because of UTSA and a huge portion of our Millennial population who live in that part of town, and [market research shows] it’s where tickets are bought for concerts and shows at the AT&T Center and the Alamodome. And people know where it is – it’s not out on some ranch.”

The 60-acre site, being leased to Botánica by Six Flags, also provides space for parking and shuttles. The theme park itself will be closed to visitors that weekend, Six Flags Communication Director Sydne Purvis said.

San Antonio Police Department spokeswoman Romana Lopez stated that SAPD will be coordinating with event organizers. “We do this for all events,” she said, but “for safety reasons, we do not reveal our plans or how many personnel will be assigned.”

“The Botánica Music and Arts Festival is great news for San Antonio’s music scene and the city,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “Graham Weston, Lew Moorman, and their partners in this endeavor deserve kudos for making it happen. A uniquely San Antonio music festival with a variety of acts could have a major impact on the city’s reputation among young professionals while boosting our economy. And the festival comes just in time to help the city celebrate its 300th birthday as we launch a new era.”

“It sounds cool and I would like my band to play there,” said Chris Santos, 29, who works in tech support for WP Engine. “San Antonio has got a problem with bringing big acts anyway – for some reason they don’t want to come here. Ever since losing the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater – it’s a church now – we haven’t had a good spot, so we need something.”

Matthew Espinoza, 23, co-founder of startup SABusinessCalendar, said he’s excited to see the music festival come to fruition.

“I plan on attending the event, and I think it’s good that they’re trying to cater to the college students. I went to UTSA for three years so I lived out there. I think it’s an awesome location,” Espinoza said. “I’m a pretty big fan of Logic, and I’m excited to see him. It’s cool to see these San Antonio leaders come together to put this festival together.”

Reporter Rocío Guenther contributed to this report. 

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.