Two of North America’s biggest festival promoters are launching Colossal Clusterfest, a three-day celebration of comedy and music with headliners Jerry Seinfeld, Kevin Hart and Bill Burr taking over San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza and Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, June 2-4.
Booked and organized by Jonathan Mayers from Superfly, who co-promotes the annual Bonnaroo festival in Machester, Tenn., and with Clusterfest co-creator Allen Scott from Another Planet Entertainment which promotes Outside Lands Festival (with help from Superfly), the three-day Colossal Clusterfest includes comedy, music and interactive exhibits showcasing some of America’s favorite sitcoms.
Amplify recently caught up with Mayers and Scott to talk about the festival and discuss how this first-of-its-kind event was changing how fans experience music, comedy and art.
What was the inspiration for Clusterfest?
Jonathan: Comedy has always been a really big ingredient of our programming both at Bonnaroo as well as Outside Lands. We felt that there’s a really exciting creative opportunity to do a festival where comedy was the leading programming ingredient, with music being a part of it. We had a relationship with Comedy Central. They had sponsored the comedy tent at Bonnaroo and we started talking and they really wanted to engage with their audience in a deeper way and obviously, they’re seeing all the traction of festivals throughout the country. That’s when we thought San Francisco was a great place to do it and a chance to utilize our great partnership with Another Planet Entertainment, who we’ve been working together with on Outside Lands now for ten years.
Clusterfest will take over Civic Center Plaza and the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium — how is the site footprint going to be configured?
Allen: There has not been a festival in the Civic Center Plaza like this before. The Bill Graham is adjacent to Civic Center Plaza, which is bordered by City Hall, the Asian Art Museum, and the San Francisco Library. It’s just a very ideal and strategic location for this event. And picturesque as well. And we can utilize both indoors and outdoors for different settings, whether it’s a comedy club experience, a theater or an outdoor setting.
Where will the main stage be located?
Allen: The main stage is outside and that’s where the headliners like Kevin Hart and Jerry Seinfeld will perform. There will be some other comics out there and some music. There’s a second stage outside as well. And then outdoors in the plaza area will be a couple of the comedy attractions that are going to be signature to this event that we’re doing with “Seinfeld” and “South Park.” The concept behind these attractions is to give fans a deep dive into these shows and their iconic sets. For example, we’re going to be recreating the Seinfeld apartment, and in the case of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” we’re recreating Paddy’s Pub. Or we’ll have themed food and drink concessions, like with “South Park.” We’ll be doing a Chili con Carnival event which was a famous episode of “South Park.” We’re also going to do the “Soup Nazi” from “Seinfeld” with appearances by cast members. There will be limited edition merchandise with the goal of creating a holistic experience.
You have marquee artists like Ice Cube, Chromeo and Tegan & Sara as well as well-known comedians like Hannibal Buress, Tig Notaro and Natasha Leggero. How will all the acts be spread out?
Jonathan: There’s going to be counter-programming throughout the site, both inside and outside. Many of the comedians are going to play multiple times in different venues. Jerry is going to be headlining outside but he’s also going to be doing a Q&A inside the Bill Graham. Tig will be doing multiple appearances. So there’ll be multiple opportunities for fans to see the artist because ultimately there will be choices that you need to make.
And there’s going to be artists playing with some comedians too, right?
Allen: Yeah that’s something that we really want. Doing this all in one location is really unique to the comedy festival space. I think it’s really going to create many more potential opportunities for collaborations both between comedians and musicians, and that’s also something that we’re known for doing at our events. We do a series at our events called the Super Jam where it’s a one-time performance bringing different artists together. It’s within our DNA at our events to nurture this kind of cross-pollination.
Jonathan: There’s a very strong community in the comedy world and a lot of support from established comedians that are nurturing emerging comics. We really hope that will lend itself to a lot of sit-ins and special surprises.
Will Comedy Central be recording any of the performances?
Jonathan: One of the exciting things about this partnership with Comedy Central is they do things that we don’t. Being a broadcasting network and creating great content, it’s this great bridge that allows people to have a peek if they’re not able to attend. The show itself, which is still being developed, is going to be a mix of both music and comedy performances, man-on-the-street interviews and different segments that we create.
How did you land Jerry Seinfeld?
Allen: Jerry was one of the first comics to sign on, which was super exciting because he is one of the most recognized comedians in the world. What’s so cool about Jerry is not only does he have one of the most popular shows of all time but he is a comic’s comic. Jerry still pops up in clubs and comics look up to him. It’s such a thrill to have him be part of this event and to embrace the experiential concept. He got that right away and has been really supportive.
What kind of attendance are you expecting?
Jonathan: We’re expecting to sell out with tens of thousands of people coming to Clusterfest.
It’s interesting to have this event in a downtown area. Did you ever consider staging it in Golden Gate Park?
Allen: Our location is what we’ve wanted for a long time. It’s literally in the heart of San Francisco. And to be looking at City Hall lit up at night, and the Bill Graham Civic and with BART a block away, numerous parking lots around and MUNI, it’s a very easy location to get to. The Bill Graham Civic is probably the best-selling venue in San Francisco and a big part of that can be attributed to the transit access.
Is Clusterfest the future of festivals?
Jonathan: There’s always room for new ideas and new concepts and as we see more and more music festivals, I do think that there’s going to be festivals that are more specific to genres that are going to be in parallel spaces, but maybe not led by music. I think they’re going to have to be more distinct with the attractions and attention to detail. Another Planet and Superfly want to keep pushing the boundaries and raising the creative bar, and not doing the same thing that we did before and keep growing. I think that’s true about both of our companies.
Allen: I think with the saturation of music festivals in the United States, there has to be different and distinct ideas whether that’s in a location or, as Jonathan said, in a different genre. What attracted us to this was just how unique it is and the fact that it’s never been done before. I think we’ll continue to go after things that bring people together and where they can have a great time.
Learn more at clusterfest.com