Danny Wimmer Presents is, all things considered, relatively new to the game of music promotion and putting on music festivals. But it has wasted no time quickly establishing themselves as one of the premiere national promoting companies in the United States. Since being founded in 2011 by Danny Wimmer, DWP has focused primarily on the rock scene and has produced events such as Aftershock, Louder Than Life, Welcome to Rockville, Rock on the Range, Carolina Rebellion, and more.
The company made some changes to their festival portfolio in 2019, re-branding Columbus, Ohio’s Rock on the Range as Sonic Temple Arts & Music Festival, and axing Carolina Rebellion and instead moving Epicenter (formerly in Southern California) to it’s site.
Unfortunately, like the rest of the music industry and many industries as a whole, Danny Wimmer Presents was hit hard in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic. Every festival got canceled, and the production company’s staff shrunk sizably as a result — more on that later. As the music industry started to return to semi-normalcy in 2021, Danny Wimmer Presents slowly but surely started to bring back some of their events.
Throughout 2021 and 2022, however, one event that didn’t make it back was Sonic Temple. Rock fans in Columbus were left traveling for rock festivals scaled like Sonic Temple, although they were able to head a little north outside of the city to Inkcarceration. Finally, in 2023, after much anticipation, Danny Wimmer Presents finally brought back Sonic Temple to Columbus — and brought with it a loaded lineup.
Being based in Columbus, Substream has been much looking forward to the return of Sonic Temple since covering it’s inaugural year in 2019. We were able to chat with Holly Doscher, who currently serves as the Marketing Director for Danny Wimmer Presents and discuss the return of Sonic Temple, why it took until 2023 to return, and what the future may look like for the festival.
Substream: First, tell me a bit about you. How long have you been marketing director and in this industry?
Doscher: I have been in the music and events entertainment industry for eight years, and with Danny Wimmer Presents for four years and I’ve been the marketing director for about a year and a half.
I marketed the first inaugural Sonic Temple, it was my first show that I marketed. I think I started one week before we announced it.
So I know you started a week before you announced it, was a great year and even sold out. First event since re-branding from Rock on the Range. When you look back at that time, what is the thing you remember most? How did you feel going into it and how did you feel after the whole thing wrapped up?
Going into it because it was a new brand for our portfolio as well, there’s always a challenge with a new brand — finding your fans and growing your audience. But we proved that that fanbase loves that venue, it’s a historic venue for rock and roll, and it’s the pinnacle of rock festival in America because of the location.
Really marketing that that this was going to be your new home of rock, and long live rock in Columbus, Ohio. Being at the festival, it was my first stadium festival and I’ll never forget standing in the field being surrounded by 30,000+ people all loving the artist that they were watching so much. I still get chills talking about it and thinking about it, I can’t wait to be back.
One of my most memorable moment’s was Papa Roach’s Prodigy cover, it was an incredibly magical moment and tribute that he did. As well as having Foo Fighters close out that Sunday after inclement weather.
Funny story about that, we had Refused and Distillers go play at Ace of Cups because their shows had been canceled due to weather. I remember a couple of my colleagues and I, right before Foo Fighters ended, headed over there to make sure that was going off well. Dave Grohl and a couple of his bandmates ruled in right after their set ended. It’s great to have them back.
This is the first year Sonic Temple is back since 2019. I know DWP had other festivals come back a little sooner, but with Sonic Temple why was this one not coming back until 2023?
As a company, we are the third largest independent festival promoter and we took a big loss coming out of COVID as a small company. We’re not a Live Nation, AEG, or Golden Voice — we don’t have tours or venues, other things to back this up. We just got back up to 40 staff [members], coming out of COVID we had 12 people.
So, as a company and business, we needed to take the events that were around the longest. Essentially, Epicenter and Sonic Temple were first year festivals in 2019, so they couldn’t be the first to come back, we had to go with the ones that had the longest tenure for us.
The risk coming out of COVID and bringing back an event in a new landscape where people might not feel as safe to travel or come out again. We found the opposite when we brought back Welcome to Rockville, Louder Than Life, Aftershock, and Inkcarceration we partnered with for the first time in 2021. The excitement for that year for fans who we have been couped up for almost 2 years was un-imaginable.
Then last year we brought back one festival in Bourbon & Beyond, which also had a little bit more under it’s belt than Sonic Temple. So we’re slowly but surely rebuilding. This year we had seven Danny Wimmer Presents festivals, and before COVID we had eight. So we’re almost back to normal.
So it feels like you’re getting real close.
Yeah, and it’s not that we don’t love Columbus! Our entire staff — it tugged at our heart strings because that’s where it all began for our company, and like I said it is the pinnacle of rock festivals. But it was more about making sure that the wants and the marketplace was there.
I figured there was some logistical reason that you couldn’t come back before. Obviously, too, you couldn’t just rip the band-aid off and say here’s all eight festivals and just hope for the best. But with it being here now, when did you start planning or when do you really start planning for these festivals?
We’re booking headliners for next year already, so about a year in advance.
That’s crazy, right? Obviously you’re competing with other festivals, summer tours, all kinds of fun scheduling conflicts that come up.
Yeah, it’s a year in advance for the artists at least because they need to confirm their routing as well.
With the festival, there is a radius where they can’t tour within all of the submarkets within the radius of where our festival attendees are coming from. Because then the draw isn’t there, because they could go to a one-off in their hometown versus seeing their favorite headliner plus seventy more over one weekend. So that is one of the reasons we book so far in advance, so we can get them confirmed and scheduled.
Now I will say while we book a year in advance for our headliners, we are booking over seventy artists for our festivals, for some even a hundred. One common question from our fans is “Why don’t you just drop the lineup now? We know you have the artists confirmed.” We have changes up until 24 hours before we announce it, someone might get booked somewhere else, someone might decide “We’re not going to have new music this year, we’ve done this festival before, we don’t want to do it again without new music.”
So, a lot of different variables go into announcing a lineup. With Sonic Temple specifically, we have Avenged [Sevenfold] announcing on all of our festivals, waiting for when they are comfortable because they’re returning for the first time after five years and finding the right time we can announce them.
Similarly with Foo Fighters as well, we announced Sonic Temple alongside two other festivals that they are performing at on the same day. Kind of making sure they go at the same time on the same day so no one’s getting a leg up on another promoter.
How stressful is that?
It can be stressful, but you know, we adapt to it. It’s what we do for a living.
What makes you guys, DWP, consider a festival a success? Obviously these always sell pretty well, I know that’a part of it obviously, but what are the other tools that you use to measure a festival’s success?
Yes, we’re a business so our revenue and profits matter to us. As a company, our tagline is “Your experience comes first.” We truly evoke that as a company, it’s not just how we interact with our fans it’s how we interact with each other, how we interact with our partners, how I interact with you, all of my media partners as well.
When we are out there making sure our fans are having the best time, we know that this is some of our fans vacation for the year. Instead of going to Hawaii or the Bahamas, they’re coming and spending their money with us because they love music and uniting together for our passion of these artists. Our entire company is very passionate about the artists we book, but we also strive to see smiles on fan’s faces.
If we see someone looking lost or confused, we stop and ask how we can help when we do rounds. We’re picking up trash ourselves — we have a cleaning volunteer trash program, but you’ll see Danny Wimmer picking up trash, as well as Cathy Wimmer, myself, and lots of others from our team. At Inkcarceration we had rain last year, which looked like the funnest time ever, but our time was all out there shoveling mulch. It didn’t matter who you were, trying to make the experience better for everyone and that is how we measure the success. By the positive reaction we see on socials, by our inboxes, and year after year when we announce the next festival and do early-bird blind sales, how many people are buying because they had such a good time they don’t care who’s playing.
Is there anyone that you booked this year that you’re really excited about or happy that you guys were able to book?
On the booking side, I’m not sure anyone surprised me since I’m not involved in that. But, who I’m most excited for because I’m a fan of as well is Foo Fighters. Losing Taylor [Hawkins] was a tragedy to our entire community, so to have not only them playing in 2019 and close out the inaugural year but to have them close out 2023 after the tragic year they’ve had, is full circle. It’s amazing to have them on, but that’s my personal opinion.
I’m actually looking at the lineup now, Converge — I remember talking with our talent buyer saying they’re someone I’d love to see. Dayseeker, I actually know one of the artists in the band, he grew up locally in San Diego like me. So it’s great to see someone I know on our lineup. I love I Prevail, they always put on a hard, fun show. So those are just a few that I like, but I love literally all of our artists.
I’d say one that I’m really excited for is Kiss. You mentioned Foo Fighters, I saw them in 2019 at Sonic Temple, two years ago at Lollapalooza, they put on a great show and a lot of this lineup I feel the same type of excitement toward. But I’ve never seen Kiss, and I don’t think they’ve ever played this festival in Columbus even when it was Rock on the Range.
I saw them three times last year, they put on an incredible festival set. The production was different and it felt different show, because we had them at Aftershock, Louder Than Life, and Welcome to Rockville last year. It’s their last festival play in the United States, so I think we are getting a pretty incredible moment.
When you’re overall comparing Sonic Temple in 2023 to what it was in 2019, music, arts, all of that setup, is it pretty similar to that inaugural year?
Well, so one factor as to why we didn’t return, besides just being the portfolio and the buildup — as you know since you’re local — the stadium has been revamped. Because of the construction, that’s another major reason why we didn’t come back and I apologize for not mentioning that earlier, but that is a big part of it.
For the layout that stadium is the stadium, so that’s the exact same, but we are changing the areas of where — because we have to since it’s been restructured — our second and third stages will be. Our festival map will show that a little bit more clearly, and you’ll see that some areas are just different. We don’t have a comedy tent this year, so that is one difference too. But we will have a lot of art elements, we’re bringing some of the same people from 2019 that helped curate — not necessarily the artists coming on site, but the people that helped curate the artists. As far as secondary entertainment, we partnered with Brew Dog again to have a custom beer, so there’s a beer hell and a lot of other elements there.
Where does Sonic Temple go from here? I know it’s the first year back so maybe I’m getting ahead of everyone here.
We’ve added a fourth day this year that we’ve never had before. It’s Memorial Day weekend, the biggest party. As far as what we do as a company, every year we elevate more and more for on-site experience, like I said, our fans experience comes first. The lineup matters, but the time you have matters so we are constantly trying to improve that and bringing new additions to our site. I can’t predict specifics on what we do to improve, but I know that as a company, we do strive to get better each and every year.