Rolling Stone buys a music festival in Las Vegas

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(Bloomberg) — Rolling Stone has spent five decades writing about music festivals. Now he buys one.

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The music publication, owned by Penske Media Corp., announced on Friday that it has acquired a majority stake in Life is Beautiful, an annual music festival that takes place in Las Vegas. The estate of former Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, who founded the festival, will retain part of the business. Rolling Stone did not disclose the terms.

Gus Wenner, the publication’s CEO, is building an event business to complement the music store’s editorial and dreamed of creating a Rolling Stone music festival. Wenner reached out to Hsieh in June 2020 about Life is Beautiful, and the two made part of the deal before Hsieh died later that year.

The festival will retain the name Life is Beautiful, but Rolling Stone will find ways to fit into the lineup. Magazine journalists may appear on stage during the event, and one of the stages may be renamed after publication. David Oehm, CEO of Life is Beautiful, will continue to host the event with his team.

“Live events and experience are so much a part of the future of publishing,” Wenner said in an interview. He took over day-to-day supervision of the magazine which his father founded and later sold to Penske Media. He’s trying to grow his business in a way that will make Rolling Stone as relevant to music fans today as it has been in the past.

The live events sector has suffered during the pandemic and many music festivals face an uncertain future. This created an opportunity for Wenner to go shopping. He was drawn to Life is Beautiful for its location in the heart of downtown Las Vegas, as well as its commitment to offering more than music. “It’s not the same traveling tour that a lot of festivals can feel,” he said.

Hsieh founded Life is Beautiful in 2013 as part of her campaign to revitalize downtown Las Vegas. He moved Zappos headquarters to Vegas and spent hundreds of millions to fund his downtown project.

Rock bands The Killers and Kings of Leon headlined the inaugural event in 2013. Life is Beautiful has since expanded to three days and now includes comedy, artwork and speakers like Bill Nye . The most recent edition, held in September last year, grossed $18.3 million in ticket sales, the second-biggest music festival in the world last year, according to Pollstar.

Rolling Stone plans to expand the festival internationally and will also help produce event-related audiovisual material during the year. “The Rolling Stone team will help deepen our connection with music fans around the world,” Oehm said in a statement.

Hosting events could complicate Rolling Stone’s coverage of concert activity. The magazine writes about scandals and trends at many of the biggest festivals.

But Wenner was adamant that running the festival would not impact the outlet’s editorial. This is one of the reasons he wanted to invest in an independent festival, as opposed to those owned by Live Nation Entertainment and Anschutz Entertainment Group.

“We’re not partnered here with Live Nation or AEG; It was a very important and attractive part of this deal,” Wenner said. “We have 60 million readers across our various touchpoints. We create journalism. Adding a festival is a truly unique and inspired combination.

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