Few promoters in the music industry can claim the professional career that Del Williams has seen, working with artists ranging from Kanye to Metallica over the span of the last quarter-decade. In 2002, Williams formed what would become one of the most successful promotion companies in the nation, and music festivals have never been the same. Right Arm Entertainment has proven itself a force in the industry, thanks in large part to Columbus, OH’s annual modern rock mega festival, Rock on the Range.
“We’re involved with over a hundred shows a year,” Williams explained in a phone interview shortly before the festival’s fifth installment at the home of Columbus’ professional soccer team, the gigantic Crew Stadium, “but we don’t always run everything. Sometimes we’re just hired to book the talent or produce the shows. We do everything from club shows to huge, 50,000 person stadium events.”
Though Rock on the Range is but one show of many the promoter handles each year, it is certainly the one that means the most to him, both professionally and personally.
“When we do Rock on the Range, it’s really a labor of love,” Williams professed to me regarding the importance of the annual festival. “The first year when it sold out so quickly, that was just such a great feeling. When you see something succeed like that, it was a hell of a rush.
“This is only our fifth year,” he continued, “but it seems much older because it’s such a year-round endeavor. It’s a yearly siege to put it together. Right Arm Entertainment and [the festival’s main partner] AEG Live work together very closely, and we’re working on it every day, tweaking things. It’s really a collective effort.”
Though planning begins months in advance, Williams and his team continue working and making changes right up until the festival begins. The man-in-charge then gets to kick back and just enjoy the music, though he’s never really off the clock.
“I get in on Wednesday, we’ll survey the site, do any tweaking that needs to be done. We rarely have to make any changes, we’ve got a great team putting everything together, we’ve really got it down now. On Thursday I do a lot of radio and press interviews, then I just ride out the festival.”
While the festival has certainly made itself a comfortable home in central Ohio, not to mention bringing much-needed publicity and economic benefits to the city of Columbus, Williams admits that the location was not much of a musical powerhouse in years past. However, Right Arm Entertainment’s decision to bring house the festival at Crew Stadium has clearly paid off as this year’s record attendance proved.
“Traditionally Columbus is not known for great ticket sales. In fact, we found out that less than 25% of the ticket sales from Rock on the Range came from Columbus, but we knew that it was a town of real rock fans. But it’s very central to a lot of big markets, you could make the drive from a lot of other bigger cities. Of course there were logistical reasons, we were looking for somewhere with a stadium, with an actual structure to hold it in and not just an open field. Really it was about finding somewhere to build the festival and a lot of it came down to the centrality.”
Despite the Rock on the Range’s enormous annual success in Ohio, Williams is not eager to try his hand at a traveling version of the fest, a la Perry Farrell’s Lollapalooza, Bamboozle, or any number of other genre-specified copycats.
“We’ve thought about it, we’ve had offers to do a tour, take it on the road,” Williams explained, “but we want to be careful about what we do with it. We don’t want to dilute or take away from what the festival is all about. We really want people to think of it as the Super Bowl of rock festivals. We want people to be able to count on it, know that we’re not going to let them down.”
Giving fans a memorable experience every year is one thing Williams and Right Arm Entertainment have pulled off time and time again with Rock on the Range. However, the bands themselves benefit tremendously from the popularity of festival, and the mid-west’s hardest rocking weekend has made a lasting mark on some of the world’s biggest acts.
“We were very instrumental in getting Stone Temple Pilots back together, Rock on the Range was a big catalyst for that. It might not have happened but the festival helped bring them back. Rock on the Range in 2009 was the biggest crowd ever to see Slipknot, they were really excited about that. And Avenged Sevenfold are back this year [Rock on the Range 2009 was the last US show the band played before the death of drummer Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan], and I’ve never seen a more competitive band than them.”
Avenged Sevenfold, along with fellow headliners A Perfect Circle, did put on an incredible performance, but Williams made it clear that regardless of the size of the crowd or their respective slot at the festival, every band is striving to make a bigger name for themselves.
“Some bands are pulling out stage gear and things that they don’t usually use, just pulling out all the stops for this show. Every band wants to be really great at this festival, everybody is competing to be the best band out there, and the bigger names especially because they don’t want to be shown up by the up and comers. They’ve got to show why they’re on the big stage.”
And when you’ve got 70,000 rabid rock and roll revelers lusting for entertainment, there’s no such thing as a small stage.