The signs have been there. Urban marketers talk about "skate kids" rather than black kids. The Olympic snowboarders, America's sweetheart punks, plug into the gnarliest music ever aired at that august competition. And then a soundtrack for the "extreme" video game SSX Tricky shows up in the mail: Run-D.M.C. throwing down with the Space Raiders on a hip-hop/electronic compilation with rock-and-roll attitude and a strong drum-and-bass accent; tracks laid for little redheaded freaky kids to do vertical drops to. It don't matter what kind of music it is, dude, just as long as it's extreme. Or as it says on the SSX Tricky box, "Big hair and big air, baby!"
So it's not surprising that five years ago a couple of extreme teens, Todd Ross and Justin Moss (yeah, it rhymes), got a little delirious over a cigarette break at their not-so-extreme jobs. Dude, what if somebody put all the sickest acts in hip-hop, rock, and electronica in a festival with the most messed-up athletes on skateboards, BMX, motocross, and paintball? Like everything cool in one place. How awesome would that be?
"You get guys like this calling four or five times a week," sighs Brent Smith of the prestigious talent agency William Morris, whose clientele includes Beyond 2002 headliners Snoop Dogg and OutKast. "It was difficult to take these guys seriously at first." But rather than just sparking a bowl and hallucinating about what might have been, the baseball cap-wearing Broward residents determined to have their festival. Ross, pale and still thin as a rail now at 24, threw a few club parties, cobbled together a couple electronic festivals. Moss, a freckle-faced 23-year-old, made a name for himself in the little-known world of professional paintball. But they knew if they were going to really get this thing together they would need cash and lots of it. The two buddies set out in search of an investor who could pony up three-quarters of a million bucks.
"We can't say his name, but he is a dot-com millionaire. He's 33," reveals Moss of the mysterious Mr. Big, who they say they met through a friend doing some electrical work in the businessman's Broward manse. Since then Mr. Big has become a very active partner in Justin and Todd's excellent adventure. "Typically when we've gotten investors, they just come to the party," says Moss. "This guy is all up in our business." So enthusiastic is Mr. Big that his initial investment of $750,000 has grown and grown. Wary booking agents have demanded payment in full up-front. Okay. How about a laser show, with twice as many lights as Led Zeppelin used? Alrighty. And how about setting up a paintball field right there on the festival grounds? Sure. And why not send over to England for an Orbit stage, a handbuilt amphitheater made of a fabric that reflects light? Why not? Let's build a street team to pass out flashy flyers. Let's take out full-page ads months ahead. Let's hire New York-based publicists Shore Fire Media, who handled Lilith Fair and Dave Matthews Band tours. Let's have the show hyped on MTV. Let's do it! There was more than enough work for everyone: Moss's brother came onboard as marketing director; Moss's wife is in charge of the books; and Ross's girlfriend has a hand in the Beyond 2002 clothing line. Mr. Big signs the checks.
But not every booking agent was impressed at first. "It's easy to book the hip-hop and electronic acts," says Ross. "But with rock they look in to see where you were born, what you eat for breakfast. The industry purposely doesn't give big bands to people like us because they can't have a band associated with a show that doesn't do well or has a riot."
With so much hype, other sponsors hopped onboard. Literally. SoBe Beverage stepped up with its Team Lizard, signing up freestyle motocrosser Trevor Vines and BMX pros Jay Miron and Jim Burgess for action-sports demos at Bicentennial Park. Team Lizard skateboarder Andy MacDonald put an articulate spin on the fusion of extreme sports and sounds: "Music and action sports are a natural fit. Both are about lifestyle, culture, and self-expression."
"The big companies like Clear Channel and SFX are not [producing concerts] for the people anymore," says an impassioned Ross. "They're doing it for head count. They're doing it to get the people in there to sell stuff. We didn't cut any corners. We built the show first, then went out and got that amount of money. Balls to the wall." So far ticket sales have been slow -- although last-minute ticket buying is not unusual in South Florida, especially for a festival with no track record. But what if they build the most extreme, illest festival of all time and nobody comes? "If we only sell 10,000 tickets," shrugs Moss, "this will be the best birthday party anybody ever had."
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