For the inaugural year of a music and comedy festival, it’s difficult to guess what the audience might be in for. KAABOO Texas, which took place May 11-13 in Arlington, Texas at AT&T Stadium, is the third festival in the KAABOO brand, which aims to “appeal to the five senses” between music, art, culinary demonstrations, comedy, and health and spa treatments. It joins KAABOO Del Mar and KAABOO Cayman, but because of its location, smack dab in the middle of Texan suburbia, it didn’t quite seem to have the inherent luxurious undertones of its more breezy counterparts.
I arrived at KAABOO Texas unsure of what to expect, as I had just shared a car ride with a couple who asked me if this event was going to be the next Fyre Festival. That’s not exactly the vibe a new music festival wants, but for what it’s worth, in 2019 it’s a fair question to ask. If Fyre Festival can happen once, it can happen again.
Luckily for the KAABOO organizers, this was not the next Fyre Festival. From what I could see, there was no Billy McFarland-type at the helm, and there were no sad cheese sandwiches on Twitter. KAABOO Texas was, conversely, hyper-organized and better staffed than any festival I’ve ever been to. Because it took place where the Dallas Cowboys play, it seemed to utilize the same staff as the NFL games who were treating it as any regular game day at AT&T Stadium. There were ample clean bathrooms and copious amounts of pricy food and drink at every corner, and at times, more staff in sight than festival attendees. Except for The Killers’ set and, unsurprisingly for Texas, Kid Rock’s, there was never a time where the surroundings felt crowded. In fact, things often felt very, very empty.
The weather was not on KAABOO’s side, with temperatures ranging wildly throughout the weekend and storms affecting the daily lineups. Comedian Brad Garrett couldn’t make it to the festival, so after a few changes, Orny Adams took his set and split his own set the following day with Bob Saget. Saget was a big, welcome surprise for the audience, but it wasn’t communicated well that there were changes.
The lineup at KAABOO Texas was far from cutting edge, but the crowd it accumulated didn’t seem to mind. This was not a festival like Desert Daze or Austin City Limits where the schedule draws audible gasps and diehard fans, but rather a festival where attendees are meant to relax and enjoy the entire experience, staying right in line with KAABOO’s “five senses” ideology. There were, of course, a few superfans, but overall, the performances here were not the priority. That felt like a shame, considering the amount of legacy artists on the bill. It’s not everyday you get to see The Animals’ Eric Burdon or American rock ‘n’ roll queen Joan Jett in the flesh, but to be completely honest, it didn’t seem like the bulk of the crowd at KAABOO cared.
If you paid more for your entry, you gained access to exclusive zones like an “Las Vegas-style pool club,” complete with its own DJ stage. If you paid even more, you got to be a “Rockstar” for the weekend, giving you even more perks like free food and drinks. All VIPs had access to special stage areas, which seemed like a great idea until bands were playing. It was actually incredibly sad to watch a legendary band like X play to a crowd where an entire half of the stage front was virtually empty because of the partitioned zones. If you’ve ever wanted to witness classism in action, this festival served up heaps.
KAABOO Texas has a lot of potential, but there wasn’t much excitement around it on the grounds. I talked to three couples during my time in Arlington and of the three, two of them won their tickets via contests, and the other got comped tickets through work. I was not purposely looking for people there for free, but unless I have excellent odds, it seems like there might have been trouble with ticket sales. Central Track reported that there were “only around 10,000 attending.” That’s dismal.
This festival has potential for its future, but they have a lot of growing to do if they choose to continue. From what I saw, it is unclear if there will be a second KAABOO Texas.