Is KAABOO San Diego on an extended hiatus after its debut edition at Petco Park last year was postponed because of the coronavirus-fueled shutdown of live events?
Or is it curtains for the upscale music festival, which was held as KAABOO Del Mar at the Del Mar Fairgrounds from 2015 to 2019 before announcing a multiyear agreement with the San Diego Padres to hold the three-day event at the downtown ballpark?
“We have not been contacted by KAABOO to reschedule their festival in 2021,” a Padres representative told the Union-Tribune in May.
Asked for an update on Wednesday, the Padres representative said: “We’re unable to provide a status update as we still have yet to be contacted by KAABOO.”
KAABOO honcho Jason Felts has not responded to multiple messages sent by the Union-Tribune since May and as recently as this week. Neither has Steve Levy, who was brought on last year as the chief marketing officer for Virgin Fest, which Felts founded in 2018. Virgin Fest acquired KAABOO in 2019.
Virgin’s press and media departments have not responded to multiple requests for comment from the Union-Tribune. In addition, there has been no response to an email sent this week to email@example.com.
The 2020 edition of the festival was scheduled to take place at Petco Park Sept. 18-20. The deadline for ticket refund requests was Aug. 14 last year.
Felts’ profile on LinkedIn, a business and employment-related website, indicates that his tenure as CEO of Virgin Fest concluded in 2020. It also states that he “currently serves on the Board of Directors of both Virgin and KAABOO.” Each is a privately held company.
It is unclear who else serves on the board of KAABOO, whose September 2019 acquisition by Virgin Fest for $10 million was engineered by Felts. Had he not stepped in, the festival’s 2019 edition in Del Mar would not have taken place due to a lack of funds to pay the festival’s artists, staff and vendors.
On May 27 — 10 days after the Union-Tribune first reached out to Felts, Levy and Virgin for an update on the festival — KAABOO reactivated its website, which had been dormant since last year. It did so to post a 57-word statement.
The statement also appeared on KAABOO’s Facebook and Twitter pages. It was the first update on either page since last July’s announcement that the 2020 edition of the festival at Petco Park would not take place.
“We are pleased to announce that as our world is beginning to return to regular programming, we have been hard at work tuning our strings for the highly anticipated return of KAABOO,” the May 27 statement read. “Stay tuned for exciting news and announcements coming soon via social and email. We appreciate your patience and continued support of the brand. More soon …”
Nearly a month has passed since then with no further update. KAABOO’s online statement did little to assuage the concerns of two San Diegans, Matthew Keough and Anders Wright.
In September 2019, each of them paid $467.98 for a pair of “early bird” three-day passes for the 2020 edition of KAABOO at Petco Park. Last summer, Wright and Keough each accepted the option to roll their 2020 passes over to this year. They were enticed by the festival’s offer to give each of them two additional free passes, in return for not seeking refunds.
“It wasn’t just the free tickets,” stressed Wright, a corporate script writer and former Union-Tribune freelance movie critic.
“My wife and I also had an emotional sense of supporting KAABOO by not taking the refund. So, it’s frustrating that we haven’t heard anything from them. And it’s a little distressing that all their social media has been basically shut down. I reached out and they haven’t replied. … It definitely feels like we’ve let KAABOO hang on to our money in good faith — and that good faith has not been repaid.”
Keough, a bartender at Hillcrest Brewing Company, is similarly frustrated.
“KAABOO’s pinned Facebook post last month about the festival ‘coming back’ was very cryptic. And they turned off the ‘Comments,’ so you couldn’t get in touch with them,” Keough said.
“Their Facebook statement didn’t say if the festival is coming back in 2021, or 2022, or if it’s moving out of San Diego. The only reason my husband and I bought the tickets is because it was being held in San Diego at Petco Park.
“It (seems) like this is a shady business practice and they haven’t been communicating at all. I’m sure they have hundreds of thousands of dollars of people’s (unrefunded ticket) money, and not one word from KAABOO.”
Keough subsequently contacted See Tickets, the company KAABOO uses, about a refund.
“They told me I’d have to get in touch with KAABOO, which has said nothing,” Keough said. “It’s pretty awful.”
See Tickets has not responded to an email request for comment from the Union-Tribune.
On Wednesday, a phone sales representative for the Los Angeles-based company said KAABOO was “currently a non-refundable event.” Another See Tickets phone sales representative said: “I’m only reading the same information on Facebook that you have.”
To further complicate matters, the 2020 debut of Virgin Fest in Los Angeles last June was postponed a year because of the coronavirus shutdown.
A 2021 date for the two-day outdoor festival has yet to be announced. The Virgin Fest website and social media pages have not been updated since a May 2020 announcement that the event had been pushed back to this year.
KAABOO’s current and former producers have also faced legal challenges.
In November 2019, after KAABOO was acquired by Virgin Fest, KAABOO co-founders Bryan E. Gordon and Seth Wolkov sued Felts for an undisclosed amount. Gordon and Wolkov alleged Felts had pursued “a Trojan Horse strategy” to “infiltrate KAABOO” and “take possession of its most valuable assets,” according to the complaint.
Felts strongly disputed those claims and Virgin countersued, alleging that Gordon had misrepresented KAABOO’s financial viability. Gordon was also sued by his former wife, Molly Kingston, who in 2019 alleged Gordon had misappropriated millions from the couple’s holding company to help fund KAABOO. The cases do not appear to have been resolved yet.
KAABOO expanded from Del Mar in 2019 with the debuts of KAABOO Texas, which was held outside Dallas in (and adjacent to) AT&T Stadium, and KAABOO Cayman, for which the most expensive VIP pass was priced at $500,000.
The Texas festival, which was produced in a partnership with Dallas Cowboys football team owner Jerry Jones, lost millions. No second editions of KAABOO Texas or KAABOO Cayman have been planned.