Whose idea was the name? Everybody points at Chris Fritz. The 64-year-old grins sheepishly and looks down into his lap, avoiding eye contact with his fellow organizers, who have assembled in a conference room at the Kansas Speedway offices in Kansas City, Kansas.
"I wanted it to be an original word that would pop up at the top of Google searches. It was kind of a, you know, wine-and-legal-pad type of idea," Fritz says, adding with an affable indignation, "and I still think in a couple years, it'll sink in, and people will say, 'Hey, what a cool name.'"
For now, it's hard to imagine anyone, anywhere, ever pronouncing the word Kanrocksas without wincing a little, much less commenting on what a great fake word it is. But then, Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo don't represent the height of modern American language, either. A silly name is easy to forgive when it represents a successful endeavor. Which leads us to the big question: Is Kanrocksas — the two-day (August 5-6) music and camping festival at the Kansas Speedway, announced out of nowhere in April and featuring major national touring acts such as Eminem, Muse, Kid Cudi and the Black Keys — a winner?
Its founders already are. Fritz has been in the concert business for about 45 years. In 1974, he organized his first festival, the Ozark Music Festival, in Sedalia, featuring Aerosmith, Bob Seger and the Eagles. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 250,000 people descended upon the Missouri State Fairgrounds that weekend. By most estimates, it's considered one of the largest U.S. music festivals of all time. In the 1980s and 1990s, Fritz helmed a number of different companies that promoted and organized live music in the Kansas City area, in addition to cofounding what is now known as the National Lacrosse League. His current company, New West Presentations, manages and operates Capitol Federal Park at Sandstone.
Fritz met Bill Brandmeyer through sponsorship deals at Sandstone. In 2008, Brandmeyer's parents, Joe and Jeanne, sold their medical-products company, Enduria, to Cardinal Health Inc. for a reported $490 million. Bill Brandmeyer had served as the director of new business development at the company and, along with his seven siblings, received a percentage of the sale proceeds. He then formed a restaurant company, B. Branded LLC, which owns Los Cabos and Wild Bill's Steakhouse and Saloon at the Legends. Fritz was aware that Brandmeyer's family also operates Brandmeyer Enterprises, a venture-capital firm, and toward the end of last summer, he suggested that the two meet to discuss an idea he'd been thinking about.
"I've wanted to throw a festival out here since the Speedway was completed [in 2001]," Fritz says. "But when they opened, they were too busy with the racing operations, and they told me they wanted to table the idea for a while. Then in 2003, I brought the idea to them again, but nobody was ready for the idea of a two-day festival yet. Bonnaroo was only in its second year. Lollapalooza had come and gone but hadn't returned in its current form. Coachella was still finding its footing. The festival business just hadn't arrived yet. In 2008, we were talking about it more seriously again, and then the entire world collapsed."
In 2010, Fritz again started talking about his idea with Josh Hunt of Mammoth Inc., which books all events at Sandstone. Together, they felt that they had the expertise to create and organize a large-scale music festival. They approached the Speedway and got a warmer reception. But how to bankroll the operation? In Brandmeyer, Fritz saw an ideal candidate: a music enthusiast with access to significant capital.