I flew around that block myself for about seven years and I’ve seen them come and go – mostly go – that is, once they’ve been chewed up and spit back out by the more established power players. And I’ve seen some of them succeed, if almost by accident at times.
What I haven’t seen – until quite recently – is one of them rise from virtually nowhere, in their 40s and take on a multimillion dollar major music festival right out of the chute.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Kanrocksas promoter Bill Brandmeyer.“I’m roughly 47 years-old,” Brandmeyer says dryly. “I was born in 1965, the Summer of Love.”
Brandmeyer grew up on the corner 89th and Lee in Old Leawood alongside seven brothers and sisters, never having had even his own bedroom.
He graduated from Shawnee Mission East in 1984 before attending the University of Colorado and graduating from “the school of hard knocks,” he says. “I lived in Colorado for seven years and painted houses and then came back and worked for my family’s business in 1995. And then I got sober.
“We had a healthcare products company. We manufactured and sold antiseptic solutions for hospitals. My dad had worked for Marion Labs and then he bought a small company called Medi-Flex. And we built the business over 23 years as a family and we brought to market a product called ChloraPrep that revolutionized hospital skin preparation. Then we sold the company in 2008.”
At which point, the Swiss family Brandmeyer was in the chips.
“At that point we basically formulated a business as a family and continued to use our experience and success to take it to other business opportunities,” he says. “There’s an incredibly strong entrepreneurial spirit that runs through my family that comes from my dad. And we have invested in several different business opportunities. I’ve partnered with KC Hopps to open restaurants and I’m involved with Union Broadcasting (WHB) and lots of real estate partnerships.”
Now forget all of that for the purposes of understanding what makes Brandmeyer tick as the promoter of the oddly-named music festival Kanrocksas.
“I’m a music guy,” Brandmeyer says. “My life has been heavily influenced by the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Telluride, Colorado. I’ve been to 13 of them and I asked my wife to marry me at one of them. So I’ve always had that passion for music.”
Just how hooked on music is Brandmeyer? Very.
“You and I could listen to music together and I could probably sing the lyrics to every song that was popular in the 70s, 80s, and 90s – and with my kids, even now,” he says.
“Living in Denver, my favorite venue in the United States is Red Rocks. I’ve seen practically everything. I saw the Moody Blues with a 100 piece orchestra there on one of the most magical nights of my life. I’ve seen the Rolling Stones, U2 and some of the biggest productions Kansas City has ever had.
“And when I was a kid I loved Journey and Motley Crue. You know, anybody that had good music I loved. I love talented musicians that can create lifetime memories.”
With kids ages 4, 7 and 12, Brandmeyer plans on keeping up with new music and keeping Kanrocksas vital for years to come.
How Brandmeyer got bit with the music fest bug in the first place?
“Well, I’m always looking for opportunities to create and use my talent to produce and make things,” he says. “And when the idea of a music festival was presented to me, I loved it. I always thought Kansas City deserved to have a world class music festival, and I thought, ‘Why not me?'”
“Chris said, ‘What do you think about it?’ and I loved it,” Brandmeyer says. “And so we went about making it happen. But he’s the one who gave me the idea and at the time I thought, ‘Who better to partner with than the legendary Chris Fritz who I grew up going to his shows.'”
Which brings us to the reason why Fritz, after Kanrocksas lost some serious coin at its inaugural outing, is no longer on the team.
“I had to make a critical evaluation of the entire team,” Brandmeyer says. “And I had to decide how I was going to move this thing forward.”
“I was devastated,” he says. “I mean, the sheer reality of what we faced coming out of the first festival was very sobering and shocking and it took me a while to get over.
“Then we started doing an evaluation of the situation. I went about putting together an 18 month plan that I could execute that would take us to where we are today. And that’s 60 days away from the biggest party of the summer.”
Brandmeyer learned the hard way at the first Kanrocksas how to limit his exposure by not throwing mad money at acts like Eminem.
“We’ve right sized the festival this year and spent smart money on bands that early on we forecast would be hot and that people would like to see live,” Brandmeyer says. “And our breakeven’s in a place that we’re all very comfortable that we’ll live to produce another festival next year.
“And in the festival business, it’s all about building something people will want to come to the next year. And that’s what we’re trying to do.”