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Southern Comfort | The Musical Drink

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St. Louis was actually the prototype of what we want to take all over the country.

Recently, PLAYBACK:stl helped publicize the Voodoo Music Festival that took place over a long weekend in New Orleans and Memphis. One of the sponsors of that event was Southern Comfort, organizing a plethora of free concerts including Soul Asylum and Cowboy Mouth. This made those of us at PLAYBACK:stl think: Why do liquor companies get involved with music festivals? Every company seems to host some kind of music event: Budweiser has True Music, Coors seems to be working with jazz festivals—hell, even Molson is putting on “snow jams.”

Being the inquisitive types here at PLAYBACK:stl, we want to get to the bottom of why these companies sponsor such events. Is it for image purposes or branding rights, or do they jut love the music? Luckily, we got the chance to sit down with Jeff Stum, the man responsible for getting Southern Comfort involved with the Voodoo Music Festival.

Hi, Jeff. Let’s get right into things and talk about the recent event Southern Comfort had in St. Louis.

In coordination with Taste of St. Louis, we did the Southern Comfort Music Experience. It was a free event—while Taste of St. Louis was going off, what Southern Comfort did was brand a free music event over three days. We had a VIP party over at the Orpheum, and had a New Orleans day of music on Saturday and had a kind of a headliner kind of day Sunday.

Who was the headliner?

On day one, the headliner was the Neville Brothers, and we also had Ozomatli. World Leader Pretend did a great set for us as well. And then on Sunday, Live was the ultimate headliner. We also had the Roots and a couple of other folks.

How was the turnout?

I would say at any given time, especially for the Neville Brothers, the Roots, and Live we probably had about 8,000 people. Which was exactly what we hoped to accomplish with the initiative.

You had a really impressive lineup with the Voodoo Music Festival.

Yeah, that was fun. That was a lineup that really didn’t come together until the very end.

You actually got together a better lineup [NIN, New York Dolls] than I have seen at other festivals. You seemed to have a little bit of something for everybody.

It really was, and the reason that lineup was so tricky was that all of these artists committed to play for free. Some of them did two shows in two days for free because the New Orleans portion came off as well.

They played for free? There were no divas?

Well, these were the diva-less folks who showed up.

Trent Reznor is the man right now.

He really is and he was the one who led the charge.

Didn’t Southern Comfort also do a really interesting set of free concerts in Memphis?

Actually, the Voodoo Fest broke off into two days—there was the New Orleans day and then Sunday of that weekend was Memphis day. Southern Comfort went into Memphis, because the folks in Memphis were a little perturbed that were promised a three-day festival and only got a one-day festival. So what we did—on a very minute budget—was put on free shows on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to give that festival atmosphere leading up to it—it was Southern Comfort presents Voodoo on Beale.

Didn’t you guys get Soul Asylum to play?

Yeah, we had Soul Asylum. Did you know who was playing bass with them? Tommy Stinson. Also on drums was that guy who played with Prince and the NPG, Michael Bland. So you had [Dave] Pirner and Dan [Murphy]—those were the two original Soul Asylum lineup members, and then Tommy Stinson on bass and Michael Bland on drums—and it rocked.

How many years has the Voodoo Fest been going on?

The Voodoo Fest has been going on for seven years and this marks the third year that Southern Comfort has been involved.

What is the Southern Comfort Music Initiative all about?

St. Louis was actually the prototype of what we want to take all over the country. Next year we are actually looking to go to four markets with what we learned during Taste of St. Louis.

What four markets are you looking at?

Philadelphia, San Diego, Atlanta, and then we are coming back to St. Louis.

I thought it was very interesting that Southern Comfort chose groups who were not especially appealing to the under-21 crowd. It is really easy to get the hot bands to attract the younger crowd to boost ticket sales, but then again, that really isn’t your target audience, is it?

Not at all; we took great pains and literally three months to book this thing correctly. I’ve got nothing to gain from trying to encourage people under 21 to drink Southern Comfort. Just the thought that somebody out there would think that we are trying to is bad enough. There is no reason for any spirit company—or beer company, for that matter—has anything to gain for doing anything like that.

What other events does Southern Comfort brand?

We did like 60 events this summer. We have drink delivery systems that travel across the country and pour frozen drinks. So we go into sponsored events like Memphis in May, the Chicago Blues Fest, and we sponsor the backdoor VIP event at Coachella. The intriguing thing about [Coachella] is that it is a beer-only event and what we have done by going to so many events of the summer is break down some barriers that were traditionally beer-only events. That allows us to get our branding out and connect to music and there again, we choose events carefully.

What does Southern Comfort get out of doing these events?

What we like to do is put Southern Comfort in a light where people would think of it differently or experience a nice event while enjoying Southern Comfort. We just want to be a part of people’s good times. It started out as fun and a new way for people to think about Southern Comfort, but it’s evolved into something much more focused, much more interesting and I am fortunate enough to be the one leading the charge because I am a fanatical music fan.

If you could take five CDs to a desert island, what would they be?

Oh my God, I have asked that question a million times myself. I’d have to say Cowboy Mouth, like a greatest hits mix because we sponsor those guys and I have become personal friends with them. Their new album is going to be so good, so I would take their new album. After that, I would have to take something of a bluegrass nature because I am a Kentucky boy, probably Steve Earle and Del McCrory that album they did a couple of years ago. Then I’d have to go with an ultimate U2 compilation. One of my favorite albums of all time—now I feel I’m going way too obscure—the Smithereens’ Green Thoughts album. And I’d probably take something by the Drive-by Truckers. And of course I would change all those tomorrow.

What’s the future of Southern Comfort–sponsored events?

I think it will be a vital part of our marketing mix. You are going to see Southern Comfort associate more and more with music, whether it’s events we self-produce across the country, like Taste of St. Louis, or really honing in on key sponsorships. What we are looking to do is to really give great presence and awareness of bands that need the help the most. Bands that are up and coming, bands that may or may need be signed to labels, preferably bands that are signed to small labels. Thinking of Yep Roc in general, even though they are a well-run, great label, we have developed a really great relationship with them and we would like to help them push their brand.

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