The major hip-hop and electronic music festival Number Fest continues its 16th year near Athens this weekend, though the festival’s founder and chief organizer said Sunday that with declining revenues and shifting consumer tastes in recent years, the festival may not be around for much longer.
The two-day music festival (set for Friday and Saturday) located just outside Athens city limits features hip-hop and trap acts Lil Uzi Vert (who was nominated for a Grammy last year) and RL Grime, as well as EDM headliner and Billboard chart-topper Marshmello, among dozens of other artists.
Dominic Petrozzi, who founded the festival along with some friends as an Ohio University student in the early 2000s, is festival partner with Columbus-based Prime Social Group, which puts on Number Fest. While he said the festival is set to go off without a hitch this year, he told The NEWS Sunday that the “economics” of the festival are changing, and the end result could mean no more Number Fest.
“If we continue to produce these events and build out these festival lineups that are filled with artists who are headlining Coachella, Lollapolooza, Bonnaroo, all these massive mainline festivals across the country, and we’re bringing them to this tiny market in southeast Ohio for this nice group of kids,” Petrozzi said, “it’s very tough for us to meet our bottom lines if and when these kids aren’t necessarily going to attend anymore and support the event as one of their own.
“The last thing we want to do is close up shop and call it a day after 16 editions of this festival, however,” Petrozzi said.
He noted that as recently as last week, artist Marshmello played a sold-out show at Chicago’s Navy Pier venue. He explained that for years, Number Fest has brought major or soon-to-be major national acts to the local stage, all at a ticket price that he said his organization has tried to keep “affordable” for college students. In the last two years, he said, the festival has seen smaller crowds and reduced ticket revenues (it costs roughly $60 for a Saturday ticket to Number Fest this year, $85 for both days).
Petrozzi added that Number Fest has survived a period of growing pains, with many complaints from residential neighbors of The Venue of Athens (located off Ohio Rt. 56) and other Athens residents about traffic, trash, noise and the intoxicated behavior of Number Fest attendees receding – but not disappearing by any means – in recent years. Athens County Sheriff Rodney Smith and other public officials last year praised Number Fest for continuing several positive trends from the year prior (2016), when fest organizers first instituted a policy that banned attendees from bringing their own alcohol (which for years was a big draw for OU students).
“We stand by our decision alongside the city and the state governments,” Petrozzi said. “We were tasked with getting rid of the BYOB culture and making it more of a festival-oriented music event, which obviously with the attention and lineups we’ve built over the years, it speaks for itself.”
NUMBER FEST HAS HAD SOME heavy-hitting alums in recent years. To name a few: Wiz Khalifa, Diplo, G Eazy, Schoolboy Q, Young Thug, Wacka Flocka Flame, and Machine Gun Kelly.
Petrozzi said it’s a major feat to bring these kinds of artists to Athens, Ohio, on top of providing a traditional festival experience with two stages, camping, dozens of food and curio vendors, and plenty of other features. Petrozzi noted that a new “silent disco” stage has been added this year, where participants dance while wearing headphones.
Petrozzi also said that this year, Number Fest has worked with the Athens County Sheriff’s Office to provide “parking passes” to all nearby residents, allowing them access to the roadways leading to and from Number Fest even if one or more lanes of traffic are shut down. Typically, at least one lane of traffic on Rt. 56 will be shut down Saturday evening to accommodate festival attendees walking back on the roadway to Athens. People can pick up those passes at the Athens County Sheriff’s Office this week.
The festival will not be providing any shuttles this year to Number Fest, despite contracting with a transportation service last year to ship people for a small fee from the Athens County Fairgrounds.
Petrozzi acknowledged that a “culture of negativity” has grown on social media against Number Fest, with some students disdaining the festival for various reasons. He said students aren’t “taking ownership” of the festival as much as they formerly did.
PETROZZI STRESSED, HOWEVER, that his organization is not saying that this will be Number Fest’s last year.
“But, as is the case with all businesses, if you’re not meeting your bottom line numbers you can’t continue to operate in such a manner,” he said. “Our hope is that these students are a little more aware of just really how lucky they are to have such an event in their backyard.”
Petrozzi added that Prime Social Group is growing elsewhere, calling it one of the “largest music festival-producing entities in the Midwest (U.S.).”