This week on the XLIVE interview series, we sat down with Ryan Kruger, president of the RKET Group. We wanted to discuss an upcoming event Ryan is producing, the Vujaday Music Festival. Vujaday is a collaboration between a group of veteran Toronto based event producers, and will hold the inaugural festival April 4-8 in Barbados. Ryan spoke on a variety of topics from specifics about the upcoming festival, to what challenges arise when holding a festival on an island, and his talent booking process. Read his interview below.
Tell us about the Vujaday festival, how did it start, and what’s the vision for the festival?
First and foremost, Vujaday is designed to be a great escape. A perfect holiday experience that also includes a finely curated musical component. People can see DJs and hear great music almost anywhere in the world but pairing this with a beautiful tropical island makes it extra special and very memorable. From inception, we knew it would be a destination event for most people but just weren’t sure where. After searching the Americas for almost a year for the ideal location, we found that Barbados checked all the boxes for what we were trying to accomplish, and we planted our flag.
When it comes to venue selection for a music festival, what do you look for?
People travelling to Barbados for Vujaday want to see three things. The beach, the natural beauty of the Island and amazing events that are flawlessly executed. What makes Vujaday unique is that we are moving the festival around the Island by creating five pop-ups rather than sending people to the same festival site day after day. We chose a schedule that alternates between three beach club events and two inland events with the inland events being held in and around stunning private residences with immaculate grounds and tropical beauty. All of the sites were chosen to highlight the natural splendor of the Island while allowing us to safely and efficiently execute memorable experiences.
How did you decide on Barbados for the festival destination?
After visiting several potential locations for Vujaday, we never found one that checked all the boxes except Barbados. It is a safe, modern country with great infrastructure and the rule of law. People are genuinely friendly and always up for a good time. Being so far south, the weather is consistently beautiful and being one of the top 10 tourist destinations in the world, its relatively easy to get to from the Americas, Europe and the greater Caribbean. There is also a local house music scene and a desire to experience new things. Beyond this, the government and the Tourism Authority immediately saw the potential of the festival and have been dedicated supporters from day one. We truly believe that people experiencing Barbados for the first time will be very happy they chose Vujaday and those returning to the Island will get to experience it in a whole new way.
What challenges arise when producing an international festival?
The biggest issue of being on an Island or anywhere remote is access to all the infrastructure required to make the event happen. Luckily one of the partners in Vujaday is A&B Music, the largest event production company in the Eastern Caribbean and very experienced in producing concerts and events. Obviously, there is always the challenge of people getting to the Island and getting around once they are there but with tourism such a big part of the economy in Barbados this is not a major factor for Vujaday. Finally, there is the challenge of being a first-year festival and getting the word out around the world that we are happening on a first-year budget. Luckily the partners in Vujaday have a long history of success in the festival business in Canada and the USA so our contacts and reputation help but there is always a desire to be able to talk to more people and tell them about the wonderful vacation that awaits!
What kinds of infrastructure changes, i.e. electricity, water, bathrooms, food, showers, etc., need to be made when holding a festival on an island?
Because we are a series of one-day pop-ups and not a camping festival we only need to focus on event-based infrastructure needs. Because concerts are a regular thing in Barbados throughout the year all this infrastructure already exists. With this, there is no real difference in being on an island vs. being in a remote festival location in North America or Europe. Further, our beach events are being help in popular beach clubs that are fully equipped to handle our needs.
When it comes to producing a festival on a Caribbean island, what did you guys learn from Fyre festival?
Its funny how many times this question comes up. We’ve been successfully producing music festivals for almost 25 years and yet somebody comes along with no experience and creates a situation where the whole industry must prove itself all over again. My short answer is that the Fyre experience is why you should only trust festivals produced by those with a long history of success. The partners in Vujaday have produced grassroots camping festivals like WEMF (The World Electronic Music Festival) that ran for 17 years, Digital Dreams, the 80,000-person mega-festival in Toronto, the 4 weekend Electric Island series of Festivals each summer also in Toronto as well as the avant-garde Further Future festival in Las Vegas to name just a few. The partners have also owned or continue to own many world-renowned nightclubs and concert halls in Toronto such as CODA, The Danforth Music hall, The Hoxton, Footwork and more.
Can you tell us about your talent booking process, and how you curate a multi-day festival with many artists?
Our goal for Vujaday was to create a house music festival that wasn’t weighted too heavily on any one sub-genre but rather offered a variety of fun and inviting music for travelers and locals alike. From here we looked to add label and brand showcases such as Crew Love and La La Land that would enable each day to seamlessly flow from start to finish but also allow us to add a splash of local flavor into each day’s line-up. We also wanted to ensure that we had mix of both established artists and up and coming talent from around the world. I think that we’ve been able to create an extremely special mix of sounds, from Burning Man to Ibiza, that will keep people dancing all week long.
What other types of entertainment do you provide for attendees who are staying multiple days on the Island?
Our goal with Vujaday was that the music festival component would operate hours that would allow people to have time to explore the Island at their leisure. Barbados isn’t that big – you can drive from tip to tip in about 90 minutes and there is both a great road and bus system. We will certainly have various pointers & discounts to guides people in the right direction, but we feel its important that people chart their own course when visiting Barbados rather than having us choose it for them. There will be a free daily beach party for those who want more music than exploring on their agenda as well as a few secret pop-ups before and after the official festival dates but overall, we encourage people to go at their own pace and enjoy their holiday!
What types of companies sponsor a destination festival like this? Do local Bajan companies sponsor Vujaday?
We have a wide range of sponsors for year one, including more traditional tourism focused organizations such the government-based Barbados Tourism Authority (BTMI) as well as some prominent local hotel groups such as Sun Group and the Ocean Group. Drive-A-Matic Car Rentals and Going Places Travel are obviously also very tourism oriented and offering great deals to our travelers. With Barbados being the birthplace of rum, we HAD to go local with this sponsor and are very happy to have Mount Gay as our official rum of the festival as well as another local favorite, Banks Beer as our official brewer. Some more traditional names such as Grey Goose, Dewar’s, Patron and Stella Artois also have a place at the festival. We are also happy to be working with local TV broadcaster Trident TV and SLAM Radio on the media side. Overall most of our sponsors are local, including the global brands through their local distributors, making Bajan companies the prime source of partnership. We are extremely pleased with their support and encourage everyone to reward those brands that believed in the festival from the start.
What types of technology are you using to continuously innovate and enhance the festival experience?
We made a conscious decision to limit the level of technology at Vujaday and make things feel a bit more relaxed. There will not be any RFID based payment system to malfunction in remote areas and there won’t be a phalanx of high tech brand kiosks to greet you at the gate. We want you to get away from all of that. Yes we will have an app to keep people informed and obviously the sound & light will be beyond reproach but technology for technology’s sake will be avoided wherever possible.
After the inaugural event in April, where do you see Vujaday festival in three years?
We see a long-term presence in Barbados and if history is any guide, a growing presence at that. We very much want to be a major music influence in the Caribbean and a driver for the growth of house music events and house music artists throughout the region. The country of Barbados derives a good portion of its revenue from tourism and we would like to be a major contributor to that, improving the lives of those living there in a multitude of ways. We want to add to the cultural fabric of the Island and give travelers from around the world one more reason to chose Barbados for their holidays.
Learn more about Vujaday Festival HERE
Read more XLIVE Interviews HERE