City of Solana Beach & Del Mar Fairgrounds Reach Settlement Agreement Over KAABOO Music Festival Return

April 16, 2024

Last month, the City of Solana Beach filed a lawsuit against the Del Mar Fairgrounds to halt the return of KAABOO music festival, but there has now been a settlement of the case that will allow the event to return to San Diego.

This past March, news broke that the city of Solana Beach sued the Del Mar Fairgrounds and Festival Licensing & Acquisition Corporation, which owns KAABOO, in an attempt to stop the return of the music festival. In a complaint filed March 11 in San Diego County Superior Court, the city claims the 22nd District Agricultural Association Board of Directors, which controls the Del Mar Fairgrounds and Race Track, approved the return of the event without conducting a proper environmental review. Claims state the festival was allowed to return without adequately researching the environmental impacts, including possible air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, noise, traffic, and threats to public safety.

"The City of Solana Beach and the 22nd District Agricultural Association are pleased to jointly announce that we have come to terms on a Settlement Agreement that respects the community’s desires to ensure public safety needs are met, noise levels are managed effectively, and traffic, parking and litter abatement are properly addressed while we all enjoy another highly successful KAABOO music festival," wrote Del Mar Fairgrounds Chief Communications Officer Tristan Hallman in a statement issued this morning. 

According to the statement, the Del Mar Fairgrounds and Race Track has negotiated terms in its contract with the promoter, Festival Licensing And Acquisition Corporation (FLAAC), to ensure Solana Beach’s concerns are addressed. This paves the way for KAABOO's return to Del Mar Fairgrounds, which was previously announced to occur this September 2024. 

"We are excited that KAABOO is exploring coming back to the Fairgrounds to provide another high-quality entertainment option for our community, while managing impacts that are associated with a musical festival of this caliber," said Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner. "What we all want is a KAABOO that is both fun and safe! We look forward to enjoying the event!"

The Solana Beach lawsuit is far from the first legal issue the KAABOO festival has dealt with following its tenure at Del Mar Fairgrounds from 2015 to 2019. In 2021, we reported that San Diego's KAABOO music and cultural festival was mired in debt and litigation, which resulted in industry-wide speculation that the event was done for good.

As reported thoroughly by Billboard Magazine, the 2019 KAABOO festival came a hair away from cancellation in Del Mar before a last-minute purchase from former KAABOO partner and executive Jason Felts through his new company, Richard Branson-backed Virgin Fest LLC, which allegedly occurred just one day before the 5th annual event was scheduled to take place.

Following the purchase, KAABOO founders Bryan Gordon and Seth Wolkov sued Virgin Fest LLC in the Superior Court for New Castly County in the state of Delaware, accusing Felts of "pursuing a Trojan Horse strategy" to "infiltrate KAABOO" "and take possession of its most valuable assets," according to court filings. Felts and Virgin Fest countersued, claiming KAABOO's financial statements had been misconstrued by Gordon. Gordon was also sued in 2019 by Molly Kingston, his former wife, who alleged he had misappropriated $22 million from the couple's accounts to fund the festival. Gordon faced several additional lawsuits related to KAABOO.

On the final day of the 2019 event, KAABOO officials surprised San Diego (and the management team behind Del Mar Fairgrounds & Race Track) by reporting that they had reached a multi-year agreement with the San Diego Padres to host the 3-day annual festival at its new home at Petco Park in downtown San Diego from September 18-20, 2020. This resulted in the Del Mar Fairgrounds announcing it was considering legal action against KAABOO for violating terms of their contract. Upon announcing the new venue for 2020, KAABOO pre-sold early-bird tickets for the ultimately-cancelled 2020 event. It has been reported that many ticket purchasers have still not received a refund to this day.

According to the complaint filed in January 2022 in San Diego Superior Court by KAABOO's parent companies against Padres L.P., negotiations between the Padres and KAABOO to host the event at Petco Park were never truly finalized, as the companies only entered into a written, term sheet agreement in September 2019. KAABOO's position was that such discussions were only in preliminary stages in late 2019 and then completely ceased at the outset of the global pandemic, leaving them to pursue another site to host the festival. However, once restrictions were lifted and the world began to open again in late 2021, KAABOO then sought to resurrect their former contract with the Del Mar Fairgrounds to bring the event back to that original venue in 2022. At that point, KAABOO ownership was notified by Padres that they hold the exclusive rights to host a KAABOO festival at Petco Park.

The complaint stated that Padres demanded over $2 million from KAABOO for breach of contract. KAABOO argues no contract was ever entered and so any early discussions are unenforceable, including an exclusivity term that would prevent KAABOO from hosting the event anywhere within 100 miles of Petco Park. Through its lawsuit, KAABOO sought a declaration from the court that there is no enforceable contract between the Padres and KAABOO ownership, which would pave the way for KAABOO to return to Del Mar or another local venue. Through communications included as exhibits, it is shown the Padres assert the initial terms laid out in the September 2019 term sheet constitute a binding and enforceable contract.

Also mentioned in the complaint is the fact that KAABOO's lender threatened to foreclose on then parent-company Virgin Fest in October 2020, resulting in Virgin Fest entering into a Settlement and Assignment In Lieu of Foreclosure Agreement, pursuant to which the rights to KAABOO and the license to use the KAABOO name and brand were assigned to the lender. Virgin Fest's unnamed lender then sold the rights to KAABOO to another entity, who thereafter transferred the license to a chain of other companies. Virgin Fest has since seemingly ceased to exist and the complaint with the Padres has allegedly been settled.

The 22nd District Agricultural Association Board of Directors, which controls the Del Mar Fairgrounds and Race Track, voted this past September to proceed with a contract with FLAAC to host KAABOO in September 2024 with options to renew in subsequent years. FLAAC is a new entity that has secured the rights to remount the KAABOO festival, and is different than the one that previously organized the festival.

The Del Mar Fairgrounds last played host to the KAABOO festival in 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The festival featured food, art, comedy, and more. KAABOO's five years at the Del Mar Fairgrounds featured headliners such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Aerosmith, Jimmy Buffet, Hall & Oates, Grouplove, Dana Carvey, Bob Saget, Wayne Brady, Pink, Kings of Leon, and Imagine Dragons.

The board voted unanimously in favor of the contract and to authorize Moore to make additional adjustments to the agreement before it is executed. There has been no indication whether the KAABOO revival would refund the 1,500-2,000 ticket holders who are still owed an estimated $500,000 in ticket refunds from the cancelled 2020 event, and the company may face a class-action lawsuit over the outstanding ticket sales. We have reached out to FLAAC executive Chris Racan for more information about ticket holder reimbursements but never received a response.

During the meeting for approval KAABOO's return, FLAAC members presented a sizzle reel video that showcased the history of the event and discussed plans for security, noise and traffic mitigation, as well as food and beverage operations. In addition, FLAAC provided a letter to the District before the meeting and also issued a statement.

KAABOO has yet to make any announcement as to concrete plans for the event's return in 2024.