In the beginning, organizers hoped up to 100,000 fans would attend the first-ever Orlando Calling music festival. By Saturday morning, expectations were down to 50,000. By Sunday, even that figure looked out of reach.
And on Monday, after months of anticipation and hype, and a weekend of more than 75 artists — including the Killers, Bob Seger, Blake Shelton and the Pixies — music fans from around Florida were left wondering: What just happened?
What worked? The music. Top to bottom, there wasn't a head-scratcher on the bill, with proven musical craftsmanship emphasized both days.
Led by electrifying guitarwork by Jack White, the Raconteurs delivered the set of the weekend on Saturday night, a howling melange of classic arena rock and blues in the vein of Led Zeppelin. Fans traveled from all over for a rare outdoor set by Seger, and the 66-year-old songwriter proved he still has plenty of gas in the tank, as hits like Turn the Page filled the Citrus Bowl with chills. Seger was joined for a duet on Real Mean Bottle by fellow Motor City madman Kid Rock, whose dynamic Twisted Brown Trucker Band fleshed out sleazy, guilty-pleasure rap-rock hits like Cowboy and Devil Without a Cause.
For pure guitar lovers, Sunday featured legends like Buddy Guy, Del McCoury, Robert Randolph, the Flatlanders and Dwight Yoakam, who each rocked the festival grounds.
What didn't? The smaller than expected crowds seemed even tinier in the 70,000-seat Cirus Bowl, a sterile coliseum that was about as evocative as an Ikea stockroom. Most of the stages were so far from the audience that artist-fan interaction was almost impossible.
Next year, we wouldn't be shocked to see a change of venue, or at least a reconfiguring of the stages.
What's next? We wait. Organizer Melvin Benn of British promotions giant Festival Republic told Orlando's WFTV-Ch. 9 that he'll crunch some numbers to determine if Orlando Calling will be back next year. But he already expects he's lost "a couple of million plus" on this year's event.
That's not promising. But if Orlando Calling does return in 2012, at least we know it'll be a fun show.