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Episode 90 / February 26, 2024

Mud, music, and grit: Building the ultimate festival community with Billie Jo Aasen

Tune in to hear Billie Jo Aasen discuss the muddy path to success with Canada’s Extreme Mudfest. Get a backstage pass to her invaluable insights on building a festival from the ground up.

In this episode of Event Experience, host Rachel Moore sits down with Billie Jo Aasen, CEO of The Festival Company, to dive into the muddy waters of organizing Canada’s largest mud and music festival: Extreme Mudfest, a four-day mud and music festival located in Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada.

With a decade of experience under her belt — and a journey from aspiring country singer to festival mogul — Aasen shares the highs and lows of festival planning, from the early days of scraping by to the triumphant moments of sell-out success. The conversation covers the challenges of scaling an event, the importance of knowing your audience and building community, and the unexpected hurdles of weather and logistical nightmares. 

Mudfest 2023 festival
Bonus: In this episode, Aasen announces a second Mudfest location, marking a new chapter in her mission to bring the spirit of extreme motorsports and music to a broader audience!


Here’s what else you’ll hear about in this conversation:

  • How Aasen transformed a passion for country music and community into the founding of Canada’s largest mud and music festival
  • Balancing authenticity and knowing your market with the importance of strategic growth and continuous innovation
  • The critical role of resilience in the event industry, underscoring the financial and emotional challenges of festival planning

Mentioned in this episode

Transcript

[00:00:09] Rachel Moore:  Welcome to Event Experience by Bizzabo, the podcast where we bring the best and brightest Event Experience Leaders together to share stories, tips, and lessons learned from creating some of the world’s biggest events.

I’m Rachel Moore, your podcast host. 

Mud and music, it turns out, are a perfect recipe for a successful festival, so get on your best boots and let’s head into the world of Extreme Mudfest, Canada’s largest mud and music festival! Our guide is CEO of The Festival Company, Billie-Jo Aasen, and she’ll share the origins of Extreme Mudfest, as well as her business in talent management and event planning across North America. Plus, Billie will drop an exclusive announcement about what’s next in her world of Event Experience! 

[00:01:08] Rachel Moore: Across microphones from me today for this episode of Event Experience, speaking with someone who has over 13 years, probably more if we wanna dig into it, in events we’re talking catering, communication, production. And of course, the thing we’re gonna primarily focus on today is her role for the past 10 years as Chief Executive Officer of The Festival Company. Today I am pleased to welcome as our guest on Event Experience Billie-Jo Aasen. Billie Jo, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast.

[00:01:40] I gave a really brief introduction. Anyone glancing at your LinkedIn profile could see the same thing I saw. But tell us a little bit more. What does it mean to be the Chief Executive Officer of The Festival Company and kinda what is your world like?

[00:01:54] Billie-Jo Aasen: Well, it has its seasons and honestly it can be anything from negotiating a big artist deal to a land contract to hosting municipal government. All the way down to literally parking cars and sometimes cleaning vomit out of bathrooms. I think in order to, in any business really if you really wanna thrive in it, I think you have to know every single position and that’s what makes you a strong leader.

[00:02:26] You understand what everybody’s position is, and I have this mantra that I’ll never ask someone to do something I wouldn’t do myself. So yeah, it changes day in and day out.

[00:02:36] Rachel Moore: Well, let’s dig into it. And I thank you for being so real. We always think about events from all the aspects and of course, yeah, even janitorial, you know, stuff happens. So appreciate that realism there. We love it. 

[00:02:48] I’m gonna get into some get to know you questions. Hopefully these will be pretty easy so this first one I’m excited to hear.

[00:02:53] What are your go-to event day shoes? What shoes do you wear?

[00:02:58] Billie-Jo Aasen: I have a pair of steel-toed Merrells that I’ve worn for a long time, actually, sadly, in twenty-Twenty-two, my pair that I’d had for years were stolen. So I had to buy a new pair, but I wear one pair and they’re covered in mud.

[00:03:12] Rachel Moore: Is there anything that you’re listening to, reading or watching right now that you can’t put down, and it doesn’t have to be event related.

[00:03:22] Billie-Jo Aasen: About a month and a half ago, really I’m a nerd for self-help and for, you know, podcasts like The Diary of a CEO and things like that. I’m very much a growth mindset person. My husband calls them my gurus, and so I started about a month and a half ago. I wanted to see if I could make a big change.

[00:03:42] I read this book called The Five A.M. Club, and I wanted to see if I could potentially do it. The other thing is, I have two-year-old twins, so I don’t have time. I literally, they wake me up, I’m getting into the office and then when I’m done, it’s everything with them till bedtime and then I just die on the couch.

[00:04:00] And so I wanted to see how I could better utilize my time. And so I went and I bought a walking treadmill called just TODO, it was $375 on Amazon. And I wanted to be able to really spend the time on like my podcasts that I like listening to other people’s journeys. But I always found like if I’d put it on, then I was always distracted and you know, not listening.

[00:04:26] And so I’ve started. I’m not at 5am yet as of today. I started at 5:30. I get up, I have a cup of coffee, I journal for 15 minutes, and then I jump on my walking treadmill and I watch my video podcast and I’m obsessed and I love it. Diary of a CEO. So good. So many people. And then at nighttime, instead of just falling on the couch, I’ve been putting on like the crackling fireplace thing, having a cup of tea, and I’m reading a book called Traction that was given to me probably five or six years ago from a guy actually at Mudfest who said it changed his business. And I’ve been following it step by step. And I have to say that like these small little like habitual changes have changed a lot of things for me. It’s been a huge.

[00:05:15] Rachel Moore: Oh, excellent advice. I love asking our guests that, because sometimes you might give them the thing that’s Ooh, I need to try that. And that’s the thing I’m gonna get into. Is there a particular social post or a piece of media or a hot take about events that you found interesting lately?

[00:05:31] Billie-Jo Aasen: There are a lot. One that I’ll, you know, talk about a little bit, which I find very interesting. There’s a lot around right now festivals. I can’t remember who had put it out, but it was more focused on Australia about, you know, five festivals within a week went under. Yet there are another group of festivals that were having record years and that came at the same time as a lot of the heat that Coachella got this year for their lineup because they announced it so late, and who the lineup was and so on and so forth. Obviously Coachella’s done a wonderful job. That’s why they are Coachella. They know what they do, but they’re artists first. And you know, a lot of those baby acts that nobody knows who they are.

[00:06:17] There’s probably a reason that they’re being chosen at this point, and you will know who they are. So I that that’s a fun a festival like that. But I’m really interested in the articles and the things coming out right now of, you know, festivals going under here and festivals rising here, and so on and so forth, because there’s so many different opinions around it. I’ll tell you my take on it. 

[00:06:35] Number one, I think if you build a festival, look, there’s a lot of them that very successful. If you are an independent company or promoter without massive financial backing and you’re trying to build a festival that is headliner dependent, not experiential dependent, you could be screwed. Because at any point one of the big dogs will come around and they will put a festival in your backyard or they will have a tour or something that you can’t touch ’cause they block the market. And now you’re stuck because you literally can’t get the artists. And that’s nothing against the big companies at all.

[00:07:10] That’s their job. But it is one of those things that I think that smaller companies really have to consider because when you’re an agent, a manager and you’re looking at a one-off festival over here with Joe, or you’re looking at Live Nation’s gonna give me x amount of dates across the board. So I just have to say no to Joe.

[00:07:31] I’m saying no to Joe because I’m gonna go on tour here. So it’s really hard when it comes to that. But it’s interesting to watch the Coachella piece of it because you know, that’s Golden Voice. They’re fantastic at what they do. AEG, obviously there’s AEG and Live Nation that we know of in North America that are the big two. And even they’re getting the heat right now on the lineup piece of it, even though Coachella is an experience. 

[00:07:55] The other side of it is that when you’re headliner dependent, it makes it very hard to control your budget. We’ve seen, in some cases a three times increase on artist prices, not to mention supplier fees going up by 50%.

[00:08:13] And yeah, so people say, well, I’ll pass it on to consumer, but if you’re a music lover, you see a ticket that you were used to paying $189 for, $200 for is now $589. Now you have to pick one. So I don’t think it’s necessarily just, I think the story that’s being missed right now. It’s not just about those five that went under or the three that are making headlines.

[00:08:36] I think the story or the larger conversation is what are we doing to our entire music ecosystem right now with this inflation, with the rise of prices? ‘Cause you’re killing out the little guys and when you’re doing that, you’re making it not accessible to other people and you’re creating bigger contest ’cause supply and demand at the end of the day that, so it’s an interesting thing. It’ll be interesting to see where the festival world goes.

[00:09:03] Rachel Moore: Talk to us a little bit then about the festivals you put on and I think today we’re gonna zero in on one in particular which just the name of it.

[00:09:11] You know, you’re like I think it would have a visceral reaction for anyone first hearing it. Tell us about the Extreme Mudfest Festival because I think we all need to know a little bit more. Obviously we assume there’s mud involved, but what else is there?

[00:09:23] Billie-Jo Aasen: There is plenty of mud. I’ll back up a little bit. So I come from a very small town. I like to say Keremeos BC, but anyone from Keremeos will laugh and say, haha, you’re from Olalla. And Olalla I think maybe had 500 people in it. And growing up in a small town, you don’t really know like all of these different things that you could do because you fall into what your parents did or, you know, running an orchard or, you know, my, my mom waitressed, but was a a stay-at-home mom as well. My dad was a trucker who then, you know, grew and started his own stuff and started heading a big company. But way back then, I wanted to be a country singer. So when I was, and this is no word of a lie, probably seven, eight years old, we had a house on the side of the road and backed up on this trailer park and that’s where my grandma and grandpa lived. And there was like a little cul-de-sac at the end of it. And me and my best friend used to spend the mornings and we’d be coloring our coloring books, but we’d rip them up at like per page and we would sell it for twenty-five cents through the trailer park as admission into my concert that night.

[00:10:36] Where I would then sing all of the Shania Twain classics.

[00:10:40] So I always laugh, I’m like, I always thought I was supposed to be an artist, but it turned out I was always a promoter. And you know, moving past that, I actually did begin being a country singer. I opened for Loretta Lynn and Tim McGraw and gotta do some really cool stuff.

[00:10:57] But the truth is, I sucked at being a product, I think. Being an artist is like one of the hardest jobs on the planet because no one sees how much work you put into it. It’s really like a lot of that mental work too. It’s honing in on your craft, but it’s the writing. It’s like putting your whole heart out on the line and putting your face all over it, and then having everybody be able to judge it and not thinking of you as a human, just thinking of you as a product, which you know.

[00:11:24] Now fast forward, I also have a management company and sometimes we have those conversations. You know, this isn’t about you, it’s about the product that you’ve produced, but at the end of the day, you’re still human. And so I got to do some really cool stuff as a young artist and my management company at the time owned a big music festival called Marymount Music Fest.

[00:11:46] And so I really gotta learn a lot around the live space from festivals to touring PACs and things like that. And the big thing was, is I think that I really just loved the business of it. Like I loved the challenge of kind of making the impossible possible. And I also, my mom was really big in, in hosting when it came to Thanksgiving and Christmas and all those things.

[00:12:12] So I think I’m a natural host too. I always loved to host people. I love to throw host parties. I still do. And so over time it naturally became a thing where festivals made sense, ’cause you’re inviting people into your dreams, into your house, and you’re saying. Let me host you. And so a little bit fast forward, I was cutting a record and I was introduced to a little show site in Bellingham, Washington, which is in the U.S, and I call it my most expensive education. And I went in and I just, I didn’t know anything, which I think is what maybe made it all work. I think if you don’t know what you don’t know, you can’t fear the things you don’t know on the other end.

[00:12:51] And so I was working my butt off. But funnily enough, one of the biggest things I didn’t know is I didn’t know I needed a US visa to work in the States. So my first big sponsorship deal I cut was with an immigration attorney to get me a US Visa because I had already paid all the artist deposits to do this festival in the States.

[00:13:08] And I was like, oh my what? I need a visa. So luckily that all worked out. I went in house with an agency that did talent buying. They were a full artist, agency, management company. Learned a lot from there. Wanted to maybe do my own thing. I came out and I said to my husband, I’m like, there’s a chance I might not make any money, but I think there’s something in this talent buying perspective of things.

[00:13:33] I knew what it was like to be an artist touring. I knew what it felt like to show up and not have things taken care of and like after you’ve traveled a bunch, it’s you’re exhausted and then you need to perform. So I thought, what if I bring that hospitality aspect to the talent buying piece of things?

[00:13:49] And in the back of house, we just make that the whole thing seamless and it is just a great experience all around. So fast forward three, four months and I landed my first big festival. But in Newfoundland, so it’s like routing to Iceland. It doesn’t exist. And here I am. Oh man, I think I was twenty-four years old and calling William Morris agency and CAA and trying to make all these relationships and trying to make things happen.

[00:14:20] And long and short we ended up making it happen. And I think it was year one or year two we had the Road Hammers out, which is a Canadian country band that’s been around for a long time. And at the time they had a single, Mud. And so Jason, the lead singer, called me and said, Hey, loved your festival. You know, we have a concept.

[00:14:41] And basically what they wanted to do, they had an investor at the time and they wanted to create an event around their brand, their lifestyle. And again, I’ll go back to the fact that I grew up in the middle of nowhere. So our pastimes were squatting and dirt biking and, you know, we’d sit around a fire and hang out.

[00:15:00] There was nothing fancy, but it was perfect. It was like this cool family feel. And so one of the artists was from Bonnyville, Alberta, Clayton Bellamy. And there was a race there, a demolition derby, mud bog type of thing that you see in a lot of rural markets across Canada. And so we went and we made a deal with that promoter who’s now our race director, Rick Radcliffe and basically family at this point. And we decided we were gonna build Mudfest. And so I was like, well, why not put great music attached to this, ’cause I knew how many people will go to the Mud Bog, so why wouldn’t we create a whole experience? And when you’re in these little big towns, there’s not a lot of content.

[00:15:41] It’s not like someone can go down to Rogers Arena or BC Play Stadium and see a big show every other week. It doesn’t exist. You have to travel hours to go and see that. So to plot that into a small town, I thought was really cool. And so we did we ran the first year I was hired on as a producer.

[00:16:00] It was successful. Funny enough, I was actually running the Newfoundland Festival at the same time as Bonnyville. I had hired someone under me to run Bonnyville. And so Newfoundland is four and a half hours ahead of us. So as soon as our stage shut down there, I was on calls with everyone on the ground in Bonnyville, seeing how that was going.

[00:16:20] I again go back to sometimes it’s good to not know any better. So fast forward from that. We go into our second year, we go on sale or I’m flying in to do a big sponsorship meeting and I get a call from the owner and he basically says, festivals are not for him. That was it. He was like, I’m just gonna pull the plug.

[00:16:40] This isn’t my thing. I won’t go into the details, but I ended up taking over Mudfest ’cause I was like, Hey, this is pretty great. Was it on my plan at all to own another music festival? Absolutely not. I don’t think it was at all, even a thought to me. Rick and I had created such a great relationship and he was in a small town and did this big thing and, I don’t know, there was something special about it that felt like home for me. And so I said, well, you know, if we get this sponsorship and we do this thing, maybe we can make it work. And so 

Mudfest over 10 years

[00:17:14] Billie-Jo Aasen: Mudfest has been that ten-year overnight success for me. This literally was 10 years ago. It’s been surprisingly become our marquee festival because it’s so different than anything else.

[00:17:26] But I’ve always had to work it off the side of my desk because festivals, full transparency, take a long time to make money at. They take a long time to not lose money at, let alone make money. So, you know, when you’re in a situation like that, you obviously are doing your other pieces and trying to make it all work.

[00:17:46] And we’re a small company. It’s not like we had the money to go and do huge headliners and everything else. And that’s not really what Mudfest is about anyways. So that’s how we ended up owning Mudfest. And now we’re Canada’s largest mud and music festival. And so you may be asking, or your listeners may be like, well, what is this like a tough Mudder with music?

[00:18:08] Absolutely not. It’s extreme motor sports, concerts. Now we also have extreme bull riding. We have a 40 team softball tournament. We have a mud run for charity. We have Barbie Jeep racing. You name it, we do it. It’s any cool, off-The-cuff redneck thing I can think of that would be so much fun when you’ve had a couple beers.

[00:18:30] We throw it into the festival and just see if it sticks. 

[00:18:32] Rachel Moore: Love it! As someone who grew up a little bit in Georgia I and I have family like, you know, who love all that stuff too. I’m all like, okay, I need to find out when the next one is, ’cause this sounds amazing. Do you have the 10th one coming up this year or did you just do it, or when do you typically hold it?

[00:18:46] Billie-Jo Aasen: We just did our 10th one. And you know, again, things have their natural progression like any company does. So the first year that Mudfest ran, we were Friday, Saturday, then we started the following year Sunday. So if you can’t return like open alcohol. So for example, if you have a twenty-four pack of beer, whatever’s left over, you can’t return it.

[00:19:08] Well, I don’t live in Bonnyville, so what are we gonna do with it? So everyone that was breaking down the show site and stuff on Sundays or people that kind of became regular, so on and so forth, we started just hanging out and having drinks on Sundays. Well, fast forward, that ended up becoming the Sunday blowout party.

[00:19:24] So it’s this funny thing that at one point Billie’s gonna open the bar and it’s literally because I have to get rid of the dead stock anyway. So it’s like a ding, ding, you’re the last surviving, you get free beer. And so we did that and then we started realizing that people were lining up on like Thursday night.

[00:19:44] And I remember this one year, and I can’t remember, I think it was 2016 or 2017, and I had gotten a call from the city and they were like, Billie, you have to move these cars off the road. And I’m like, what are you talking about? And I go, and there’s this massive lineup and people are like camping on the street, wanting to come in.

[00:20:01] And I wasn’t ready to open box office. Like we just weren’t ready at all. So we ended up deciding to open early on Thursdays for early camping, and then we’re like, well, everyone’s here, so why don’t we do a Thursday night kickoff party? Well then people started lining up on Wednesdays. And so fast forward to 10 years later.

[00:20:20] We literally are open Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

[00:20:23] Ad Break Intro: We’ll be right back with more Event Experience after the break.

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[00:21:05] Ad Break Outro: We’re back with Event Experience as Billie-Jo Aasen shares why events shouldn’t be for literally everyone.

[00:21:15] Rachel Moore: What’s interesting about this is how you’re obviously generating something people want. To the point where you have to keep expanding it to accommodate the demand. I think so many of our listeners, you know, they’re designing experiences.

[00:21:30] You are sometimes fighting tooth and nail to convince people why they should come. Now granted, we’re not talking about a trade show. This is a music festival. 

[00:21:39] Billie-Jo Aasen: But I will also say it’s not for everyone. You know, like some people might be like, I don’t wanna sit around and watch huge trucks flip over buses and recovery time and I don’t like the mud on my shoes and I want, you know, fancier porta potties and I want this. That’s just not what Mudfest is. And I think, you know, and we have our events that are that, that are like all the way up the white glove full experience, but 

Nothing to everyone

[00:22:05] Billie-Jo Aasen: I think it doesn’t matter what kind of event you’re doing, whether you’re doing a trade show, a conference, an arts festival, a big music festival, it doesn’t matter. You really need to hone in on who your clientele is. If you’re something for everyone, you’re nothing to everyone. And so that being said, of contradict myself ’cause I always say, oh, well Mudfest has something for everyone. It has something for everyone that has the psychographic that we do, which is affordability. So, you know, a full weekend pass at a general admission for the entire thing is like 129 bucks. Kids 12 and under are completely free and always will be.

[00:22:45] We have a non-negotiable in our company that kids should always be able to access music for free, and that should never be the barrier for their, you know, minds to grow in that space. So it’s an interesting thing because yes, we have the demand to keep growing, but then the more you grow, the more expensive.

[00:23:03] It’s this teeter totter, right, that you just keep going with and I think because we are a smaller company, we’re able to just pivot as we go along and try things and not everything works. And look, we still do a ton of marketing. I want everyone to show up to our show For sure. I want new exposure and new people into this culture that we’ve created.

[00:23:24] There’s years we lose people. We had torrential downpour last year. It was the most rain Alberta had seen in over four years. And we had people writing in basically, for lack of a better summary, saying, why couldn’t you control the rain?

[00:23:40] Oh dear. You’re like, well, if I could, I wouldn’t need to charge you admission, right?

[00:23:45] Totally. Or people saying you should have brought in a gravel truck to cover up all the mud. And it’s like, where am I going to get a truck full of gravel and who’s going to pay for it? So it’s those things where I think every festival producer and every event producer goes through it. So just ebb and flow, but I think you let the market dictate where you’re gonna go next.

[00:24:04] Rachel Moore: Well, and with that too, so you’re talking about obviously unexpected things happen. You have some low years, high years. When you think about this ten-year one that you just did, do you, what are your goals? You know, how many people are you aiming for to say, we’d love this, many to attend, and like, how has that grown over the years too?

[00:24:19] Billie-Jo Aasen: I’ve never had an attendance goal, if that makes sense. I’ve had a financial goal and usually it’s, please break even. I will say something really cool happened this year. So obviously we all experienced COVID. In Canada we were shut down for a long time. During that time, I actually went through IVF and I had twin daughters who were born prematurely, and we were in the NICU for four and a half months.

[00:24:49] Multiple surgeries, first year, everything. So going back in like after having two years off of not being able to do what I’ll call big festivals and we can dive in later about some cool stuff that we did over COVID that was adaptive and fun. But going back in, it was like starting a new festival all over again and it was dusting off those cobwebs of, oh my God, and Mudfest, the hours are ridiculous.

[00:25:15] We open our gates at nine and we don’t shut down until three in the morning. So by the time you cash out and get out, it’s after four in the morning and I have to be back on site like 7:30 in the morning. So a lot of stuff is happening. So in 2022 we actually moved locations. We went to Cold Lake.

[00:25:33] They have a wonderful agricultural society there. The grounds are a little different. They’re not as big as what we were used to. But we’ve been building as we go along. But the funny thing is, I think for the Ag Society, it was the first year that they had ever given anyone the keys to the entire building.

[00:25:49] ’cause someone would only rent the hall or rent the arena where we did all of it. But there was one set of keys, so I had to lock the building up and then open for catering in the morning. So I was sleeping, not even a word of a lie, maybe an hour and a half every night. I was coming off my own personal trauma of twins in the NICU and multiple surgeries, and it almost killed me.

[00:26:10] Coming out of it, I was like, I’m, I don’t think I’m ever gonna do this again. What am I thinking? Of course we all know that’s just called burnout, so I was completely burnt out, shut off my phone. I didn’t know what I was gonna do, and then took some time off and found myself coming back would it be cool if we did this at MedFest?

[00:26:28] And what about this? And the funny thing is my husband calls it Extreme Stress Fest, which is fair. And when I said to him, I don’t think I want to do it anymore, he said to me, I think you need to sleep because you’re not shutting down Mudfest. And I was like, weird. Because you are the one that always says it so much stress and now you’re telling me to keep it.

[00:26:48] After having some sleep and rethinking it and restructuring some deals and looking at the team and elevating some people and local teams and the Ag Society partnered with us on some stuff. Then I was able to say, okay, you know what, Mudfest deserves my full attention.

[00:27:06] This is something that I’ve been doing off the side of my desk, not because I wanted to, it’s because it’s finance, it’s money, right? And so I was like, no I’m gonna really put my head down and I’ve got a wonderful right hand in Cold Lake, Chelsea. And we just went after everything: we added extreme bull riding this year, which the Ag Society brought to us.

[00:27:27] And I was like, that’s a great idea. That was packed out. And for the first time I turned around and I was like, oh my God, we’re a real festival. Like we needed to bring in cops from Edmonton and St. Paul and all over. And it was that aha moment of, okay, what are our next goals? And like you said, it’s not really on attendance.

[00:27:50] We’re pretty landlocked where we are and we were sold out of everything. So that’s going to always be a tricky thing as we expand, but it was more so what is the future vision of Mudfest? ‘Cause 

Bring motorsports to a global scale

[00:28:00] Billie-Jo Aasen: at the end of the day, when you’re building a company, when you’re doing any of it, you have to figure out why.

[00:28:06] Right? And especially in the events business, doesn’t matter what kind of events you’re in, it’s high-risk. It’s hard, it’s exhausting, it’s putting everything on the table, all your chips are in. And so I realized what I really want is I want to be the brand that breaks motorsports to a national and global scale.

[00:28:31] And I’m not talking motorsports that everybody knows about, which is, you know, motocross and F1 and things like that. I’m talking like the mega trucks, the rock crawlers, the all of, because there’s so many people that love to do it and it’s this cool like underground thing. 

The festival that makes everyone feel like they’re home

[00:28:48] Billie-Jo Aasen: The other thing that I really want to be known for is the festival that makes everyone feel like they’re going home again. And because for me, when I step on that site, and specifically this year, the community that we built of racers who paid to come race, or attendees who pay every single year, but they show up early to help, or they end up parking cars with us or helping us with the loader when people are stuck.

[00:29:16] And it’s this huge community effort. And to me, I think. sometimes our world can get a little lost in the bigger, the better the socials, everything. Whereas Mudfest is like this cool little protected community of the old school rules of handshakes and cocktails, and I love it. 

[00:29:37] Rachel Moore: So you had the one event in the one location. Are you gonna expand that out then? Are you gonna go to multiple sites? How are you gonna do that?

[00:29:46] Billie-Jo Aasen: Oh, it’s funny you might ask. We are shortly announcing, I guess I’m announcing here that we’re opening our second location! 

[00:29:51] Rachel Moore: Oh my gosh. You heard it here, everybody? Yeah. What, do you have more information? Like where’s it gonna be?

[00:29:56] Billie-Jo Aasen: Yes. So it’s going to be in Dawson Creek, BC. So my dad has a big piece of land out there, and it’s become a family endeavour, I’m not gonna lie. Like the whole family comes out, everyone has to work.

[00:30:10] And so my dad’s really fallen in love with Mudfest too. And so we, for years have been joking. What if we just did a Mudfest here? And I don’t even know how we finally decided it, but it was like, Nope, we’re gonna do it. Again, going back to my husband who’s just putting his head in his hands, being like, oh, Extreme Stress Fest x 2. So yeah, we’re gonna open our second location this year, so I’m really excited. 

[00:30:36] Rachel Moore: That’s so cool and it seems like you know the audience like this just aligns with what you just said because you’re like, we want to make them feel like they’re coming back home.

[00:30:46] Well, now they’re coming back to your home. So.

[00:30:49] Billie-Jo Aasen: Literally, our family cabin is in the middle the show site.

[00:30:52] Rachel Moore: Right. I wonder how many of our listeners can even relate to this too. ‘Cause it feels like, just as you describe your own origin story, your upbringing and your background, it feels like you’ve been able to not only embrace, but own literally a kind of event that

[00:31:10] really harkens back to what you came from. And I would hazard a guess to say many of our event professionals and designers out there, maybe they can’t say the same thing. You know, we’re, I know we’re all passionate about creating these experiences, you know, it’s about people. But when you’re actually able to create that environment that just it reflects you so much.

[00:31:31] I think that’s pretty special that you get to have that experience and then give it to other people.

[00:31:36] Billie-Jo Aasen: Yeah. And you know, I think it also being able to unapologetically do it comes with age in the way of, you know, I left home when I was 18, I wanna say moved to the big city, wanted to be the country singer. Puffed up my chest and I was gonna be famous and all these things. And it was always one of those things where I was like, yeah, I’m from a small town.

[00:32:03] But I didn’t really talk about it a lot. ’cause I thought people were gonna be like, oh, she’s interesting. Is she not worldly? Is she not this? She not that. And 

Coming from a small town

[00:32:12] Billie-Jo Aasen: over time as you grow, you’re just like, you know what? I’m so proud of this. Like I wouldn’t be half the person I am today if I didn’t come from a small town.

[00:32:21] And I wear my heart on my sleeve. I. I’m messy. I’m a human being like everybody else, so I make mistakes all the time on all of my shows. It’s just life. It is what it is. But I’ve come to embrace that and the magic of Mudfest is literally the fact that I think just through the process of Mudfest, I’ve found myself again, which I think is a beautiful thing to find yourself in your own event.

[00:32:46] Rachel Moore: Absolutely. Like you said, everybody comes from their own background. They’re unique in their own way. There’s no one that’s exactly like anybody else. So why couldn’t you know, the art of the possible right, make something happen like Mudfest, where it’s like, it’s a manifestation of everything.

[00:33:01] All the roads led here, right? And and brought you to that place. But it’s really a cool story. I thank you so much for sharing that too. ’cause it’s just, it’s neat to hear how you personally arrived here, but also how Mudfest came about and now the two of you were inseparable.

[00:33:17] Billie-Jo Aasen: Yeah, but literally we’re pretty tied. Well I think it, you know, it’s interesting how you said like a lot of people probably sit and say, Ooh, I wish I could do that, or I could do this. 

If you’re going to invest, you’d better know the thing

[00:33:27] Billie-Jo Aasen: If you are going to invest into anything, you better know it. You know, I’m not gonna go and invest into a hardware store ’cause I’d have no idea what I would be doing. If you’re gonna invest in something, in an event or in a brand and you want it to be successful, you better know how to speak to those people and understand it because they’ll know if you’re faking it. Now, it’s totally different if you’re gonna go build, not totally different, but it’s just, it’s a different style of event versus if I had a huge investor and we could go do massive headliners and do all that, but that comes with its own other huge amount of struggles and trials and tribulations through it. So if you’re gonna do something and you wanna do something on your own I would say just find the thing that speaks to you that you’re overly passionate about, because I guarantee there’s other people that nerd out on it too.

[00:34:19] Rachel Moore: Yeah. You’ve been doing this for 10 years with Extreme Mudfest. How many years did it take you to turn a profit? 

[00:34:24] Billie-Jo Aasen: It took me 10 years. 

Grow into yourself and your event

[00:34:25] Billie-Jo Aasen: This year is our first profitable year. 

[00:34:27]  That being said, we also invested. So, you know, we bought equipment, we bought different things so that we didn’t have to rent it. But yeah, it, it took 10 years. Could we have done it faster if I wasn’t working off the side of my desk to do it?

[00:34:42]  Maybe. But or if we went and got much bigger talent and so on and so forth. I understood what the delta on that could look like, and I wasn’t willing to take that kind of risk. We took the time to grow into ourselves to be where we are supposed to be. And I always say that to people like, don’t be afraid to grow into yourself.

[00:34:59] You don’t have to turn around and have the biggest, baddest, loudest festival in the world. At the end of the day, you’re in the hospitality business. It’s asses in seats, beers in hands and smiles on faces. And if you’re not able to do that with 10,000 people, you should probably start with a hundred.

[00:35:17] Rachel Moore: I’ve got the easiest question of all where can our listeners find and follow you online?

[00:35:23] Billie-Jo Aasen: Oh Instagram is at Billie-Jo Aasen, not easy to spell. So BillieJo. And then Aasen A-A-S-E-N. That’s my Insta handle. My TikTok, my Facebook and LinkedIn.

[00:35:50] Rachel Moore: Real talk is straight ahead in Billie’s SkillUp segment for this episode, as she lays out exactly how challenging the world of festival planning can be. 

[00:36:00] Billie-Jo Aasen: Be prepared to lose and be prepared to have the shit kicked out of you. And I’m sorry for swearing, but there’s no other words for it. You know, someone once said, and it was a panel and years and years ago when I first started out, and they said, go and take a million dollars and set it on fire.

[00:35:58] If that feels good to you, do it again and open a festival. It’s like that, like it’s a passion business. Now. Yes, of course there are big rewards at the end if you can stick it out. If you can do it, but it’s not for the faint of heart, so don’t sit there and, you know, do your budget and make it where you’re like, oh, if I sold all these tickets, I make all this money, it’s a no-brainer.

[00:36:22] It’s not gonna happen. You are gonna get kicked in the face. And so if you’re ready to be kicked in the face quite a few times and you understand that you are going to lose, but you can understand that loss as more of an investment than anything, then you’re probably ready for it. But don’t go into it with rose-colored glasses because you know, I still, I’ve been producing for a long time and I don’t know one show that I’ve walked into that’s ever been flawless and went the way I planned, not one.

[00:37:11] Rachel Moore: Thanks again to Billie-Jo Aasen for joining us on Event Experience, and thank YOU for listening. 

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You can find transcripts of each episode and key takeaways on bizzabo.com/podcasts.

On behalf of the team, thank you. We’ll gather again soon for a new episode of Event Experience.

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