Rare Peeps, a long-standing partner of atVenu, has been at the forefront of managing on-site merchandise operations for some of the most prestigious festivals nationwide. With notable events like Coachella and Stagecoach under their belt, Rare Peeps has established themselves as a trusted name in the industry. Let's take a look at what they have been up to.
The Rare Peeps Team
How did you come up with the name Rare Peeps?
Adrien: I don’t get this question often, but I love answering it when I do because it’s something I hold fairly close to me on a personal level. For context, I’ve always been a huge nerd and one of my favorite video game / software development companies has always been a British company called Rare that is based out of Twycross, England. They’re responsible for some of the most popular video game titles like Donkey Kong Country, Goldeneye 007, and my personal favorite: Banjo-Kazooie. The “Rareware” logo and name appeared on the back of some of the most iconic video game boxes at the time. I thought it’d be such a cool subtle nod if we called the company “Rareware” or “Rare Wear” because it was so rare to find other companies or people who were even remotely good at live event merchandise…and of course, you wear merch, right? Eventually it became “Rare Peeps,” because we’re rare people who actually care about the details and take pride in our execution, which is increasingly rare in the live event space. I even keep a Rareware patch on my backpack at all times because I love obscure references.
What was Rare Peeps first festival?
Adrien: Our first official festival under the legally incorporated business entity of “Rare Peeps LLC” as we know it today was Louder Than Life in 2015 with Danny Wimmer Presents in Louisville, Kentucky…although technically speaking, our first festival with this group of individuals working together as a core management team on a large-scale merchandise operation was the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in 2013. That was the festival that seems to come up in jokes, conversations, etc. when we’re reminiscing about old times seeing as it was where most of us met and where we really began developing our operational workflows, honing in best practices, and learning to work together as a unified team.
What’s the funniest merch item you have sold at an event?
Adrien: Last year, the band Tenacious D had us sell $25 “Cum Rags” at Louder Than Life in Louisville, Kentucky. They were small towels…for uhm….well… Prior to that back in 2017 at a festival in Long Beach, California called Summertime in the LBC, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony sold Styrofoam lean cups for $5. I thought it was so hilarious that people were willing to spend $5 on a Styrofoam one time use cup that had Bone Thugs’ logo on it.
The Rare Peeps Merch Tent, Head In the Clouds Festival (Pasadena, CA)
What is one of the most time consuming parts of preparing for a festival?
Adrien: It’s the pre-show for sure. Several weeks beforehand my team and I are getting everything prepared, coordinating with other departments, having detailed discussions with other live event vendors, working through various questions, designing what we want the show’s merchandise experience to look like, how it’ll function, and generally getting on the same page as the promoter so that we’re able to identify any foreseeable issues and have the appropriate resources to operate on-site.
Mike: On the merchandise production side, the main challenge is the “Amazon Prime” expectation many clients have when it comes to getting merchandise manufactured. While some equipment may be automated, it still takes time to make a quality product that meets Rare Peeps standards. Our counts have to be correct, our defects must be almost nonexistent, and our boxes will always be labeled properly!
The Viral Frank Ocean Sign, Dave And Team At Coachella
Managing Live Events
How did you get started In live events?
Vrej: I actually started out as a merchandise vendor with Insomniac around early 2014 and later that year at Coachella. After a couple years of vending and showing up for pre-show days and the like, Rare Peeps started offering me tent supervisor positions. Eventually, my skills landed me as team Operations Manager where I am today.
Adrien: It begins with my mom. She took me to concerts and bought albums for me when I was a kid and in turn paved the way for me to become a self-taught musician and start a small local record label when I was in college. Eventually I got a job running a small record store that was attached to a concert venue where I became the venue’s ticketing manager and was tasked with handling merchandise sales there. This venue was owned by Paul and Perry Tollett, who were responsible for the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. Through mutual friends, I was given the opportunity to join the Coachella merchandise management team. Somewhere along the lines, I blinked and it had been ten years.
Dave: I was managing restaurants at the time. A friend reached out to have me help manage the employees for Coachella and Stagecoach. I had done merch for small bands in the past. The two worlds blended into a perfect combination.
David: Like most of our management staff, I started off as a seller with Rare Peeps and was promoted due to my work ethic. My first show was in Houston. I am from Texas. Not California. I started touring with my own hardcore band around 2010. Worked in a warehouse when I wasn’t on the road. Got asked to help out with a merch gig here and there and now here I am!
Jorge: I was determined to work Desert Trip in 2016. I found a local hiring agency that was looking for people that would work the shuttles but then I heard Dave was hiring for the Merchandise Tent. I had never done that before but for some reason I jumped at it. He hired me on and have been here ever since!!
Mike: I started back in 2012. A friend of mine had been a merch vendor for a few years and asked me if I wanted to work Coachella. I had just quit my full time job as an audio engineer in Hollywood and decided it was a cool thing to do while I was looking for what was next in my life. As it turns out, merchandise was what was next in my life.
The Rare Peeps Team Prepping For Head In The Clouds
What would you tell fans to do when they get to the merch booth to make the transactions go smoother/faster?
Adrien: Have a general idea of either what size you normally wear or what size / style you want to buy before you get to a register. Try to effectively communicate whenever possible and be kind / respectful to the person you’re purchasing merchandise from.
Dave: Like Adrien said, take the time while you’re in line to view the items on display. Choose a size you regularly wear. It’s a long hot day for both the seller and the patron. Let’s get you what you need and back to see the bands as soon as we can.
The Rare Peeps Team On Site For A Festival This Spring
To someone who says selling merchandise at events is like retail, what would you say back to them?
Adrien: With traditional brick and mortar retail environments, you have permanent infrastructure and accessible resources to streamline the day-to-day processes that need to be accomplished. With live event merchandising, you have to approach things with a multi-disciplinary mindset. Our company’s core managers are skilled in inventory management, forensic accounting, understanding finances and tax law in multiple US states, cashiering, cash collection, trend forecasting, planning / projections, staff management, human resources, heavy equipment operations such as forklifts, boom lifts, scissor lifts, etc.
The point being, unlike a big-box retail store where there are various departments, merchandise at a festival is one single department and our entire team has to be able to execute it, all while braving the outdoor elements like sun, wind, or rain.
Your company officially signed Goldenvoice as a client in 2021. For those that aren’t aware, Goldenvoice runs festivals such as Coachella and Stagecoach. For festivals of that magnitude is there anything different you have to take into account compared to other events?
Adrien: One of the biggest differences between Coachella and other events is the volume of artist merchandise. Coachella routinely has in the neighborhood of 100 artists that perform each year and we sell merchandise for 90% of them. For reference, a normal mid-size music festival generally has somewhere between 20-30 at most. Imagine being responsible for over 100 different unique product lines?
Dave: We have developed a system which we can apply to all festivals big or small. As these festivals ramp up, we simply adjust numbers to effectively execute the promoters’ visions. There will always be last minute curveballs, but being prepared and with our level of experience, it's more about the pivot.
Andre: We also have to think about placement. Where boxes are located for the sellers to be able to access them from 400 ft away. Sometimes that involves having everything available at multiple points. Then of
course, getting everything up on the wall so patrons can view it all from the line. Just a lot of moving parts.
The Rare Peeps Team Onsite At Head In The Clouds Festival
Anything you are particularly excited for this year?
Adrien: Our partners over at Danny Wimmer Presents have officially made the decision to go cashless this year. Historically, all of DWP’s shows have had a very high volume of cash transactions, primarily due to both the genre and geographic location of their events. By going cashless, there’s less risk involved and our company can do more with less; IE: spend less time monitoring cash and more time managing the inventory and overseeing the general operation. This excites me because it allows our company to take on more and expand without having to worry about cash management.
Vrej: We have multiple events on the same weekends. So figuring who from which team goes where and who the point people are is always a fun dance.
Dave: As Vrej said, having festivals on the same weekends always proves a challenge, but we have built up strong teams around the country and can pull together to keep them all supported.
Jorge: Power Trip. Feels like I am returning to Desert Trip but with 7 years experience.
What is one of the shows you are looking forward to the most this year?
Adrien: I have a bit of a soft spot for the Midwestern regions of the United States, so it’s always fun to travel out to Louisville, Kentucky to handle Louder Than Life and Bourbon & Beyond with our team. There’s always great food and Danny’s lineups are getting more impressive each year. Also looking forward to Evolution Festival in St. Lous. I spent a lot of time out there from 2016 – 2019 and I’m looking forward to returning to the area.
Vrej: Absolutely Power Trip in Indio, California is definitely up there for me! What excites me more than the lineup for this festival is all the challenges that come with putting together a massive event for the very first time. I thrive on problem-solving and stressful situations.
David: I don’t know if I would say I am excited but dealing with artists at both Power Trip and Aftershock in the same weekend will definitely test this team. But that’s what we need to do to scale up. We have some really reliable friends in the industry jumping in to help us out. That’s what this game is about.
Rare Peeps Founder, Adrien Parker
How stressed out do you guys feel after absolutely crushing this year's mega merch Coachella?
Adrien: After Coachella this year, literally everything else we do feels like we’re operating in “easy mode.” In terms of difficulty, I’d say Coachella this year was one of the toughest shows we’ve ever pulled off. I’m obviously extremely proud of it, but when you’re tasked with designing and operating the largest merchandise tent at any US festival…anything after that will feel leagues easier.
David: It definitely felt like swinging two or three bats before you’re at the plate, but, for me, it’s a great warm up. These DWP festivals, in some cases, have over 100 bands as well, so having an opportunity to develop my team for the year, and years to come, was really key.
The Rare Peeps Management Team
Having a merch tent longer than a football field for this year's Coachella, were the lines still pretty long?
Adrien: The line was 4.5 hours long this year. Compared to last year, we were able to cut things down by around an hour. I’ve lost track of how many times the Southern California analogy of “If you add more lanes to a freeway, you just get more traffic.” has been used in this scenario.
Dave: This year I had to add Line Supervisors who were tasked with ensuring the lines moved quickly and efficiently.
Andre: The bike rack was definitely a big help. People are somehow more comfortable in a Disney line than in those straight lines. The logistics were a bit more involved … first year I had to survey a 400 ft tent.
Can you tell us one of your most memorable events?
Adrien: The two Metallica shows we worked in San Francisco at Chase Center (S&M’s 20th Anniversary and Metallica 40th Anniversary respectively ) were two cool ones for me. I grew up listening to Metallica, so being able to have our company involved were pretty monumental moments in my career.
Jorge: I feel like some of my most memorable times were about the team. Working together in the tent, hustling, selling, stocking and re-stocking. We are here together years later and that’s the coolest part, for sure. The people I worked with then are still here with me doing what we do best. But in the end, Desert Trip will always be my first and most challenging.
Mike: I’d say the most memorable experience is the change I’ve seen in just 10 years at Coachella. When I started, it was cash aprons, 4 credit card readers in the whole tent and probably 70,000 people chaotically clamoring for shirts. Fast forward to 2023, we had a 400’ wide tent with 2 snake lines, well over 200 different items to purchase, nearly 300 staff members selling to 125,000+ people. And to top it all off, we now have atVenu to help us manage everything accurately and easily.
Vrej: I can definitely say that I have made my most memorable moments at Coachella. The size of festival along with the fact that it is smack dab in the middle of the desert makes conditions rough to work in. Please and thank you go a long way in this industry. Supporting each other both emotionally and physically is very important. I know I can count on that.
Andre: Inkcarceration 2022 is a good one. There was a massive storm and our main tent area flooded. With the help of the DWP staff, we were all elbow deep in mulch spreading it all over to stem the flooding. The fans though, they were sliding around and having fun. It was wild.
The Rare Peeps Merch Tent
Any favorite fan interactions?
Dave: I guess you are looking for a Frank Ocean comment. We knew from past festivals that the fans were going to be coming in hot for his merchandise. Merchandise he wasn’t providing. I decided to get ahead of it both warning fans at the outside of the booth and later displaying the sign on the counter with a customer-initiated auction to the amusement of many a Tik Tok fan. I am glad it was all viewed in good humor.
But I would also like to mention the humanity of the festivals which I believe gets lost when you’re working so much and jumping for gig to gig. I have pointed out to others: here’s a person who saved their money, bought a ticket maybe a year ago (that they may have had to put on lay away), has been waiting all year to come to this festival. See their favorite bands. Enjoy the environment. Buy a t-shirt from a band that might never tour through their city. And just wants to have a great time with friends. I try to stress to our sellers, that we are part of that. Patrons don’t know how this operation works, they are just here to have a good time. Let's be a part of that.
I have to ask, what ended up happening to that 'No Frank Ocean Merch' sign?
Adrien: Coachella’s festival director, Bill Fold, called me randomly one afternoon on our only day off as Dave, Standlee and myself were going for a drive and asked that we make sure that the sign was set aside for him. I think he has it hanging up in his house…
My personal contribution to the “No Frank Ocean Merch” viral moment was printing t-shirts to give away to friends in other departments during Weekend #2 of Coachella.
Between Kanye's Coachella Merch Setup and the 2023 Coachella Merch Setup, which would you say stood out more?
Dave: Sunday Service was probably the wildest idea I had ever seen until Coachella this year. I think this year kind of broke the barrier for the craziest merch set up in general.
The Rare Peeps Team Onsite For Inkcarceration
What has Rare Peeps been doing recently other than just festival merchandise on-site operations?
Adrien: Toward the tail end of 2022, we opened up our print shop. It’s the next logical step for us to scale and grow as a company. We printed and manufactured the t-shirts, safety vests, etc for all of the Coachella and Stagecoach departments like stagehands, people that work with the F&B department, Guest Services, Ticketing, Camping Operations, etc. We print stuff for other festival and artist clients like Danny Elfman, Desert Daze, Adult Swim / Cartoon Network and even made some bandanas for Dave’s band The Lost Weekend. We also have fun working together as a team to decide what we want our next Rare Peeps staff t-shirt design to be. There are a lot of inside jokes and ideas that get thrown around while we’re on the road.
What is part of setting up for festival merchandise operations that many wouldn't think about or realize takes so much time?
Vrej: With the growing size of festivals, number of attendees, and the amount of merch being sold, our operations have had to grow as well. For example, the design and creation of our massive snake lines which also require access for ADA and other patrons. No one thinks about the importance of such a component, but it helps to ease the overall customer experience.
Andre: Coachella is always expanding and coming up with new ideas for the customer experience. As a site lead, handling the scheduling and organization with multiple departments is always a challenge but we have built great relationships through the years and know we can rely on departments, as they do on us, to help have everything ready by doors.
Adrien: This year, I was personally tasked with attempting to develop an overall better merchandise experience for patrons at Coachella. Sure the tent was obviously twice as large as it had ever been, but I wanted to make the patron experience as immersive as possible. We spent several months planning out art installations, we purchased colored bike rack, designed a highly specific lighting package, sourced large motorized fans, and generally focused on being as calculated and creative as possible, which required weeks of calls, e-mails, research, trial / error, and discussion internally with the Goldenvoice team.
Vrej Of Rare Peeps Prepping Onsite With atVenu
One of the things I don't think everyone shines as much detail on is getting the artist merchandise at the festivals. Coachella you had over 100 artists' merch you had to check-in and manage. What is the most time consuming piece?
The check-in. We have known many of these reps for years and we try to guide them depending on the festival and what we think they can move based on what they have done in the past. With both Goldenvoice and DWP, they all get sent advances with specific rules and requirements. But despite these efforts there is always a wrench in the works whether its missing boxes, incorrect packing labels, late arrivals, etc. They have to remember there’s over a hundred of them and only me, a couple of supervisors and limited time in the day. It all works out in the end, but man, I think that is what people are most unaware of and one of my biggest challenges.
Rare Peeps Team Onsite Various Events This Summer
Learn more about the Rare Peeps team here.
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