Stage Presence: Q&A with Inked Entertainment

An array of national acts are bringing the Peoria Riverfront to life.

Tailgate N' Tallboys 2018
Tailgate N’ Tallboys, Peoria’s largest country music festival, drew a record-breaking crowd in 2018. Photography by Dennis Slape

Founded in 2017 by Billy Cowell, Inked Entertainment has set the Peoria Riverfront on fire with national headliners and weekend festivals like Tailgate N’ Tallboys and Spring Fling, attracting more than 43,000 concertgoers to the Riverfront in 2018 alone. The lineups for 2019—including prominent acts like Incubus, A Day to Remember, Aaron Lewis, Alabama and more—look to be just as exciting. A new stage location, an online hotel booking system, and video walls for boaters on the river are among new additions to the mix this year.

Peoria Magazine checked in with Leon Edwards, Inked Entertainment vice president of marketing, about the organization’s success bringing live entertainment to the River City, the economic impact of these events, and how they work to ensure a great experience for concertgoers.

What kinds of music industry contacts/experience did you have going into this business?
Combined with our partners, we have well over 50 years of experience in the entertainment industry—ranging from talent buying, promotion, ticketing and sponsorship acquisition, and just about everything in between.
 
How have you expanded your offerings since starting?
We work with well over 30 different venues, fairs and festivals and a wide range of different genres of music. We are constantly building our “Rolodex” with new contacts in the industry. We even kicked off a seven-state tour in May at mud/ATV parks!

Tailgate N Tallboys
Throngs of concertgoers stake out their spots at Peoria’s Riverfront Park.

How do you work with venues to bring acts to Peoria?
Most of our business in Peoria is built on shows that we are bringing in with the help of many generous sponsors, partners and concertgoers. We recommend some, they request some, and we help in securing talent.

How do you determine what will “play in Peoria”?
We research every day. We look at trends, what has worked before (and what has not worked), what is hot, and sometimes roll the dice on what we believe will be hot.

Here Come the Mummies
In 2017, Here Come the Mummies opened for KC and the Sunshine Band on the Peoria Riverfront. Photo by Ian Lester, forAlekphotography

What are your most popular events?
Tailgate N’ Tallboys and Spring Fling have grown into two amazing events—everything that we imagined and more. By far, the heart of our business is outdoor shows in the Peoria area. Two shows, in particular, were very memorable.

In 2017, KC and the Sunshine Band and Here Come the Mummies played on the Riverfront. It was hands-down the best live show I have ever been to. We had about 5,000 people there, with ages ranging from 20 to 70, and everyone was dancing and having a good time. It had such a good vibe. We talk about that show constantly when putting together lineups for Riverfront concerts.

The second most memorable show was in 2018 with Kane Brown and Nelly during our June weekend of Tailgate N’ Tallboys. It was a record-setting show for tickets sold on the Peoria Riverfront, with 12,000 people attending! We started working with Kane Brown on a club level years back, when he was just getting started. He sold out then, but at a much smaller capacity. It has been incredible seeing his growth and getting to say we played a small role in that, at least in this market.

How does the hotel booking process on your website work, and how did that come about?
We have an excellent relationship with the Peoria Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. One of the reasons we moved to the Peoria Riverfront was because of the nearby amenities like hotels and restaurants. We met with the PACVB when we initially started our Riverfront concerts and explained this was one of the things we wanted to utilize to its fullest potential. They helped us secure blocks with area hotels that could be booked by festivalgoers, and this year they created an actual booking system through their website. This allows a customer to get negotiated rates on hotel rooms and not have to worry about promotion codes or name blocks.

Do you work with local food vendors?
We have several local vendors like Alwan & Sons, Jane’s Sweet Addictions, Haddad’s and Emily’s Tattoo Tamales. We try to get a mix of food and drink options at all of our shows. We want people to have enough to choose from, so when they are at the shows they can kick back, be as comfortable as possible, and just enjoy the day.

Joe Nichols Band
The Joe Nichols Band performing at Tailgate N’ Tallboys in 2018

How closely do you work with the Peoria Park District and City of Peoria to ensure the grounds are ready for participants?
From the day after our last show, we start talking to the Park District and the City about the next year. We meet with the Park District on a weekly basis, discussing everything from garbage cans to site layouts. We are continually working with them hand-in-hand to make these events the best that we possibly can.

We look at the previous year and see what we can improve, what we can add and what we don’t need. These discussions are what led us to the collective agreement to move the stage this year to the north end of the festival park, allowing for bigger crowds and more elbow room for concertgoers. The City and the Park District are continuously reaching out and seeing what they can do to help the events grow.

We could not do what we do without the support we have received from the Peoria Park District, City of Peoria, the PACVB and many other sponsors. Not to mention the concertgoers in our market—if not for the fans, we would not be here! PM

To check out festival lineups on the Peoria Riverfront this summer, visit springflingpeoria.com and tailgatentallboys.com. For more information on Inked Entertainment, visit inkedent.net.

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