XO Festival, a new music event in the East Bay, draws controversy before it begins


With artists dropping off the bill and sponsors claiming fraud, many fans are wondering if a new Bay Area event billed as XO Music Festival, scheduled to take place Friday through Sunday at the Contra Costa Event Park in Antioch, will be an all-out disaster.

The festival website promises more than 100 music acts performing across three stages — down from eight stages initially announced — at the site, formerly the county fairgrounds, with headliners including the rappers Ludacris, T.I. and the Bay Area’s own Mistah F.A.B.

With three-day ticket packages ranging in price from $375 to $2,495, it also advertises aerialists, carnival rides, a silent disco, comedy and culinary stages, plus appearances by the cast of “Jersey Shore” — all in an “ultra VIP” setting.

But when The Chronicle reached out to many of the performers who are slated to perform, few were willing to confirm their involvement with the festival. The Canadian reggae-pop band Magic! dropped off the bill in June without commenting; while a representative for Vanilla Ice said, “We are requesting full payment for Vanilla Ice before he gets on a plane.”

Other acts took to social media to air their grievances.

Bob Rosenberg of the band Will to Power, which pulled out of the lineup after the promoters failed to send contracts and deposits, said in a Facebook post, “I saw red flags when my tour manager first told me about it … The only info I could find on the internet was the XO website which sounded like Fyre Fest.”

Musician Trinere V. Farrington, who is represented by the same agency, alerted her fans on Facebook that she would also not perform.

“I want to sincerely apologize to all my fans that have purchased tickets,” she wrote, announcing she would not be attending the concert. “Because business wasn’t handled properly, myself and many of the Freestyle artists had no choice but to pull out!”

Ludacris does not have the XO Festival listed on his official tour itinerary. He listed an appearance on the same day for the Chalice festival in Southern California.

Using a secondary Twitter account, created after its first was suspended, the organizers attempted to calm concerns: “Ludacris is performing. His schedule on Facebook is wrong. He’s performing for us on Saturday at 4pm and later that evening in SoCal. his (sic) tour manager is trying to get it fixed. We are waiting for his post which should be out today or tomorrow.”

Representatives from XO Festival did not offer further details, and organizers have not returned calls and emails from The Chronicle for comment.

Carmen Electra, who was initially billed as the host, was also quietly removed from the lineup, and only four local chefs are slated to appear on the culinary stage.

Other artists slated to appear include Flavor Flav, Mac Mall, the Sugarhill Gang, Biz Markie and DJ Qbert.

Of the headliners, Mistah F.A.B. did confirm that he had received payment. “As far as I know, the show is set to go on,” he said when reached by phone. “I’ve done so much stuff in my career with so many ups and downs, I’m going to go in, get my money and get out.”

A representative for the comedian Russell Peters, who is scheduled to perform a DJ set, also said they received payment: “We are unaware of any controversy surrounding the festival; however, Russell’s fee for the DJ set has already been received by us.”

Contra Costa Event Park also confirmed to KPIX5 that it was paid in full to rent the facility. But there are other discrepancies.

In May, Dave Brooks, executive editor of the concert industry publication Amplify, discovered that the XO Festival’s promoter Sami Habib, a.k.a. Habibullah Said Qadir, was arrested and charged with more than 40 felonies as part of a real estate scam involving high-end properties in Fremont.

“I noticed that they were making all these promises on their website about a seven-stage event with foam pits and celebrities, but their website and marketing materials relied on clip art and images of other events,” Brooks said. “I’ve been to dozens of festivals and nothing felt right about this event.”

The original name of the festival was changed from XOXO to XO after a copyright complaint from promoters of an established event in Oregon with the same name. The festival’s website also lifts artwork and images directly from BottleRock Napa and other big-name events, including a music festival in Australia.

XO Festival’s sponsor page featured the logos of local companies such as Live 105, SFStation and BART, who separately confirmed to The Chronicle that they were not involved.

Meanwhile, a news release was distributed to media outlets that claimed XO Festival was voted best new festival in Northern California, using a fake contact name and email address.

While music festivals like Outside Lands in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and BottleRock Napa Valley at the Napa Valley Expo typically take weeks to produce, no preparations had yet been made on the festival site as of Tuesday.

“I think that there are too many people getting in the music business who have no business being in the music business,” Brooks said. “These events take a lot of money, staff and resources and can’t be done without well-capitalized partners.”

For many who already purchased tickets it may be too late.

The wording on the XO Festival website explicitly claims, “XO, shall at any time prior to the Festival, have the right to change the Venue, Artist Lineup, Festival Times, Festival Dates or any or all other components of the Festival, at any time, with or without advance notification to You and without any compensation to You.”

Aidin Vaziri is The San Francisco Chronicle’s pop music critic. E-mail: avaziri@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @MusicSF

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