Cardi B's the biggest artist of the year, and she's kicking off 2019 by headlining two New Zealand music festivals. How'd that happen? Chris Schulz investigates.
Pato Alvarez was on holiday in Santorini. The music promoter was supposed to be relaxing in the Greek Islands, but he couldn't help himself. He checked his messages.
He'd received an email he had to share.
It was good news: He and his partners, festival promoters Mitch Lowe and Toby Burrows, had secured Cardi B, this year's biggest artist, to headline two music festivals, performances that will be seen by up to 50,000 people this summer.
Confirming the Bronx rap superstar, known for No. 1 hits Bodak Yellow and I Like It, had taken a year of negotiations. The trio didn't need to sign her: they'd already announced Atlanta rap juggernauts Migos and Australian solo superstar Tash Sultana, and ticket sales were going well.
But Cardi B is married to Offset, a member of Migos. They have a child together. "We were like, 'This is our chance,'" says Alvarez.
So, when Alvarez, 32, received the email, which contained a signed contract, he couldn't contain his excitement. He got Lowe and Burrows on a conference call.
Burrows was at a party when he picked up his phone. It was nearly midnight, and he screamed "F***! F***! F***!" back at Alvarez. "It's like you've won Lotto," he says.
Lowe, meanwhile, was at home with his girlfriend, a massive Cardi B fan. The 28-year-old turned his phone around to show Alvarez and Burrows footage of her dancing around their bedroom in celebration.
Alvarez was by the beach. With a cold beer in his hand, he couldn't stop smiling.
Landing Cardi B was the latest in a long list of reasons for the trio to celebrate. In just four years, their Mount Maunganui music festival, Bay Dreams, has become the country's biggest, attracting 30,000 people. Next year, they've added a second leg in Nelson, attracting another 20,000.
Cardi B's confirmation made them this summer's hottest festival ticket.
If you want one, you're out of luck: they've long since sold out.
But Cardi B meant something else: it confirmed the promoting trio meant business. They've moved into the major leagues, dealing with artists who charge $1 million or more per show, those who can command private jets as part of their contracts. "They're next level," agrees Alvarez. It meant they were serious.
"Are you picturing bottles of champagne?" Lowe asks about the moment they secure an artist like Cardi B.
He smiles, leans back in his chair, and says: "It's a little bit like that."
Drinking champagne is something you'd imagine music promoters do all the time. In reality, Alvarez, Lowe and Burrows say they're far too busy to indulge.
This year, as in the last few, they've put on close to 300 shows. This summer, alongside festivals like One Love, Good Vibes, Soundsplash and Sonorous, they're touring acts as varied as The Jacksons, UB40, The Prodigy, Toto, and Blindspott.
They say they have many more shows, and several new festivals, yet to be announced. Each requires security, crowd control, bar staff, food vendors, site staff, insurance and more. They all need contracts. There's a lot of paperwork. "New stuff comes up every day," says Burrows.
Business is booming as loud as the bass in Mitch Lowe's car. As a result, their hours are well outside the norm. Based in Tauranga, the trio are often up into the night, working across different time zones. They'll message each other about offers at 1am. "We're taking our opportunities, we're taking risks," says Alvarez.
All three say they've signed acts while out eating dinner. "If I turned my phone off for a day, I'd hate to say what would happen," says Lowe. "It doesn't matter where I am. I could be out on a boat still doing contracts."
Living that lifestyle comes at a cost. All three admit feeling the pressure. They've taken steps to prevent burnout. Lowe bought a lifestyle block "knowing that I'd have no other choice but to feed animals and go outside." One of his goats is called Selena Goatmez. He recently took up high impact fitness craze F45. "My productivity now is probably twice what it was," he says.
Alvarez, meanwhile, has moved his family into a large home in Papamoa with a heated pool and guest house. He doesn't take his success for granted: when he first came to New Zealand, he was broke, and slept rough. So he enjoys spending time with his wife and two kids. He owns a jet ski, and recently took up meditation. "Our business is like a Ferrari, but if my body is running like a Toyota Corolla, it's going to burn," he says.
Burrows, 37, and a keen surfer, meditates too. "There are some points it's too much," he says. "We've got so many things going on ... it's hard to sleep at night."
Their team is growing too. There have been four new additions over the last four months. Soon, they'll leave their pokey downtown office to move into a much larger building. Also joining the team is a personal assistant. "Our business is doubling every year," Lowe wrote in the job advertisement, saying he was struggling to cope with the hundreds of emails he gets every day.
That growth, in the highly competitive live music industry, means they're undoubtedly causing disruption. Are they stealing shows from other promoters?
Here's how they reply when you ask how many toes they're stepping on.
Alvarez: "All the toes."
Lowe: "Not in a bad way."
Alvarez: "Change is good."
Burrows: "In any industry, if you're growing, you're impacting competitors."
Lowe: "We have such strong morals, that's why I have no issue with it. We're going head to head, we're playing by the rules, we're paying the right money, and we're smashing it."
Burrows: "We don't talk badly about others."
The trio say other promoters aren't as fair, spreading rumours about them. "People are trying to say we're doing bad business," says Alvarez. It always comes back to them. "How fast does word spread in New Zealand?" says Lowe. They claim a "former partner" tried to book the same venue that Nelson's Bay Dreams will be held in for three years in a row - a blatant attempt to cut them out of the market.
"We're not being dirty," says Lowe. "And there is a lot of underhandedness in this industry."
"Bro, which one do you want?" Alvarez is looking at Lowe and pointing to one of two empty rooms at the top of a three-storey complex in Tauranga's outer suburbs.
Lowe nods towards one room, and Alvarez gives him a thumbs up. "Sweet," he says.
The pair have just chosen their new offices in their new headquarters, a huge slice of a an industrial complex that they'll soon move into. It's some distance from their squished open plan office in the middle of Tauranga, which they've quickly outgrown.
The sprawling three-level site has plenty of room for their current team of 17, and new staff they're anticipating they'll need to add as their business grows. There's room for all their festival equipment, a front desk, and separate offices for the trio.
Upstairs is a recreation room where they plan on installing video games, a pool table and a new sound system to host artists.
Along with staff and equipment, there's something else that will make the trip into their new digs: A poster on the wall of their old office. It's black with white writing that contains five words, a simple quote from Brooklyn rapper Biggie Smalls: "It was all a dream."
It is, says Lowe, their mission statement. Their success hasn't come overnight, but, after 10 years of grind, it's starting to feel like a reality.
"It's starting to mean something," he says. "Now it's exactly what we thought it would be."
The biggest artists you can see this summer
Cardi B isn't the only big name performing in New Zealand over the summer break. Here are three more heading our way.
Nicki Minaj at Fomo By Night, January 9, Spark Arena: The boisterous New York rap superstar tops a bill that also includes Lil Pump, Mura Masa and Kali Uchis. Expect plenty of songs from her recent comeback album, Queen.
Migos at Bay Dreams, January 2, Mount Maunganui: The Atlanta rap trio remain one of hip-hop's biggest groups. Stand out singles Bad and Boujee and Stir Fry are bound to feature, and, potentially, on Motorsport, a guest appearance by Cardi B.
Vince Staples at Rhythm & Vines, December 31, Gisborne: The Long Beach rapper has climbed his way up festival ladders to secure headliner status. Expect his New Year's Eve set to be one of the rowdiest ways to see in 2019.
• Bay Dreams is held at Mount Maunganui's Baypark Arena on January 2, and Nelson's Trafalgar Park on January 4. For more information, visit baydreams.co.nz