11/30/2009 12:00AM

Churchill Downs Inc. branching out


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Churchill Downs Inc. officials announced Monday that a multi-genre music festival called HullabaLOU will be held next July 23-25 at its flagship track. Among the biggest draws will be Bon Jovi, the Dave Matthews Band, and Kenny Chesney.

The announcement came as Churchill finally took the wraps off its new wholly owned subsidiary Churchill Downs Entertainment, a company being headed by Steve Sexton, the longtime racing executive who had served as president of the racetrack until being reassigned in January. Formation of the entertainment division began last year, but few details had been released until Monday.

Churchill Downs Entertainment officials said they intend for HullabaLOU to become an annual event that will be held several weeks after the conclusion of the spring race meet, which in 2010 will end on July 4. The festival will run from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern on each of the three days, rain or shine, and is designed to become a destination event, much in the way the Kentucky Derby draws visitors from far away.

"We intend to become an industry leader in the live entertainment industry," said Sexton.

Louisville mayor Jerry Abramson and other top-ranking business and civic officials appeared at a splashy media conference Monday in the Aristides Room at Churchill to unveil the HullabaLOU plans. Bob Evans, president of Churchill Downs Inc., said in introductory remarks that the genesis of the entertainment division came with the realization that "what we're good at is hosting large, live, entertainment events.

"We're looking to turn this into something special," he said.

At least 65 musical acts will be signed up for the inaugural HullabaLOU, with 28 having already been confirmed, said Sexton. There will be five stages set up throughout the racetrack grounds, with a main stage just inside the turf course facing the grandstand. Other acts confirmed include the B 52s, Gladys Knight, the Black Crowes, and the Steve Miller Band. The music genres to be included in the festival are rock, classic rock, country, adult contemporary, and bluegrass.

Further details and ticketing information are available at hullabaloufest.com. Ticket prices range from $60 for a one-day general admission ticket to $975 for a three-day VIP package. Tickets go on sale Friday at noon Eastern on the HullabaLOU website and through Ticketmaster.

Churchill has dabbled in recent years in hosting major music events, with a Rolling Stones concert drawing about 44,000 fans in September 2006 and a Police concert getting about 27,000 in July 2007. Sexton said Churchill Downs Entertainment and tourism officials are looking for a three-day total attendance of about 90,000 for the first HullabaLOU, with an economic impact of $38 million.

The festival will come when many racing stables have departed for other tracks, although Churchill does remain open for training. However, the track plans to close for training for at least those three HullabaLOU days in 2010, said Sexton.

Jim Gates, the former Churchill racetrack general manager who now serves as vice president of business development for Churchill Downs Entertainment, said 2011 dates have not yet been confirmed for HullabaLOU but the same window in late July would be the target.