Behind the Scene: Jordan Wolowitz

Bradley Tucker on September 24, 2018
Behind the Scene: Jordan Wolowitz

Founders Entertainment’s Tom Russell and Jordan Wolowitz


In 2010, Jordan Wolowitz and his childhood friend Tom Russell quit their jobs to focus on a festival concept that was relatively new to the New York market. Their goal was to cater to music fans in their 20s, focusing on cool, modern bands in the electronic, hip- hop and indie-rock spaces. And, unlike other promoters who had tried to make it by staging their events in the areas surrounding New York, they were adamant about hosting their show in the city proper.

So they created Founders Entertainment and, in 2011, staged the first Governors Ball Music Festival on Governors Island, a gorgeous piece of land located 800 yards from Lower Manhattan. The event was financially successful in its first year—a rare feat—and well received by fans, artists and the city alike. Since relocating to its permanent home on Randalls Island the next year, Gov Ball has become a key part of the New York City music landscape and has attracted many notable acts such as Jack White, The Strokes, Lorde, Guns N’ Roses, Outkast, Phoenix, My Morning Jacket, Ryan Adams, Gary Clark Jr., The Killers and Tool.

What was your first job in the music business and what lead you to that?

Even though it was an unpaid internship, my first job was interning for Atlantic Records after my freshman year in college. I did all sorts of internships throughout college, whether it was for a record label or for a promoter.

After graduating from college, I moved out west to Monterey, Calif., where I worked at Monterey [Peninsula Artists]. They had just started their transition over to Paradigm. I started off in the back office and I did accounts and things of that nature. About a year or two into being there, I had an itch to move home to New York to pursue my goals in the industry and went to work for Marsha Vlasic. Her company had just been acquired by ICM, and she was building out a rock division and needed an assistant. So I moved home in 2010 and started working on her desk.

It was around that time when Tom and I had started putting together the idea for the first Governors Ball. We’d been friends since high school, and our senior year was when the first Bonnaroo took place. That obviously was a huge inspiration to a lot of kids in the live music scene around my age. We’d always said that we wanted be the first people to crack the code to doing a successful contemporary festival in our town, New York City. We hadn’t lived in the same place since high school—he went to school and worked in New Orleans for a while—but once we were both back in New York, we started putting together the idea for Gov Ball.

Can you talk about the early planning for the first Gov Ball.

Dealing with Governors Island was actually pretty straightforward. They had a committee there that was set up to deal with promoters and producers who wanted to stage live events. We also had a relationship with some of the guys who had already built stages and done some events out there in previous years, so we utilized those relationships. We were definitely young and wet behind the ears.

However, we weren’t totally going into it blindly. In terms of operating a show, Tom had been Rick Farman’s right-hand man at Superfly and, for all intents and purposes, he had already built a relatively small two-stage show. On my end, I’d worked with booking agents and volunteered on the program board at my college so I had some experience booking bands and cutting and tapering deals.

But when you compare the very first Gov Ball to what Governors Ball is now, they’re very different shows. The first Gov Ball was one day and there were two stages. None of the acts would have been considered mainstream at that time. We only had two golf carts for our entire crew. There was a lot of running around on foot. I wish someone did a documentary on it because, if you looked back on it, we’d probably either laugh or shake our heads in embarrassment about how bare bones it was.

But you pulled it off.

I think we needed around 12,000 people to show up to make sure we didn’t lose any money, and we ended up getting 18,000 and change. So it was a very successful first-year show—not only financially, but also because people had a great experience.

Our intention the first year was to put on a show that people our age would enjoy. The reason we were successful that first year was because we marketed and produced it with that in mind.

What’s the best part about your job and what’s the worst part?

The best part of my job is getting to do something that I really enjoy. Nobody at Founders takes their job for granted—not everyone can do exactly what they want to do for a living and we’re lucky that, when we wake up, we’re doing exactly what we wanted to do when we were in college.

I don’t even know if it’s the worst part, but there’s always just a lot of stress when you’re running your own company. If you’re an entrepreneur building your own businesses, it’s always on you whether you’re going to succeed or not. I wouldn’t have it any other way and I don’t think Tom would either, but the pressure that you put on yourself as creator/entrepreneur can be a lot sometimes. It also keeps the job really exciting. I try not to get too stressed out—I should probably try meditation.

How has your job changed from when you started?

In terms of the festival market, there’s just a lot of traffic right now. It’s on festival creators and promoters to make sure that the events they’re developing and putting into the market are unique, and that they are doing what every business should do. Their job is to fill a void in the market and satisfy customer demand. If you’re just putting things out into the market that have no need and the market is not calling for it, then you’re almost weakening the greater good. When we started Gov Ball, we saw a void in the marketplace and we filled it. But I think everyone needs to be careful that there’s real demand before they decide to launch a new event or a new festival.


This article originally appears in the September 2018 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here.