March 21 update: The Preakness InfieldFest's Jagermeister Stage will feature the San Diego rock veterans Switchfoot, country act Eli Young Band, classic rock-meets-country duo Sundy Best and the electronic dance music-leaning cover band Go Go Gadjet. Tickets for the InfieldFest concert, May 17, are $60 ($80 Mug Club beer package) -- increasing on May 1 to $70 ($90 Mug Club).
Lorde, the rising pop star best known for her Grammy-winning song "Royals," will headline the Preakness Stakes' InfieldFest concert on May 17, Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas announced on Thursday morning at the Pimlico Race Course.
"We believe Lorde is cutting edge," Chuckas said of the 17-year-old singer-songwriter from New Zealand. "Some people think she's the next Madonna or Lady Gaga."
Booking Lorde follows the recent trend of the Maryland Jockey Club, along with the production company I.M.P., landing "ascending talent" for its annual concert, Chuckas said. He cited two acts from last year — Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Florida Georgia Line — as examples.
Chuckas says the Jockey Club and I.M.P. look at a combination of factors that include the event's budget, an artist's draw and "where they are today and where we expect them to be in the next couple months," when booking headliners.
Last month, Lorde performed live on the Grammys and took home two awards, Song of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance, for "Royals." She was already booked for InfieldFest before the ceremony, but the Maryland Jockey Club waited to see if she won any awards before making an announcement, Chuckas said.
This year's InfieldFest marks the sixth year since the Preakness Stakes' infield shifted its focus from alcohol-fueled debauchery to providing a music festival environment at the Triple Crown event. Chuckas called booking talent in 2009 "very, very difficult" because the Pimlico Race Course is not a "typical musical venue" and the concert had no track record.
"Five years ago, no one showed any interest," Chuckas said. "Now, at least when we go down this path, they know what it is. The other musicians that have played here talk it up."
Signing Lorde, whom Chuckas called an "old soul," as a headliner is a risk since she is best known for one song, but Chuckas remembers last year's announcement of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis was met with similar skepticism. One year later, the duo is a four-time Grammy winner with palpable mainstream momentum and multiple brand endorsements.
"We've been very successful to this point, and I have no reason to believe we won't continue to be successful," Chuckas said of the InfieldFest's history of booking talent.
Having Lorde headline May's InfieldFest concert is a bold, intriguing decision. The singer's "Pure Heroine" was one of 2013's sharpest debut albums because its sound — dank, haunting and surprisingly spry minimalist pop — was in stark contrast to the sleek, often-bombastic songs populating Top 40 radio. And yet, Lorde broke through with a perfect pop song about class and self-satisfaction whose melody was instantly hummable.
Will it work for an InfieldFest crowd that, one-year prior, was fist-pumping to Pitbull and enthusiastically hand-clapping to Lewis' tailored-for-radio beats? If so, it will be a testament to Lorde's songwriting and singing abilities, as her sparsely arranged songs sound lean and skeletal compared to prior headliners.
From a music standpoint, the Maryland Jockey Club and I.M.P. should be applauded for this surprising risk. This is arguably their most discerning choice ever for a headliner, and the question of "Will this work?" attached to it adds suspense and intrigue that should grow as the day gets closer.
Last year's Preakness Stakes was attended by approximately 120,000 people, Chuckas said, and the goal "is to obviously break that." He said ticket sales are up 15 percent from last year at this point, and that figure was reached before the announcement of Lorde.
Lorde joins a list of InfieldFest headliners that includes Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (2013), Pitbull (2013), Maroon 5 (2012), Wiz Khalifa (2012) and Bruno Mars (2011). There will be two more artists, including an electronic dance music act, on the main InfieldFest stage, Chuckas said. The Jagermeister second stage will have three artists to be named later as well. The Club plans to announce additions to the lineup in the coming weeks, according to Chuckas.
Infield tickets are $50 through Friday, increasing to $60 through April and $70 thereafter. The Mug Club beer package costs $70 through Friday, increasing to $80 through April and $90 thereafter. For more information, go to preakness.com.
Chuckas says the negative criticism surrounding the Jockey Club's decision to eliminate the bring-your-own-beer element of the infield years ago is no longer an issue, and the strength of recent InfieldFest concerts is a large reason why.
"The racing as been absolutely essential but that music festival has turned into something special," he said.
What do you think of Lorde headlining InfieldFest? Let us know in the comments.