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Second Time's The Charm

Throwing a festival ain't easy, as these first-timers found out last year. Here's how they say things will be different in 2010.
Tuesday Jun 01, 2010.     By Gavin Paul
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

With over 100 festivals dotting Chicago streets this summer, from ethnic day parties to epic downtown showcases, niches are scarce for enterprising new hosts. Still, last year, a handful of upstarts planted seeds and created original events. Catching up with us here, these fearless folks cover the lessons learned and hurdles jumped in their first year, and explain how this summer's second effort will help further establish their presence on the festival scene.

<A HREF=/festival/metronomecelebration.html>Metronome Celebration</a>

Metronome Celebration
June 12-13
Max Wagner, Congress Theater

Not that we don't think there's room on the dance floor, but with over 100 festivals this summer, what sets Metronome above the rest of the pack?
We really differentiate ourselves with talent, focusing on specific genres on our stages over the course of two days. You're not going to find another all-day punk stage at another festival in town. You're not going to find a Latin pop stage either. Those things appeal to not just fans of fests, but fans of music. I get a feeling that a lot of the festivals on the West Side are just an amalgamation of hipster culture. What's the difference between Do Division, Wicker Park Fest, Green Music Fest, or any other ones over there? Not a whole lot. Whereas [the Metronome Celebration] stands out kind of like, 'hey, that's a stage for me,' or 'wow, that's awesome punk all day.'

You can plan all you want, but once you've built and they come, the circus begins. What were some oddities or hiccups in year one?
The weather was a little crummy. But there's nothing you can really do about that except cross your fingers for next time. Otherwise, as with any first-time event, you end up overpaying for stuff. Equipments. Staff. Whatever. You come out with a plan, but you don't really know what you need until you get it done and you see it happen on the day. Or minor stuff like traffic flow, how your neighbors are going to respond. I've got some people that love me. And I've got some people that think I'm the devil, as a result of last year.

It's always easier in year two. You've got the relationships. Last year we spent a week, almost two, dong the design work, the logos, the aesthetic and how I wanted the event to come together. This year I don't have to do that. Throw in the new dates, and the new band names and go right ahead. Everything requires less work. When you get into this business you have to take the attitude that 'if I'm not going to do this for at least 3-5 years, I'm not doing it at all.'

What are the lessons learned? And how is year two going to be different?
We did drop the electronic stage and put in the Latin rock stage. We did a great job of booking that stage last year, but I think with any festival you want to be reflective of the neighborhood. Not just because politically it helps you to actually get the street closed down, but at some point you want to attract the people around you, your neighbors. And because of last year I was able to build relationships with Latin promoters and pulled [the stage] off this year. That's going to be a huge draw. Alejandro Marcovich [playing the music of Caifanes] are always referred to as the Mexican Nirvana. It's a big, seminal pop band, considering we get good weather, is going to be an enormous draw for the Latin community. The other big thing is lots more kids and family activities. Houses. Inflatables. The little that we did last year is completely overrun.

Green Music Fest
June 26-27
Tom Neubauer, Big Creek Events

Not that we don't think there's room on the dance floor, but with over 100 festivals this summer, what sets the Green Music Fest above the rest of the pack?
The idea is to create a festival that is green leaning...to operate more eco-friendly, from using biodiesel generators on stages to biodegradable serving utensils. We as festival producers of several different events wanted to take steps in that direction. This was kind of our forced learning process for us to create a vehicle to do that, and vendors that we work with to do that. And a lot of the bands we book also align themselves with that movement, as well. Above that, we're booking great bands, nationally and local. And we want it to be fun and entertaining like any street festival we do.

You can plan all you want, but once you've built and they come, the circus begins. What were some oddities or hiccups in year one?
Interesting things that come with new technology, I guess. The bottled water that we utilized I think it was 360 it's a bottled water company based in Chicago and they only utilize recycled materials for the bottles themselves. And it's a lighter, thinner plastic that's used. But when it's hot it can break down. Especially when cases are stacked on top of other cases.

What are the lessons learned? And how is year two going to be different?
People came to the festival last year with the understanding that we were making an effort to be green and more eco-friendly. But I'd say they primarily came because it's a great festival featuring great bands in a good neighborhood. And negative feedback was slim. But changes we're doing this year last year it was more of a hard ticket event. It was inside Eckhart Park. This year we're moving it onto Chicago Avenue, so it's a legitimate street festival, that's much more accessible at a $5 donation versus a $15 ticket. We just want to make it more affordable and more accessible to more people this year. And we did also learn that you need to have somebody stand right there with recycling receptacles to separate everything, so we're working with the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum who are bringing in teams of high school students to help people understand how to separate.

Windy City Ribs Festival
July 16-18
Hank Zemola, CEO of Chicago Events

Not that we don't think there's room on the dance floor, but with over 100 festivals this summer, what sets the Windy City Ribs Festival above the rest of the pack?
Two distinctive things separate this event from most others a high level of national talent including Cornmeal, Tonic and Sister Hazel. The second part is the championship traveling ribbers. The rib participants for the most part are of national caliber and travel the nation competing for taste and sauce.

You can plan all you want, but once you've built and they come, the circus begins. What were some oddities or hiccups in year one?
Ours was silly. We planned the event the same weekend as the Air & Water Show. It is difficult to compete against such an iconic event and it certainly hindered us.

What are the lessons learned? And how is year two going to be different?
Obviously we moved the date and location. We strongly feel the community events work best in areas that have a combined retail presence along with density of residential population.

<A HREF=/festival/iamfest.html>I AM Fest</a>
I AM Fest
August 28
Brian Bender, founder

Not that we don't think there's room on the dance floor, but with over 100 festivals this summer, what sets the I AM Fest above the rest of the pack?
I believe that Chicago has a lot to offer culturally to its Chicagoans. I AM Fest is an indoor music festival that will never be canceled due to bad weather and focused solely on the local creative music/arts from its community. All of the talent is of local brew and help host some unknown talent that people may not be familiar with and should know of. This year I AM FEST is releasing a sampler CD to give you a taste of all that's to come, and we'll also be hosting a Battle of the Bands that will have 45 bands competing for the first two opening slots for the festival.

You can plan all you want, but once you've built and they come, the circus begins. What were some oddities or hiccups in year one?
Location, location, location. You get what you pay for and who you work with. This year we are focusing the festival at the House of Blues. Live Nation is a well-oiled machine when it comes to promoting, advertising and assisting the production day of for the event. Congress Theater was like working with friends, uncles, friends of a friend, who knows a guys (hope you get the point). Live Nation/HOB just offers a true professional environment for the festival to thrive in. We are also focusing on one stage and 10 bands this year. It was a long day for the last festival and we are hoping to make it more to the point with one stage and showcasing fewer bands with a greater impact.

What are the lessons learned? And how is year two going to be different?
It is never easy. It is never the same as last year and it can only get better. Having it as a sophomore year for I AM Fest at Chicago's Music University of festivals, you live and learn and thrive on your accomplishments and make sure not to repeat mistakes (at least not on purpose). Prepping far in advance and working with great bands and artists helps. And of course, the new location and a new sampler CD. We're looking forward to a successful event not only this year, but years to come.

<A HREF=/festival/lincolnparkartsfestival.html>Lincoln Park Arts & Music Festival</a>

Lincoln Park Arts & Music Festival
July 31-August 1
Karyn Serota, media & marketing director, Chicago Events

Not that we don't think there's room on the dance floor, but with over 100 festivals this summer, what sets the Lincoln Park Arts & Music Festival above the rest of the pack?
This year the fest is introducing a juried fine art and craft area, juried by some of Chicago's leading art experts [and] close to 100 exhibitors. Along with the art, there will be national musical acts including the Pat McGee Band and Buckwheat Zydeco. And the Lincoln Park address, tucked in on Racine from Fullerton to Webster, attracts both families and young adults living in the area as well as in the surrounding areas as it is close to public transportation.

You can plan all you want, but once you've built and they come, the circus begins. What were some oddities or hiccups in year one?
No big hiccups in year one. The event was supported by a million dollars in media value as well as the full support of local business and community leaders. We feel that, with the addition of fine art and crafts, as well as some stronger national musical performances, the event will grow in popularity.

What are the lessons learned? And how is year two going to be different?
The fine art component, as previously mentioned, and pumped up music which will hopefully make the event unique and prosperous. We also have the support of two local radio and television stations, and a newspaper all which will help gain the attention this event deserves.

 

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