Friday, July 23, 2010

memory of a free festival: thoughts on Fests in Louisville

now all that the hoopla over FORECASTLE, Lebowski fest and hullabaloo has subsided, i have been thinking about the quality of louisville fests, and our chances for a truly unstoppable louisville music fest.
for a truly music loving town, i have always wondered why we haven't been able to come up with an annual fest that could stand up with national festivals. we have found a nitch with small unique annuals like LEBOWSKI FEST, ZOMBIE ATTACK, and SHOTGUN FEST, but we haven't yet found our
sxsw. we definitely have the numbers to support a large music fest, but we are a fickle bunch, and we don't want it to feel forced, and we definitely don't want to feel like we aren't appreciated.
this year's FORECASTLE FEST, is the first time i've been since it was free, and when they made the jump into big ticket prices (weekend pass $160-$300) i really didn't think it would make it. but last year's numbers reached 30k, and this year was the biggest yet, even as prices continually rise. But high prices seem to be the nature of the beast, and for a lot of us, we can only afford one fest per summer.
Hullabaluo sold out of VIP weekend passes for a whooping $975, weeks early. but it had trouble getting rid of the general admission tix, which suggests that many Louisvillians can't hack the ticket price, or it could be the very generic line up.
Forecastle had a much better line up, though most of the better acts were late additions to help push tix sales. but all said, $160 isn't too bad for what was offered, considering the other fest prices this summer: Hallabaloo had single day and weekend passes at $60 and $160 (same as Forecastle) for awhile and then upped them to $75 and $200 a week before the fest. and there was talk that Forecastle pulled it's single day tickets from ear x-tacy at the start of the fest so people would have to pay the extra $10 for the "at the gate" price.
Lebowskifest has gotten up to more than $50 for the 2 day conference, it's not a fortune, but if your not coo coo for The Big Lebowski, you'll probably choose to keep your money. it's a fun Con, if your into that sort of thing, and very original, but i'd venture to guess that they could double the participants if they could find a way to cut the price down a notch or two. the Zombie Attack numbers almost double every year, and as it's a totally free event, the content isn't much more than booze, costumes, and fake blood. but it doesn't need a ton of bells and whistles; it feels like an event for Louisvillians by Louisvillians, and thats part of why it makes it soo much fun.

i think besides the higher prices, Forecastle has the makings for a great annual music fest (much better chances than Hullabalou with their obvious corporate prices and generic line up), if they would just realize that it's louisville that has supported them so far, and it's louisville that can make them or break them in the future.
a few years ago a writer criticized Forecastle and was told he wasn't welcome to come back, and i considered not writing this, because i largely enjoyed Forecastle this year, and would like to go again, i just think it could better, and i'd like to see it survive.
but we are not a dumb bunch, we realize when we're getting screwed. Forecastle's rule of no re-entry, no outside food or drink, and $3 for a 12oz bottle of water, is taking advantage. and selling drink tickets in $10 blocks is just adding insult to injury. i was cornered into buying $10 worth of tickets for one bottle of water because it was as hot as hell, and they had no mist tents. i think the only reason some people didn't drop dead was that the fest took place in a public park, and there was a water fountain in the kids park,if you could find it, and if you didn't mind the continual 10+ person line.
and speaking of water, vendor prices were all over the map, but every vendor sold the 12oz bottle of water for the bloated $3. i asked a vendor who sold other drinks for $2 about this and he said all vendors had to buy the water from Forecastle officials for $2.75 each and had to sell it at $3.

besides the greedy food and water trickery, the other obvious flaw was the stage set ups. If you were there, you know what i'm spraying here. in the middle of the Great Lawn was the "main stage" where top billing bands like DEVO and Smashing Pumpkins played. a little further up the path was the secondary stage where smaller indie bands like Lucero, and We Were Promised Jetpacks played. And at the far end of the park was the 'North stage' where local bands played to a mainly local audience. and despite grumbling from some of the local bands about treatment from Forecastle (some bands said they were paid far less than they were promised) it seemed like Forecastle thought they had to have local bands, but they didn't like it much. (i would like to say i thought Mat Herron did a great job curating the local line up, i only wished more than a hand full of people saw it).
many people parked themselves in front of the Main Stage to secure a good spot for the headliners, thus not venturing out to see other bands. here's what i think, why couldn't all 3 stages be 'main stages' and host all levels of bands? have a local band open for a national band, who in turn opens for a headliner?
most of my friends spent their time running around trying to catch segments of bands they like, and dogging golf carts driven by angry Forecastle Employees who seemed to think that if no one had showed up to the fest, they would have been able to get around easier.
But Louisville needs a good Music Fest, and we might be willing to pay for it if the conditions are right. Forecastle seems to have a better idea of what music we want to hear than Hullabalou, as well as giving more music for the buck, and it has a determined captan at the helm. i only hope he'll realize that we are more than cash cows to be bled for every drop. Louisvillians are a fiercely loyal bunch, Treat us like you appreciate us, and we'll show up every year.
See more great pictures from Forecastle by Chris Scott here.

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