I was in Louisville recently for the mighty Forecastle Festival and it was a terrific three days of fun. I attend one of these festivals every year and, as always, spent money like a foreign tourist, stayed at the amazing (and soon to be in Indy) 21c Hotel, ate the local cuisine and sampled the local culture. And I wasn’t the only one. The festival was crawling with Indiana folk. Half the crowd high fived me the day I wore a Butler t-shirt.
My beloved Indianapolis, like so many American cities, is in full bloom. Chef centered restaurants with the good kale, fat tire bike sharing, a wonderful orchestra, bearded hipsters in vests offering $14 cocktails and all the other trappings of Big Time City Living.
What are we lacking? What do we need now? A music festival. A proper multi-day festival. The time is now. NOW. NOW. NOW.
Where would it be? Let’s start with where it should not be. Not in a neighborhood like Fountain Square or Broad Ripple. Not big enough. And not at the Speedway. The Indy 500 crew has lots of money to spend, and a large venue that could support 50,000+ daily attendees but they are arrogant and out of touch, consistently refusing to take anyone’s advice about anything at all. They’ve reduced the best racing in the world to a niche of a niche. And they made an absolute mess of the recent Rolling Stones concert. They won’t be collaborative with local promoters and they won’t bring in outsiders to assist with booking and sponsorship. They will want to sell tall boys of Miller and Coors Lite (Both Kinds!) and charge too much for parking.
Where would it be, in that case? Downtown. White River State Park. Downtown Louisville is lovely. It is. But the concert venue is under an interstate. Louisville is not half of downtown Indianapolis, with our vibrant downtown and myriad attractions for visitors, nearby hotel rooms, walking trails and volunteer network. We are the best city in the world for hosting major downtown events. WRSP is a terrific music venue already, and at the recent Final Four Concerts showed it can host multiple stages and very large crowds. Louisville is great but we can be twice as good with the right promoter, sponsorship support and marketing push.
Indianapolis can attract thousands of cultural tourists from the midwest and beyond who will hang out and walk around, spending money and taking in the local culture, drinking the local beer, eating the local charcuterie.
Why now? The music business has changed and is changing. No one buys music anymore, not even me beyond record shopping in towns when I travel and downloading alt-country to my telephone. Some years back I bought a CD (YES, THAT GUY) for a girl. And it was all quite charming as she didn’t have a compact disc player to play it. I don’t recall buying a CD at all over the past year. I bought a shiny new car recently and only last week found the CD player. So the bands today have to tour, are always on the road as the only way to make money.
We see the results of this in the 317 with great concerts at five or six good venues each week. Audiences are increasingly open to new sounds and experiences. And so now American cities are jumping on the European Festival bandwagon, packing several days of music and fun as an economic driver outpacing many sporting events and conferences. Almost every Midwestern city has a substantial music festival as a centerpiece of civic events.
The trick of booking big acts is having the financial heft to take the risk of failure. The other trick is to secure enough sponsorship that core costs are covered before the first note (and in case of some bad weather). The good folks at Warm Fest tried to do this but without the organization, marketing support and booking power of a national promoter and they failed spectacularly. Jazz Fest had some potential years ago but now is a modest effort (nothing wrong with that).
Why Indy? A wealthy developer wants the city to build him a soccer stadium in the name of keeping millennials in the city. Sure. But nothing compares to the youthful energy of a big time music festival. The kids love it. They love it. Over 25? Want to feel old? My friend, attend yourself a music festival.
Who is our Guy? We’ve got the guy in town to get us started. Craig Dodge Lile and the good folks at MOKB have the organization, network and know how to get this done. They are creative and inspired promoters and book all kinds of great bands, making the numbers work in all sorts of Indy venues. MOKB, let’s make Indy a Festival town in 2016. Imagine Indiana’s rising Houndmouth headlining stage two on Saturday. Imagine a Locals Only stage for emerging bands to reach a regional and national audience. Bluegrass. Country. Hip Hop. The Last IV tearing through another ferocious live set. Imagine the Vonnegut Library hosting a tent of creative happening. The local food and beverage partnerships. A charitable angle with the Friends of the White River or Keep Indianapolis Beautiful. Imagine our Rev. Peyton rocking 50,000 on a Saturday night before the Black Keys take the stage.
Who needs soccer in comparison to that?