Fall 2007. Lyndzapalooza (LP) had a survey of audience preferences, and we had a mission statement.
Both seemed like tremendous accomplishments as we toiled at them, but they were dwarfed by our next task: building a bigger, better music festival.
First we needed to find a place to host it.
As with many of our problems, it started out seeming relatively benign. We needed a big, open, outdoor space that could host an all day concert. Surely we could drive out of the city and ask any farm on the block to host us.
If you said yes, you would be exactly naive as I was last fall.
An outdoor concert venue needs to want to be visited by a bunch of music-loving strangers. It must have ample and accessible electricity, and either an existing stage infrastructure or a willingness to have one built.
Those are just the basics. What about lighting? Bathrooms? Parking? Security? Alcohol? Trash disposal?
I can’t take an iota of credit for this step in our development – it was lead by a phalanx of our most people-persons: Lindsay, Amanda and Jem, and my partner in Arcati Crisis, Gina.
First, They developed criteria for a venue – everything from price to sound ordinances, from capacity to garbage disposal. Next, they wrote a script for their outreach calls. Then they compiled an exhaustive list of possible venues, sometimes drawing from the experiences of other local festivals. Finally, they started making calls.
It was at this point we started to learn something special about music promotions at a local level – something that stood in complete opposition to our team of directors: there are very few Type A personalities doing this sort of thing. Not a lot of call-backers, list-makers, and go-getters, aside from the eight of us.
As my anecdotal example, I witnessed Gina conduct a 20-minute phone call with one venue, most of which was comprised of an argument about the ideal number of bands to feature on a bill for a one day festival, during which her counterpart on the other side of the line may have smoked an entire joint. Possibly two.
In the midst of lacking follow-ups and incomprehensible burnouts we finally found one farm where someone had their shit together and, as luck would have it, the farm itself was awesome. An appropriate size for our event, multiple stages, places to camp, and a snack shack. Lindsay put together an animated (literally) presentation to show all of the capabilities of the site.
Here we hit upon an issue.
Even in conversations with the burnouts we established early on that booking a farm would cost somewhere in the area of $2000, and that didn’t include any associated costs, like mixing equipment, lighting, and garbage disposal.
We were trying to evolve from a backyard party with under a hundred guests to a huge musical festival, but we’d have to charge 100 guests more than $30 a ticket just to break even. It’s a steal for eight or more hours of live music, but it’s a lot to ask after five years of being a house party with kegs and a donation jar.
As we mulled that over we managed to reach a decision point on another aspect of our evolution: we realized that we definitely wanted to become a non-profit organization.
We were eight people holding regular meetings, collecting dues, and planning events. We needed some sort of business model, and not one of us seemed to feel that a commercial one would fit. It was clear that we were in this for the love of music and the development of the community, and becoming recognized as a non-profit organization had the added bonuses of allowing us to collect donations in a legitimate, tax-exempt way, and minimizing our own personal legal and financial risks.
As if the farm price tag wasn’t daunting enough, the non-profit angle increased our need to fundraise … the state and federal process involves lots of fun paperwork and official seals, many of which cost money, and all of which benefit from oversight by actual legal counsel.
Our twin problems of raising cash and drumming up audience support intersected at a common solution – we needed to present more “off-season” events. They would help us build capital, and also reel in a regular (and hopefully increasing) audience.
Just like that we conceived of Winter Mixer, a low-key show with five bands, wine, and cheese. The goal? Spend hardly any money, present awesome bands, and reel in new audience members.
We planned the show stealthily in less than two months, an it was a great success. We made over and above the profits we were aiming for, which was cause for celebration in the short term. Yet, the farm was still outside of our reach, both budgetarily and promotionally.
What were we to do?
I have at least one more chapter of this story for you, which I hope I have the time to squeak out before I head to Yardley to help build our stage. Until then, you can purchase or reserve tickets on the web at TicketLeap. If you like independent songwriters and bands you’ll definitely love There’s a Stage on My Lawn!