The year was 2002 when Fort Worth Weekly decided to put together a concert as part of our annual Music Awards. The location was Ridglea Theater. The bill consisted of five bands, including Holland K. Smith and Aggressive Christine –– the rest have receded too deeply into memory to recall. The attendance? About 50 people, which, if you’ve ever been to the Ridglea, looks like two goldfish in an Olympic pool-sized tank.
Back then, our Music Awards Festival (né Music Awards Showcase) was the only event of its kind in town. Modeled after similar, locals-only gatherings in other metropolises, including Austin (of course), Dallas, and Houston (where I worked as music editor of the local alt-weekly and oversaw a showcase that featured more than 100 acts), our first festival/showcase was really just a glorified Saturday-night concert on a Sunday afternoon. But somehow –– nigh miraculously –– it caught on, and since 2012, our Music Awards Festival has featured 48 bands (all from the great 817) and has drawn pretty well.
But we’re not the only game in town anymore.
There are a couple of other Fort Worth festivals that, while not as 817-centric as ours, are heavily biased toward Tarrant County acts. The increase in number is simply a reflection of a national trend. Yes, there have always been music festivals (and, no, I don’t remember Woodstock), but there have never been as many as there are now: Coachella, Bonaroo, South by Southwest, Bigfoot, Hang Out, CMJ, Lollapalooza, the list goes on. And most of them are thriving (unlike in England, where the festival bubble has already burst).
“Large gatherings of people have been hanging out and watching some form of entertainment in a festival-style setting for ages,” said Lance Yocom, founder and owner of Spune Productions. “It just looks different nowadays.”
What’s new, he thinks, is a corporate aspect “with brands being pushed on people.”
The result, he said, is a love/hate relationship: “Some dislike that messaging, but those same people probably do not also realize how insanely expensive it is to produce a festival or how huge a festival is for each city’s economy. … You just deal with the propaganda so you can reap the benefits it provides.”
The success of festivals is a reflection of another national trend. Now that fewer artists have access to mainstream media (specifically terrestrial radio), they have been forced, even if just ever so gently, to play shows. And play and play. Now that only the Coldplays, Taylor Swifts, and Jay-Zs of the world can make decent money off record sales, live music has become most artists’ primary source of income from their talent.
Plus, said Jamie Kinser Knight, co-founder and -owner of Ghostlight Concerts, a Fort Worth-based talent buyer, festivals are just fun: “There’s a lot more going on than [at] a traditional concert. … They are … events with massive and sometimes interactive art installations, sponsors giving away freebies, spectacular visual displays, thousands of people. [Electric Daisy Carnival] even has sexy clowns. How is a ‘regular’ concert supposed to compete with that?”
In North Texas, the number of festivals is pretty impressive. Several big ones (Edgefest, Homegrown, Suburbia, Untapped) have recently come and gone. A few more –– our 12th Annual Music Awards Festival (June 22), Lolaspalooza, Clearfork (Aug. 30), Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic, and something called Radfest (May 24) –– are right around the corner. And that’s not counting this weekend.
While Richardson will host Wildflower! (headlined by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, The Wallflowers, and Cheap Trick), Fort Worth will offer the Fort Worth Music Festival. Known as Jazz by the Boulevard just two years ago and co-booked by Spune and Marsha Milam Music, FWMF is now an indie-friendly force. The Old 97’s, The Walkmen, Delta Spirit, the jazzy Galactic, and Drive-By Truckers are some of the big-timers that have played. For the 2014 iteration, you’ve got Lucinda Williams, Jimmy Eat World, Billy F. Gibbons (of ZZ Top), Jackopierce, The Airborne Toxic Event, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., and Justin Townes Earle. There’s also a healthy dose of local flavor (Quaker City Night Hawks, Foxtrot Uniform, Ice Eater, Patriot), because Fort Worth is a music town and not having any Fort Worth music would have been scandalous.
“If you look at the major festivals across the country, you’ll find a common theme in that the same bands are playing all of them,” Yocom said. “We like to think of FWMF as being individually curated and more of a local-meets-national, grassroots reflection of the vibrant culture emerging in the city. I mean, it’s called the Fort Worth Music Festival.”
Will the United States’ music-fest bubble ever burst? Probably, but until then, get used to being surrounded by hundreds of people enjoying the outdoors while sampling live music as if they were scrolling through an internet jukebox.
“I think it’s an exciting trend,” Kinser said.
Fort Worth Music Festival w/Lucinda Williams, Jimmy Eat World, Billy F. Gibbons, The Airborne Toxic Event, Jackopierce, Justin Townes Earle, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., Ray Wylie Hubbard, Aaron Behrens & The Midnight Stroll, Air Review, Quaker City Night Hawks, Oil Boom, Quiet Company, Ice Eater, Uncle Lucius, Foxtrot Uniform, The Fox and the Bird, Team, Ronnie Fauss, Patriot Fri-Sat. $32-90. Panther Island Pavilion, 395 Purcey St, FW.