After the postponement of Fortress Festival 2020 — now slated for April 24 and 25 of 2021 — festival co-founders Alec Jhangiani and Ramtin Nikzad began exploring ways to diversify their Fortress brand for what they knew would be a tumultuous year.
“Stepping back allowed us to do more internal planning, reshuffling, and long-term planning,” Nikzad said.
The Fortress team’s newest project, the Wild Acre stage, is a joint venture with Wild Acre Brewing Company near East Lancaster Avenue.
“We’ve spent the past few months working with Wild Acre to outfit the facility and grounds with sound and lights and other improvements and will have updates about the calendar soon,” Nikzad said. “It’s about the same size or larger than our main stage at Fortress Festival. As the promoter and manager of the Wild Acre stage, our aim is to make Fort Worth a stop on major tours and a platform for local talent, not just for the two days of Fortress Festival but all year. [The stage] will also allow us to deliver a wider variety of programming that may not always neatly fit into the festival format.”
Recent concerts in the centerfield of the Dell Diamond stadium in Round Rock show one way forward for outdoor concerts, Nikzad continued, referring to the stadium’s use of 6-by-6-foot seating pods that partition small groups of concertgoers at socially distant intervals.
Nikzad said he is cautiously optimistic that the new Wild Acre Brewing Company stage, which will feature music as well as non-music acts like comedians and live podcast shows, can open under similar conditions.
“We may not be able to follow the same opening timeline as other parts of the country,” he said. “There are so many variables. Even if [public health officials] have an outbreak under control, there will be little outbreaks that could require lockdowns. As more time goes by, we will have a better sense of how things look. We are looking at some dates this fall. It is very reasonable” to expect an outdoor concert at the new venue before the end of the year.
The guys behind Fortress Festival recently launched a third branch, Fortress Creative, to complement their concert organizing arm, Fortress Presents, and the aforementioned annual music festival. Fortress Creative, which offers branding, content strategy, web design, advertising, and marketing advice, is a natural evolution of the type of work the Fortress team has performed since 2017, Jhangiani said.
Fortress Festival vendors regularly looked to Nikzad and Jhangiani for advice on creating various events and online campaigns during the days leading up to the annual festival, Jhangiani said. Creating events throughout the remainder of the year — an important source of revenue for the Fortress brand — demonstrated how businesses often needed help articulating their goals.
“We had a variety of experiences,” Jhangiani said. “Some people knew what they wanted but hadn’t articulated it. Maybe the way they wanted to do the event was not the best way to achieve their goals. We took a step back and [considered if they really needed] a digital event, rebranding, art, or some video.”
Fortress Creative is concurrently working as the marketing agent of a new concept album, Alamo Bootleg, that features acclaimed musicians Robert Ellis, Charley Pride, and others. The 22-song longplayer, which recounts known and lesser-known stories about the Alamo, will be released in small volumes over the next several months, Jhangiani said.
Expansion into the creative agency field hasn’t made up for the lost revenue that Fortress Festival 2020 would have brought, Jhangiani said. Going into this year, Nikzad and Jhangiani were planning to enjoy a leveling out of financial uncertainties.
“The pandemic disrupted much of that,” Jhangiani said. “Building the partnership with Wild Acre gave us the opportunity to shift more focus to the agency. In that way, we were fortunate to have these other pillars that will help stabilize the tumultuous place that is live music.”
When the first large outdoor live music events do return to Fort Worth, many of those concerts will likely be under the Fortress brand, given the time the Fortress team has spent studying best practices for controlling outdoor crowds amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Until then, Jhangiani said the pandemic has given him and his business partner time to capitalize on other strengths that the Fortress team has developed over four years.
“We had the opportunity to accelerate [the creative agency concept] and to be more intentional and deliberate about the kind of agency that we are shaping by taking a deep dive into the spirit of it,” he said.