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I started a quest to find terrific blues music and incredible musicianship when I was just a little kid. I also have a tremendous appreciation of fine musical instruments and equipment. One of my greatest joys all of my life was sharing my finds with my friends. I'm now publishing my journey. I hope that you come along!


Please email me at Info@Bmansbluesreport.com

Friday, February 17, 2012

Bman's Exclusive Interview: Organizing A Blues Festival – Blues Or Bust


With all of the blues festivals and venues going on this season, I thought that I would talk with a number of Festival organizers to determine what makes a festival tick. One of the interviewees is coordinating her first venue so this will show views from upcoming planners to pure veterans.

LeeAnn Gibbons - First time promoter of Portland, Oregon's First Annual Winter Blues Fest

Kyle Deibler - President of the Phoenix Blues Society and organizer of Phoenix's Blues Blast Festival

Michael John - 7th Annual Simi Valley Blues Festival founder/promoter

Papa J - 3rd Annual Organizer/founder of Real Blues Festival of Orange County


Bman: I have been to Blues festivals near both coasts and in cities both north and south. First tell me, where does the seed money come from to support an endeavor like this?

LeeAnn: In my case, we had only 3 months to put this first year festival together, so we could not concentrate on the higher corporations, so we hit people we knew. Some of us owned business, and used those contacts, plus friends who back you up. We did a cold call list given to us from one of the charities, a lot of reluctance to give on your first year……
Been tough and trying to come up with your budget money does not always happen. So you have to calculate other sources in your festival to get your budget.

Kyle: Bman, funding is complicated with the current economy. A lot of state’s like Arizona have cut their arts funding to the bone so we all hope to garner sponsors as best we can. Obviously a beer sponsor is an important one and there are others as well but it’s all about building relationships in some very tough times.


Michael:
Seed Money? What’s that? Lol… seriously you really have to start small and build from that. Saturday April 28th 2012 will be our 7th Annual Simi Valley Blues Festival. This event literally started in my back yard as a big party with five regional bands performing. In 2006 we made it official and had our inaugural festival at Oak Park in Simi Valley with a modest crowed of about 300 to 400 people. What’s different about our festival is that it is a non-profit event. Proceeds go to support charitable organizations and our staff are volunteers, other than the performing National Acts, no one is compensated for their time. In addition to working with a service non-profit club “Write4Hope” to help out with the logistics to start the first festival, I had to pull many favors, the bands that performed all donated their time, we had called on several companies to sponsor the festival to obtain cash donations and in-kind such as Fencing, sinks for the food vendors etc.. We charged a modest fee for food vendors and craft vendors who were able to make money and start a buzz about the event. We worked it out with the organization at the time which was selling beer to donated back a percentage of sales. Alcohol is a big money maker.

As we grow so do the sponsors.


Papa J: The first two that I set up were by the seat of my pants and I lost money. But I was determined to keeping it real so I guess it was ok. I also always have a charity attached so that young people hear the blues. We also actively seek sponsors, and it looks like we finally may have a couple of good ones for Real blues Festival 3 this year.

Bman: I notice that some festivals (independent of size and metropolitan area) have more interesting talent than others. I’ve actually been to a 3 day festival in a major coastal city which had some great talent, yet the most interesting artists that I saw were hooked to a generator in the street outside of the venue. How do you set your line up and how do musicians get on your list?

LeeAnn: I take it all into consideration. Here in the NW we have such fabulous talent within our 2 states. Not everyone knows who the bands are, and there is several I still do not know, from street performers to big names. I like to mix it up! The purpose of my festival is to introduce those bands to the community, trying not to hurt the venues in anyway but to help them at all. I first start with a time slot with a pay scale. And ask various acts if they will play for that amount. Being the first year you have a very tight budget. You can wish for the moon, but when it comes around what you can pay some sacrifices have to be made. A lot of musicians, want to get there name out there, and are grateful for the exposure, whether it is a street performer, or a band just starting up. So why not bring in the street performers, and mix it up with the more popular bands. The people from the popular bands come in to listen to their favorites, and end up staying for the not so popular bands. I found even different band members will come for most of the day to check out someone they never heard of. Bottom line it is a win- win situation.




Kyle:
Festival talent is all about the mix. The goal every year is to visit a few festivals to see new talent, listen to a wide variety of discs and network with other folks in your genre of choice to generate new ideas. Volunteering at the national level in Blues also exposes me to a number of great bands. We start with a budget and then stir the talent pot to see what comes up.

Michael: When I look at the acts for the lineup, I make sure to try and mix it up as much as possible while still bringing in some of the favorite National and regional artists. This year we went with only five bands because one of the main complaints I’ve heard was that the bands are not playing long enough. My band will open the festival with an hour set then the 2012 IBC Finalist The Delgado Brothers with Sherry Pruitt will perform for an hour. Coming on after the Delgado Brothers is the Legendary Walter Trout for a 75 minute set, there is no question Walter will set the place on fire, I am so excited to have him as part of our festival. Co Headliner Curtis Salgado with his soulful vocals and harmonica will be a sure crowd pleaser. Curtis is currently nominated for a Blues Music award for best Male vocalist for Blues and soul. Closing out the show is crowd favorite Tommy Castro, if you know the blues scene you know Castro, He is currently up for five Blues Music awards including the BB King Entertainer of the year award. This will be a show you will not want to miss. We have three national acts which you would normally pay $25.00 to $30.00 to see just one of them perform. Go to our website and purchase your presale ticket for only $25.00, tickets are $30.00 at the gate. This is a charity event, what better way to spend a Saturday afternoon listening to great music while making a difference in the lives of others. www.simiblues.org You look at this and might think this was a commercial for our festival, you’re right. I think in order to book a festival which will be enjoyed by everyone who attends, you have to mix it up, for example, I had more traditional blues last year and this year we are strong with the more contemporary side of the blues. It is my experience that you have to have passion and love for the music, for me. I live and breath our festival, this is not just an event for me it’s my love and it makes a difference in our community.

Papa J: Being in Calif. it’s a little harder. I tried to really get folks that played the Blues!! K.K. Martin, Alastair Green, maybe names that you don’t hear every day but people that can play. There’s also a great deal of competiton in the festivals market here in Southern California, with no fewer than 5 or 6 taking place each year, all within a three-month period of time. So that has an impact on the bottom line – that being, how many festivals people are willing to come out and spend their time and hard-earned money at.

Bman: Do you have a committee who determines who will be invited?

LeeAnn: Yes we do, with our committee of 10, we knew 164 bands. So we stuck our favorites in a hat and drew them out for the more popular time slots. Funny way of doing it, but it was a start. The single and duo’s made a list and researched them in a public place if playing to get a reaction of the public.

Kyle: As a group we generate a want list and then evaluate every act on cost, talent, contribution to the mix, etc.

Papa J: Me, myself and I, mostly. With help from my publicist, Doug Deutsch.


Michael: Not at this time, I have been the one who selects all the bands.

Bman: Are some artists more or less likely to travel to specific areas? I know some major talents who really don’t tour much and seem to only make the major venues. Do you think that this is due to a limited regional following versus the cost to bring them?

LeeAnn: Funny you mentioned this, some out of town bands are willing to work with you, because they want to get their name out there in your area, while others demand more and will not accept what you have to offer. Those bands forget how they started out, and someday they are not going to be quite as popular and need us smaller venues to give them exposure. There was one band, that we verbally agreed on the contract, but when I got it, was twice as much and accommodations were not good enough. For example they only stayed in La Quinta Hotels, and the Marriott was not good enough…. Scratch that band!

Kyle: Ronnie Earl for example only tours within a limited NE region by choice for health reasons. Life on the road is hard and routed gigs are tougher to come by with so many clubs closing, switching to local talent and cutting back on available days for acts to perform on. Very few clubs schedule Blues seven days a week anymore.

Papa J: I really have not had to deal with that part yet. I have thus far used local (Southern California) talent - and there is a great amount of that out here – for bringing in local blues fans. It’s really about cost. When you have to go through the booking agents its a lot more money. The bands and solo artists that play the Real Blues Festival all get paid pretty decent money each year – something that’s not very common in the SoCal Blues community at the present time.

Michael: This is a very interesting question, I will give you my take on this. Being located in Southern California we are blessed to have a lot of major talent in our own backyard both Regional and National. Let’s face it, the blues scene in Southern California is not in the best shape right now. There are not a lot of venues in which National Acts can come into town so that you can get an opportunity to see them up close. I think for some National acts its a combination of both following and cost, it really depends on the act, when they are touring they need to book multiple shows within the area to be able to cover costs.

Bman:
Is there a book or template to putting one of these together or is it a secret diary that is handed down from the mentor to the young organizer?

LeeAnn: If there is, it would be a lot easier! Like “Building a Music Festival for Dummy’s” would be good!

Kyle: A number of organizations have published information helpful to the festival organizer. The Blues Foundation has a lot of festival resource information on their website. There are several conferences you can attend that will give you information and of course, having a senior mentor’s help is invaluable. But there’s no secret diary.


Papa J: I am learning as I write this answer. I just saw that the big “Blues” festivals were booking rock acts and still calling themselves blues festivals. You really have to keep your ear to the ground so to speak, and be aware of who is popular, drawing well, etc. These all factor into the equation of who we decide to book each year.

Michael:
Well, I don’t have one but I could just give you a little advise. The old saying “ A little Kindness goes a long way” is very true. Be a people person, surround yourself with good people that are not only into the music but really want to help. Always think of ways of getting the community involved, make your event their fund raiser by giving them a return on tickets they sell. There are many service clubs and organization that are looking for events to get involved in.

Bman: What’s the toughest thing that you have to deal with?

LeeAnn: Budget! If you don’t get the sponsorship, you depend on ticket sales. That is the nerve breaking part. Many sleepless nights on this one.

Kyle:
We’ve been blessed to have great artist relationships and very few problems. The hardest thing we’ve had to deal with is a band deciding to un-pack their back line & set it up when they indicated in their rider that they we would use our back line. This caused a serious time delay that we hadn’t planned for and it set the headliner’s start time back, which wasn’t cool. That won’t happen again.

Papa J: To tell you the truth it’s the love of the blues, or I wouldn’t be doing this. I also think that it is important to pass down what little I can to the younger people. There was no Blues at the Grammy Awards – well, at least not that was visible. The act that received the Blues Grammy (Tedeschi-Trucks Band) wasn’t even listed in the L.A. Times with the other winners on the Monday following the Grammys – amazing!

Michael: There is not one set thing; you will run into bumps in the road during planning, day before set up, and the day of. It’s how you handle them. Last year I would have to say it was the weather, we had very strong winds which blew our vendors tents over and our bathrooms. We had people in place to address the issue and came up with a solution, with that and a prayer we started the show a little late but it was still a success.

Bman: How do you get a bellwether on who your audience wants to see?

LeeAnn: You look for that person that has high respect in the area, one that doesn’t get into too much trouble, but is happy and loves what they do!


Kyle: Our audience looks forward to whoever we bring because they know they will see a great show. But we have society members who will e-mail act suggestions and we consider those.

Papa J: Since I use local acts I try to see who can bring there people and go from there. I have used a couple of acts twice because they helped draw. But of course, this whole process is a work in progress!

Michael: By mixing it up keeps everyone happy, the line up I have this year with our National Acts have all won multiple awards for their talents and are nominated this year for Blues Music Awards (BMA). I also receive emails from festival fans with suggestions and ideas which I read every single one of them.

Bman: If money were no object, what would this year’s lineup be and why?

LeeAnn: For my first year, I would not change my lineup! I was very fortunate to have the best around the area, offer to be part of my festival this year. Next year, I would love to bring in a couple more bands out of town.

Kyle: Buddy Guy – his last disc was absolutely brilliant. The Tedeschi-Trucks Band just won the Grammy for Blues. Bettye Lavette is an artist we’ve had who is still fantastic. Kenny Wayne Shephard – amazing guitar and his current disc is killer. And Ruthie Foster – Ruthie with her band is just dynamite.

Papa J: I would still keep the festival small like it is, but it would be cool to have Taj (Mahal), B.B. (King), maybe Bonnie (Raitt),a guy you have probably not heard of, Stoney B, and of course Papa J & Friends.


Michael: Hmm… it would have to be a week long festival, there are just so many great artists out there.

Bman: Is there a goal to make each festival better than the last or to try to make it similar to control unknowns? Is ticket price point a big factor?

LeeAnn: My goal every year will be to bring more people come out and enjoy Music! It is The world of music that makes the world goes around, whether it is hardships, relationships, entrepreneur, and emotions of everyday life. Give back to a charity. It is a great heartwarming to see smiling faces when you put on an event. That strives me to make it better, for all of you, that is my thrill.
The other is listening to what the people want. What can I do, to make their few hours memorable! Yes ticket is a factor, you want it cheap enough so EVERYONE can enjoy no matter what the income is.

Kyle: We just try every year to provide a great day of music to our audience. Ticket Price is a factor in that we want to make it affordable for everyone to attend. We’ve produced enough shows that the unknowns are very few if any.

Papa J: Yes the goal is to have a better experience for everyone. In this economy I try to keep things down so that everyone can enjoy a day without a lot of pay. Trying to keep it not a big festival experience. For us it’s all about the community.

Michael: Yes, ticket price is always a factor. Folks want to come to the festival but by the time they purchase tickets for their family they already have a major investment. With the purchase of food and drink it could get expensive. We have always made it a point to make our festival family friendly by keeping the cost down, this year presale tickets are only $25.00 (that’s $5.00 per band) and $30.00 at the gate. Children 7 and under are free with paying adult and 8–12 only $5.00.

Bman: What’s the single most important thing that my readers can do to help you make your next festival more enjoyable?

LeeAnn: Any feedback of good and bad experiences would be taken in too deep consideration. You can learn with other peoples experiences.

Kyle: Just come out and support our efforts. We work very hard to provide a great event and are known far & wide on the back end for our artist hospitality, etc.

Papa J: Please help keep the blues alive !! Support your local Blues Festivals.
Keep a eye out for the Real Blues Festival of Orange County III coming this August, 2012. We plan on some big surprises with regards to the bands lineup, but we can’t say exactly what they are yet till confirmed!

Michael: Bring low back chairs so that everyone can enjoy the event behind you, this year if you have high back chairs attendees will be direct towards the back and sides to insure everyone has a nice visual of our stage.

Bman: Thanks to each one of you for your time. Good luck with your festivals!







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