This weekend, the first annual Bull City Summit was to be launched. Fusing music, art, science and technology, the festival promises festival-goers a unique experience with “leading and groundbreaking creators, musicians, technologists, scientists, researchers, artisans and entrepreneurs,” according to its website. .
If its structure seems aligned with that of Moogfest – the multi-day conference and festival, formerly in Durham, which honored the inventor of the Moog synthesizer Robert “Bob” Moog – it is because the two festivals have in common the founder of UG Strategies, Parag Bhandari. In 2018, Bhandari joined the Moogfest team for a short tenure, but the following year the festival, embroiled in logistical issues, canceled its 2020 dates.
At first glance, Bull City Summit has many of the brilliant elements a festival needs to survive: an array of sponsors and partners, aesthetic marketing, local partnerships, a user-friendly website, and engaging keynotes and workshops. However, on March 21, just days before the launch of the festival, it was postponed.
Via email, Bhandari says that while Bull City Summit is ready to move forward from an infrastructure perspective, ticket sales have suggested consumer hesitancy about in-person events.
“It’s not unusual in these times, and it’s also a year-long event,” he wrote. INDIA in an email. “So, we pivot.”
The festival is now due to take place from September 15-18; all music-related events, however, continue to move forward with nightly live music showcases Thursday through Saturday, with tickets priced at $20 per show. The delay of the festival testifies to the difficulties in getting a festival off the ground – which was already difficult before the COVID-19 pandemic – and invites us to take a close look at the future of festivals in the Triangle. Because, despite the current difficulties and constraints, the local music and events scene continues to flourish and local event planners continue to take a beating.
During the last years, festivals have moved beyond fashion. The apparent profitability of festivals has come a long way from its DIY origins to attracting A-list celebrities and major live music promoters. Audiences are often well aware of the number of attendees at some of the biggest festivals in the world. In 2021, despite the risks of the pandemic, Rolling Loud Miami welcomed 75,000 people; Travis Scott’s disastrous Astroworld saw 50,000; and, before the pandemic, Coachella hosted an average of 150,000 to 250,000 festival-goers each year, bringing in between $67 million and $117 million in ticket sales.
Here in the Triangle, festival attendance has varied greatly over the years. With a solid decade under its belt, Hopscotch, for example, has seen attendance reported at around 25,000 a year. Over the four years of Moogfest’s operation, it averaged around 10,000 music and tech enthusiasts. And in 2019, at its inaugural event, J. Cole’s Dreamville Festival drew an impressive crowd of nearly 40,000 people. This year, the festival, produced by ScoreMore, the same promotion company behind Astroworld, is set to surpass its first attendance record.
Of course, if you consider the success and profitability of festivals as big business, attendance numbers aren’t all that matters, nor does it reveal everything there is to know about profit margins. The majority of festival expenses come from talent – including artist fees, riders, and travel and accommodation costs – as well as security and insurance. It’s easy for festival expenses to exceed revenue generated from ticket sales and sponsorships.
In 2011, when Coachella announced it was moving from one weekend to two, festival founder and producer Paul Tollett explained that he was “dealing with supply and demand in his own unique way. unorthodox”. For Coachella, in securing talent for two dates, the hope was that the first weekend could cover production costs and overhead; the following weekend would create a real income opportunity.
Beyond having a vision, the realization of a festival requires follow-up. In 2017, the world saw this fact firsthand when it witnessed, in real time, the massive flop of the Fyre Festival, the luxury festival that was not. The year after the Fyre Festival was discontinued, Durham experienced its own version of this event with the NC Hip Hop Festival. Although two other local festivals – the DURM Hip Hop Summit and the Beats n Bars Festival – have cultivated community roots with hip hop artists and leaders, the NC Hip Hop Festival website, which is still available online , billed itself as “NC’s biggest festival”. festival showcasing the best of hip-hop and R&B from around the world.
Its flyer, released that summer in 2018, was filled with the names of hip-hop legends and local artists — including Nas, Phonte and Petey Pablo — some of whom were never officially booked or even aware of. the event. And although a few performers participated, the festival ultimately didn’t have a stage, and instead they performed on a platform inches off the ground. Artists and fans have taken to social media to voice their concerns.
“My name, along with several other dope acts, was on the publicity flyer for this festival,” wrote Lena Jackson, a Raleigh-based rapper. “I wasn’t there, and I know a lot of the other acts weren’t either, or were screwed up before/after they arrived.”
A former festival partner, Heather Mandelkorn, president of the Holistic HipHop Collective, went so far as to create a complaint on Facebook to collect consumer complaints. Mandelkorn, based out of state, had been hired to help book talent. Over the phone, she described the event as a festival “that was about cashing in on the culture and not about ensuring that a well-produced event happens that represents hip-hop and North Carolina in the best way.”
In response to the backlash, festival organizers Alicia and Elijah Vick issued a formal apology and sought comment via a community survey. Although their website lists a festival date for 2021, it’s unclear if the Vicks have produced another event.
When thinking about the future of festivals in the Triangle – particularly in an uncertain post-vaccine landscape, and with a spirit aimed at planting lasting roots – there are many ongoing questions about how to create and to measure the success of the festival.
“In order to support a large-scale festival in this area, all stakeholders such as municipal/municipal entities and businesses should provide money, resources and infrastructure, but also consumers should buy tickets early and encourage others to visit and enjoy the festival,” says Cicely Mitchell, Co-Founder of the Art of Cool Festival and Past Chair of the Art of Cool Project. “Success is relative to the stakeholder. I’m sure festival owners measure success by ticket sales and profit and loss. City and council entities likely see success through economic impact. It just depends on the speaker. The public can measure success by the experience they have had.
Echoing the importance of city and community support, Miriam Tolbert, K97.5 radio host and CEO of Carolina Waves, adds that “continued interest is needed. Excellent queues and curation. Activities and attractions outside the festival itself. There must be innovative and new concepts, proper planning and promotion.
Curators John Laww and Dasan Ahanu emphasize that a unique experience is essential.
“For a festival to survive, it must provide a distinct experience,” says Ahanu, co-creator of the Hip Hop South Festival, an initiative of Carolina Performing Arts’ Southern Futures slated to take place April 22-23 in Chapel Hill. “He can’t just rely on musical acts. Conservation is important. Music can attract attention, but it comes and goes. It’s the experience and the way it’s presented that will keep people talking and planning to come back.
Laww is the founder of DURM Hip Hop Summit and former producer of Beats n Bars. As well as prioritizing the festival vibe, he says, “having a cohesive group of people working hard to organize helps tremendously! People go to festivals to have a shared memory, or to feel part of something bigger than themselves, or just to sing their favorite song with a few of their friends. The atmosphere is what will create that memory. And if it’s dope, people will come.
Looking at the successes and failures of the Triangle festival, another key question comes to mind: is this the best geographic fit for the festival culture?
Bhandari, the founder of Bull City Summit, is convinced that Durham is a good choice.
“[It’s] why we invested to save Moogfest in 2018, [it] was also for Durham City and the potential here for events like this in the future,” he wrote via email. At the start of the pandemic, Bhandari’s company produced events like the Live! in the Lot music series in the Motorco Music Hall parking lot and last July’s pilot for the Durham Summer Wine & Food Festival. Both have succeeded, despite the risks of a pandemic, and the number of participants suggests that the inhabitants of the Triangle want more.
But the biggest selling point for cultural festivals in the Triangle, of course, is that the rich culture is already here. Perhaps with the right programming, production and curation, a new season of blockbuster festivals is just around the corner.
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