VAL'S BLOG 4.28.19
EVOLUTION OF A MUSIC FEST
Quite literally, it takes a village.
The bands are booked. The lineup is locked. The sponsors are secured. The stages, engineers, food trucks, beer tents, volunteers, green rooms, and VIP lounges are set and marketing campaigns are launched.
The Winnetka Music Festival
ready to go and we're two months out. We're a real music fest with real bands - built right in the middle of the burbs on Chicago's N. Shore, aka my hometown.
To clarify, this is not a local block party with cover bands.
This is an industry-recognized boutique destination music fest and the public is invited.
The bands on our lineup are nationally touring acts whose music is on Spotify, Apple Music, and radio. Some have played Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, some late night TV, some were top picks at SXSW. As music curator of the fest (now in our third year) I handpick each artist from a wide selection of the best new talent in the industry - to showcase them under the Valslist brand and introduce them to you.
These are emerging artists who are ready to break
so you can say, "I saw them when..."
Our fest is Fri and Sat only. (Friday 5-11pm and Saturday 9-11pm.) In the first year we had 12,000 fest-goers, 4 stages, 24 acts, support by 93XRT and big sponsors, local restaurants broke sales records, all ages showed up in droves, artists stayed with host families, the sound was perfect, audiences were engaged, Lake Michigan beach breezes blew in, stars were out, kids ran wild, pure summertime nirvana. Year two we landed more big sponsors - Chicago Cubs, lululemon, added a third stage, 29 acts, 15,000 fest-goers, 105 degree temps and a microburst storm on Fri night that nailed one of the stages. But nothing could stop us from bringing these talented artists to our amazing audience: Cobi, ZZ Ward, Low Cut Connie, Billy Strings, The Accidentals, just to name a few. (past lineups here)
So how did this happen?
The old-fashioned way. No tech magic, no influencers, no celebrities, no connections, no payoffs, no hype... with a baby budget, rag tag team of volunteers, cool-with-it village people, and a head committee of suits, hippies, visionaries, mom warriors and spreadsheet lovers.
It started with an idea, a handshake and a promise - and grew into a team of passionate believers who pulled this off. I'm proud to be part of the team.
If you're an early adopter of Valslist (circa 2007-2011) you knew me as a curator of playlists, music blogger, NYT writer, music picker. Live gigs weren't in our repertoire. But in 2011 we pivoted a bit to include live music and launched a super grass-roots organic house concert series in our living room which took off like wildfire. It grew and grew and grew, literally by word of mouth (that's the old-fashioned part.) Friends invited friends who invited friends. It quickly turned into 100 RSVPs within the first hour of sending out an invite. Then to 200 with waiting lists and larger venues. Our gigs follow a simple recipe that was created (and enforced) by me, and has never changed because I won't let it: early shows (4pm wknd - 7pm wknt), one hour set, meet & greet the artist, seated, intimate, listening concerts, no talking, engage with the stage, and FILL the artist tip jar. My introduction always ends with the same line, "once you've experienced a quiet concert you'll never tolerate a noisy one again" .. And people listen and love it. Millennials never experienced live music this way. Boomers reminisce about the way it used to be. Regardless of how they digest the experience, our artist tip jars overflow everytime and nothing makes me happier than to hand over a ziplock baggie filled with cash to these starving artists. Oh, and my audience buys tons of merch - most buy two CDs (one for each car).. The artists love it, as millennial audiences don't buy CDs and don't own cars. The bands usually spend the night with us, do their laundry, eat homecooked food, sleep in, and get quiet space to write, read, jam.
From these gigs the music festival seed was planted. But it wasn't my idea, it was a retired executive who lives in our town and came to our house concerts and wanted to help me get these talented emerging artists to a bigger audience. At first I said no (I'm the hippie here.) But he's (a suit) operations/strategy guy and assured me he's got this. And he's worked on much bigger campaigns like Chicago's Olympic Bid so I believed him. The rest is history. We did it with a super-hero volunteer team of 15 mostly boomer local residents who stepped forward with skillsets coming from all sides of business (marketing, advertising, strategy, finance, banking, moms, leaders, followers, type A's, thinkers and doers.) We worked with our Village leaders, local merchants, police, fire department to put this thing on the map. Booking was tricky in year #1 because most agents are skeptical of a first year fest, but some of them put their faith in the Valslist brand and my twelve years of promoting emerging artists to an adult audience. This year the booking agents were calling us, so that's a good sign. We love our bands and you can check out this year's lineup and past lineups here: winnetkamusicfestival.com
So that's how we launched a music fest. It's not an easy business. It's finicky. It's young. It's trendy. It's so many things to so many people. It changes. Genres get overdone. Genres get overlooked. Some fests are the place to be seen. Some fests are all about the music. Some have expanded to art/food/wine/comedy. Some have been the same for 25 years. Some expand to other cities. Some get canceled. Some exceed expectations. Some don't deliver. What I did with our fest is start with a list of everything I hate at fests and live music, and planned around that list. Is it a science? No. Is it a guess? Nope. It's a blend of culture + human nature + community + elevated experience that hopefully = a smile or two with friends + family.
See you there!
Val Haller & Scott Myers,
Co-Producers Winnetka Music Festival
WRISTBAND REQUIRED FOR SAT NIGHT! buy here
The Winnetka Music Festival is FREE on Friday and Saturday (daytime)
$20 ticket (wristband) is needed for Saturday evening.
Our headliners MOON TAXI and DOROTHY have a big fan base, play large festivals, and sell out their shows.
Please don't miss out, get your wristbands soon.
GIFT: 20% DISCOUNT ON VIP TIX TO MY MAILING LIST (YOU!)
VIP tickets/packages are also available if you prefer that (free food/bar $150.)