Monday, August 19, 2013

Festival Preview | LouFest Founder Brian Cohen: "St. Louis is about to join a select group of cities that have a world class music festival."

The lure of a music festival is appealing -- a huge list of bands you love, a hip environment, loads of things to do. It all seems so perfect and incredibly accommodating. But if you've been to a huge music festival, you know it can also be a lot of work to get from stage to stage, or to get a good spot to see your favorite band. Things don't always go as planned when you are battling the same maze with 80,000 plus people.

I get all that; I've been overwhelmed at music festivals, too. It's one thing to see a poster of 100+ bands, and it's another thing to actually witness their performances.

LouFest, now in its fourth year, is a little different. And it's only a few weeks away (September 7th and 8th at Forest Park in St. Louis).

While there is an added stage this year, which means simultaneous performances, it's still a very manageable situation for even the casual live music fan. The area you must navigate on foot is much smaller than a Lollapalooza or Austin City Limits Music Festival, and the lineup is still comparable (on a smaller scale).

For example, let's have a look at a portion of Saturday's schedule below. It's entirely possible to see The National, Jim James (of My Morning Jacket), and Wilco, and even a few minutes of Wild Belle, without going crazy in the process.

What I'm getting at here, and what LouFest founder Brian Cohen explains below, is that anyone can have  a great time at LouFest without being a festival veteran and/or having a plan that is suitable for Clark W. Griswold.

We recently caught up with Cohen over email to discuss the upcoming festival.

SIC: For those who have been to LouFest in the past, it appears there are a few differences with this year's festival: some bands will play simultaneously, there are three stages (not two), and the area is larger. Can you talk about those differences, and also any others?

Brian Cohen: The big story this year is our partnership with C3 Presents, the people behind Lollapalooza. They brought resources to the table that allowed us to add stages, go after more bands, and go after bigger bands. So our growth this year will be seen in every aspect of the festival.

So, what's the difference between LouFest and a free festival downtown or any concert "under the Arch?" And why should a casual music fan attend LouFest?

We've worked hard to break down the perception that every outside event in St Louis should be free. That model works for some events but we found that a small admission price allows us to produce something more meaningful. For example, if LouFest was free there is no way we could have delivered this year's lineup. And there are other elements that are expensive to implement, like the free water stations, but we do it because it adds to the overall experience. For our fans, I think that experience is definitely worth the price of a ticket.

While it's not possible to see every minute of every band's set at LouFest, talk about why a $95 two-day pass is still a mighty bargain.

It's not possible to see every band's full set but the stages are close enough that you can catch at least part of every set.  For me, running from stage to stage is part of the fun.  From the very beginning we made sure LouFest was affordable.  We look at everything from ticket prices to the cost of food and beverages.  This year the value is even greater.  For only $95 you can see 30 bands over two days.  That's less than $3.25 per band.  Even if you hit only three or four bands a day, it's still an incredible bargain.

What is the easiest way to get to the festival? Should people be worried about parking? How about bikes, buses, metro, etc.?

As the event grows, traffic and parking become more of an issue, so we've worked hard to provide alternatives. For instance, if you ride your bike, Trailnet will valet park it for free. We're also working with Metro to provide bus service that drops off in front of the festival gate. So there are much better ways to get to the fest than jumping in your car.

Aren't music festivals only for hippies and obsessed music freaks? And is this thing family friendly?

LouFest is definitely not just for hippies and music freaks. Like all memorable events, music festivals are about the overall experience.  Listening to great music is part of it, but it's also about spending the weekend with your friends, spending time with your kids in a fun environment, or just seeing your favorite band with thousands of people who share your passion.  And there are other things to enjoy such as food, shopping, and special areas like the beer garden.  LouKidz is a great example.  This is our family area that has its own DJ, dancing, and kid-friendly activities.  It's really a festival within a festival and kids twelve and under get into LouFest for free.

Talk about a few bands in particular -- Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Icona Pop, The Killers, and Alabama Shakes. It would seem these bands would be perfect for a college audience. Do you agree? How will a college student have a great time at LouFest?

College students are definitely an important part of our demo because they add great energy to events like this. So we thought about them when we developed the lineup and when we moved the festival from August to September. We want to make sure they have bands they're excited to see, like Icona Pop and Ed Sharpe, and that they're in town to enjoy it.

What about Wilco? Why should I see them again in St. Louis?

You should see Wilco whenever you can because they're one of the great live bands of our time.  To see them outside, under the stars in Forest Park, will be magical.

Finish this sentence: This year's LouFest will be the best because ...

it's the first year of a partnership that will put us on the map. St. Louis is about to join a select group of cities that have a world class music festival.

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