What’s It Like To Start A Music Festival?
An Interview With River Rock Festival’s Founder Jeff Wall
There are few summertime activities more sublime than the outdoor concert; sitting on a blanket on the grass or dancing (or moshing) away in front of the stage, and enjoying the sky, sun (or moon) above you. For those of us who live in the cold weather parts of this country, those precious few months where it’s sane to be outside for long stretches of time and the chance to hear some of your favorite music all in one place is a dream come true.
The River Rock Festival in northern Maine (just over two hours from my home in New Hampshire) is in its first year, and I wanted to take the opportunity to ask festival founder (and the head honcho of The Lighthouse Christian Events), Jeff Wall, about what goes into starting an undertaking of this sort. He generously put aside the last-minute minutia of planning and spoke to me for a few minutes on the phone.
(Jesusfreakhideout’s Alex Caldwell): With just over a week and a half to go till the crowds arrive for River Rock, how’s it going?
Jeff Wall: (Laughing) I’m doing alright. Thanks for asking. Most of the details and major components of the festival are in motion, so it’s a bit out of my hands at this point. I’m coordinating volunteers for the festival right now, that’s my focus.
AC: Volunteers…that’s an important component to these sorts of undertakings, isn’t it?
Jeff: Oh, yeah. It’s critical. Right now we have enough to staff the festival, but I’m not sure how much sleep everyone would get. Festivals and concerts need volunteers. It helps everything run smooth.
AC: You run the Lighthouse Christian Events, how is this different than that, and how long have you been in this line of work?
Jeff: We started in 2008 with a concert by Laura Story, and we’ve been going strong since then. Really, putting on a festival is something we’ve always wanted to do, and it’s a natural extension of what we’ve been doing. But it is a lot more of everything.
AC: How much more? How are you sleeping lately?
Jeff: (Laughing) I haven’t really slept in seven years. I’m always waking up thinking about things. But I love it.
AC: So, here’s a bit more of a challenging question. What will distinguish River Rock from the myriad of other festivals out there? What would be the reason to choose this one over the other ones around?
Jeff: That’s the question, isn’t it? I think the great distinction would be quality–getting the most bang for your buck. It’s very common, in all corners of the concert industry, to charge for everything: parking, surcharges for ticket, special “autograph” fees etc. You can go in thinking that you’re going to be spending “X” amount and realize, after the fest or event is over that, really, you’ve spent almost double what you had wanted to. We’ve always charged one flat fee for our concerts, everything included, if it’s within our power to do so.
AC: “I have a story about that. A few years ago my family was at a fest, and my daughter and I stood in line to meet an artist she loved. I was a little out of it due to sun and loud music, so I didn’t read the fine print of all the signs around the signing tent. When we got to the front of the line we discovered that there was a $30 signing fee that we had to pay. My daughter was upset, and I was frustrated. $30 for what most of the other artists were doing for free. It was too much and seemed greedy.
Jeff: I hear that kind of story all the time. There are countless little ways to make money on an event, but honestly, when I get to heaven I don’t want to say “Lord, I sold 10,000 travel mugs with your name on it and I made a few extra bucks off parking.”
AC: That’s a great line. “Lord, there are 5,000 key chains out there with ‘River Rock Festival’ on them!”
Jeff: That’s right. We don’t take any percentage of artist merchandise sales either. That’s a pretty common one.
AC: Yeah, what if you are a smaller artist and just starting out? Those t-shirt sales become pretty important for getting back home in the van.
Jeff: That’s exactly right. We made a commitment not to do these sorts of things when we started out, and so far, the Lord has honored that decision.
AC: Are you and your family taking a big vacation after this event?
Jeff: It’s interesting that you say that. We all enjoy this so much that we don’t really need the standard vacation thing. Right now we’re on the road, coming back from a Kari Jobe concert we put on, and we’re heading to the Norman Rockwell museum along the way. This job is crazy on one level; the details, the schedules etc. But my family gets to see so many places; we like to treat those times as a vacation.
AC: Well, God bless you guys as you head into the last few days before the festival.
Jeff: Thanks so much. We’ll be seeing you soon.
For more info on River Rock Festival — which is being held July 3rd and 4th — visit http://riverrockfestival.com/