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Building a Festival: One Beer at a Time

“…and we’ll do it ourrrr way, yes ourrrr way. Make all our dreams come true…”

Upon walking into Asheville, NC’s Highland Brewery, the Laverne and Shirley theme song really couldn’t help but pop into my head.  For those of you, unfamiliar with the Laverne and Shirley theme, here’s your chance to fix that.

My bandmates and I were given an amazing opportunity and I was very excited about it.  We were about to get paid to work with beer…this was awesome!

This is Highland. This is where we pack the beers

Hailing from the blue collar world of western Pennsylvania, my bandmates and I understood a hard day’s work from the vantage of a steel worker or a coal miner.  We quickly mastered our extremely technical jobs of putting beers into boxes and found enough time to work as many as three jobs at once.  Highland noticed our enthusiasm and we were invited back.

After working a couple of times at Highland I realized the trend.  Look to your left, it’s a musician; look to your right, the same.  Highland Brewery supports musicians!  They understand that making music isn’t always the most lucrative of careers so they scour the local music scene and ask their favorite bands if they’d be interested in occasionally making a few extra bucks…wow!

Well, one day after looking to my right and left sides, I realized that I had been working with some of western North Carolina’s top musical acts.  There really were some incredible bands working at The Highland Brewery and nobody even knew it.  I spent the rest of the day thinking of a way to remedy that problem. 

I Decided To Build a Festival

This is me, I’m Jason.

The idea sat, undeveloped for quite a while when finally I sprang it on my band’s manager, Gene Dolan. That’s all he needed to hear.  His gears were now churning and this idea was rapidly turning into a physical thing.  For the next couple of days we had a one-track mind.  The Highland Mountain Medley Music Compilation was all anyone around us would hear about.  Our ideas became refined and eventually a functional blueprint started to evolve.

Being in a band, my number one concern was that the artists get paid.  Being a music fan, Gene wanted to make sure that it would all culminate into a giant, amazing event. 

We combined our goals and came up with an incredible plan.  We’re going to put together a sponsored compilation CD featuring bands and musicians associated with Highland Brewery.  Then, with the funds we’ve generated from CD and ad space sales we’re going to put together a small, but incredible one day festival. 

Our first move is to get all of our ducks in a row, lining up everything we would need to begin to take action.  Here’s what we’ve done so far:

1.  Make a plan.  Without a clear vision, our plan would never see the light of day.  We blocked out a couple of hours to create an outline from beginning to end.  This took several drafts as we worked through the possible roadblocks and pitfalls that we would unquestionably come across.  A functional structure eventually developed and we were now ready to test the waters.

2.  Pitch the plan.  We’re going to need a fair amount of support from media outlets, businesses, bands, and venues to successfully pull this off.  Now that we have a solid game plan, it’s time to find out if it’s got wings or not.  We contacted everybody on our lists that would end up being involved to see if they MIGHT be interested in participating.  Everyone said yes!

3.  Publicly document the project.  This step is monumentally important to the projects success for several reasons.  The most important of those reasons is that it will keep us on track.  I can imagine that it could be very easy to simply give up and let this project fall to the wayside.  It’s public documentation that will continually be forcing us to both stay on course, and to be perpetually moving forward. 

Another important aspect of documentation is publicity.  Not only do we need to make a music festival out of nothing but an idea, but we must also tell the story of how and why it happened.  It’s the story itself that will make people care about the project.  People seem to be more interested in the “how and why” of things transpiring, than the simple fact that something happened.  That’s why they’ll want to get involved, and ultimately, it’s the guaranteed publicity from the story that will make it easier to get sponsors, bands, and media on board.

It’s a good start that puts us well on our way to completion.  It will take an entire community of music supporters for this to be successful, but that is the direction that the music business is taking us in anyway.

A Long Way From Cruise Control

The industry has definitely changed.  There’s only so many times that I’m willing to ask our fans if they’ll give their email address as a vote so we can try and win another contest.  If we’re going to continue to pay our rent while doing what we love, it’s become obvious that we need to create new and innovative ways to gain fans while making money.  Grassroots, community oriented projects seems like one of the best ways to grow at a steady, organic pace.

The biggest successes I’ve seen from being in a band have come from our grassroots approach.  We started as a passionate busking band on the streets of Asheville, NC and grew from there.  We had no idea of what we were doing in the beginning.  We would go to new cities without any immediate plan of returning, all-the-while gaining new fans without asking for their email addresses.  It wasn’t working at all.  People in our hometown were loving us but there wasn’t a single market within four hours of Asheville where people could even remember our band’s name.

Slowly, we learned from our mistakes and we’re finally growing a consistent fanbase all around the southeastern United States.  We push the email list harder than our merchandise and we don’t touch cities where we can’t commit to returning again and again.  I’m seeing this system work.  Now we have 7 cities where we can guarantee a good turnout; and we’re finally hitting new markets, only to find venues packed with fans coming to see us for the very first time.

We’re still a long way from being on cruise control.  We’ve got to be constantly playing shows to gain more fans and collecting an email address and a phone number from every single person who enjoyed our show.  Basically, the trick, (for us) is to make yourself available for the fans to find you and then never let them out of your sight.  It’s the surest way of building long-standing musical success that I know of.

Over the next couple of months, I’m going to be writing about both the progresses and pitfalls of an up-and-coming band and a brand new venture as we turn boxing beers into a compilation CD, and from there into a small, successful festival…and of course, all-the-while we’ll be doing it our way, yes our way…make all our dreams come true, for me and you.


Jason Mencer is in a band called Now You See Them.  He is also part of a team who’s building a booking/management/promotions company called The Lama Agency.


Reader Comments (2)

What are your plans for liability insurance? Have you priced it out yet?

August 25 | Registered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

Cheers to Now You See Them and Highland Brewery! 2 of the very best things about living in Asheville. This partnership will create great things for Asheville and it's beer drinking music fans!

August 25 | Unregistered CommenterAsheville JJ

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