South Park Festival
In his book Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, Chuck Klosterman writes that music conferences are best at doing one thing: bringing the über-geeks of music together (usually in a very un-rock and roll setting). Those dweebs spend hours discussing the merits of highly obscure albums and droning on about why their favorite esoteric artists are part of the vast conspiracy that will never allow them to be heard by people other than their fellow music nerds.But Matt Fecher, executive director of the South Park Music Festival and Conference, has set out to prove the usually-wise insight of Klosterman dead wrong.
Fecher, who previously ran the independent label Benchmark Records in Indianapolis and served as the executive director of the Midwest Music Summit, has put together one of the best independent line-ups in the country, coupled it with a crack lot of industry insiders and placed it all in the mountains. The result is more retreat than festival, and more down home than corporate conference.
“Sean Murphy of ASCAP has said that we’ve already accomplished what SxSW (South by Southwest Festival) set out to do, which was to make this a legitimate industry retreat, but at South By, it turned all corporate. We’re two years in and we’ve managed to create the buzz,” Fecher said.
While Fecher’s sarcasm-laden humor may come off as cocky, he’s humble when he says: “I can say without hesitation that we have the strongest mid-sized conference panel anywhere. It’s better than Nemo. It’s better than Atlantis. It’s better than NxNE and I think we’re better than CMJ’s Music Marathon.”
Fecher credits that accomplishment mostly to the location factor. “Putting people in the mountains is the secret. South Park is unique in that people will come to see indie bands up in the mountains. Last year we had 6,000 people on Saturday. Anywhere else in the country an independent line-up would never draw that many people,” he said.
South Park’s proximity to the Front Range music scene and the stodginess of other festivals in the country, are other parts of the magic that Fecher has tapped into. “People are tired of SxSW and not being able to ‘get in.’ If you’re from Colorado you might be able to get in, but if you’re from Indianapolis or Illinois, you’re not going to be able to get in to South By. So there are all these little conferences out in that area to fill the void. We kind of took that concept here — to give bands an event to be part of, and you don’t have to be on spinART or Lookout to be able to get in,” Fecher said. “No one else is doing that in such a laid back atmosphere.”
And it’s clear that people want to be a part of it. Though there was only enough room for 140 bands in total, Fecher received over 1,100 submissions from bands to play the festival. Thirty percent of the bands chosen to attend are from Colorado. And, Fecher prides the festival on the fact that while there is a huge local representation, nothing is central to any one scene on the Front Range.
South Park will also feature panelists discussing everything from “Getting Ahead in a DIY world,” to “The Art of the Record Deal.”
On top of it all, South Park Music Festival is entirely free. Fecher said that the goal was to keep it all about the music. “We’re not about the money, or anything like that, and I think that’s why people have embraced it so much, and that’s what we want,” Fecher said. “I want this to be the Sundance of music — for it to be the yearly taste-making event geared up to provide what large-scale festivals can’t.