There has been much buzz both online and in the coffee shop about the initial PromoWest Fest held last weekend in McFerson Commons. Since I have no dog in the fight, I figured it couldn't hurt to weigh in with my two cents as an impartial observer. Keep in mind that I only attended the opening day of the festival and I'm really no expert on anything except Cheap Trick. And......begin.
The Concept: There seem to be festivals popping up all over and if a local company with the clout of PromoWest wants to throw one in our hometown I say, "Why the hell not?" I'm a music fan and I'm all for anything that brings more music to Columbus. It was also a way to feature many of the bands the CD1025 has championed through the years. Grade: A
The Branding: Seems like most festivals have a snappy name like Bonnaroo or Lollapalooza or something to get the kids excited while distracting them from their parent's credit cards they are loading up. PromoWest Fest is fine I suppose but they may have left some easy merchandise money on the table. Grade: B
The Line-Up: No matter how you feel about the actual company that is PromoWest, even the biggest cynic would be hard pressed to find fault with this year's music line-up. This is the upside that PromoWest brings to the table. Ryan Adams, Snoop Dog, Modest Mouse and The Flaming Lips along with some local acts like Red Wanting Blue and Nick D, just to name a few. Great line-up. Grade A+
Ticket Prices: Not sure I could plunk down the 3-day pass cash but overall it was a reasonable value. Grade B
VIP Experience: While I wasn't a VIP, the sections they had access to were better than most VIP sections I have experienced. On the downside, some performers were bummed about a big empty swash of green grass right in front of the stage, harshing their groove. Maybe split the difference next year? Grade: B
The Third Stage Being Cancelled: There seemed to be some hubbub about this online but I couldn't really follow what was happening. I didn't miss the third stage while I was there. I can't even imagine where they would have put it. Grade: Incomplete
The Venue: McFerson Commons was much bigger than I remembered. The grass was lush and green and the buildings provided plenty of shade. Once again, I was only there on Friday, but there was plenty of space if you wanted but it was easy to join a crowd if getting in the mix was/is your thing. Grade A+
Vendors/Bathrooms/Stuff: After talking to vendors and patrons I have two suggestions to improve the festival next year. 1) The craft beer garden is a nifty idea, but once people discovered it, they had to walk 200 yards the other direction to load up money on the wristbands and then return. Some vendors felt all that effort was hurting sales as people just got tired and surrendered to Miller Lite, which had a choice location right next to the load up station. Next year, put an additional cash spot closer to the craft beer garden. So people could see beer, buy beer, with minimal effort. 2) Some patrons seemed to have trouble finding the water station so maybe set that up closer to the gate so everybody lays eyes on it right from the get go. However, these are minor tweaks, I thought overall there were plenty of good food/drink choices and I never saw a line at the restrooms. Grade: B+
Production: The park had stages set up on each end and both were totally pro. Great sound and lights. I liked the big screen placement so you could watch the band from a distance if you wanted to maintain a little green space. I was there primarily to see Noel Gallagher & the High Flying Birds and the whole show was excellent. The bands started right on time and having zero downtime between the acts was a plus. Grade: A
Set Length: I fancy myself more of a punk than a hippie, so overall, I prefer a one hour set time and a rigid schedule than some rambling jamfest that drags on until dawn. Don't bore us, get to the chorus. Having said that, I talked to a number of Flaming Lips fans that were disappointed that they had spent good money and the band only played 40 minutes and ended rather abruptly while headlining Friday night. In the future, PromoWest may want to budget in a little flex time at the end of the night so the headliners don't get squeezed. Grade on Overall Schedule B+ / Grade on Hard Closing Time 11 pm C-
Those Crazy Wristbands Part 1: Okay, this seems to be the big bone of contention. I got hipped to the whole no-cash/credit/wristband thing a day before attending so I was mentally prepared to bend over and take it in style. Sure, a $2.00 "activation fee" combined with a $3.50 "termination fee" was a shameless money grab but aren't we all used to that by now? The bottom line about any for-profit music festival is always the bottom line. Even those peace- loving hippies who set up Woodstock would gouge out your eyeballs with a one-hitter for an extra nickel. It's a rock n roll tradition.
Obviously nobody enjoys having their hard-earned money nicked in the name of convenience, but don't give me the babe in the woods routine, Karen (Goodfellas). We all knew the rules going in, The Man was going to get your $$ one way or another so deal with it, bitch a little about it, and then move on and enjoy the music. Grade: C
Why I Hate Those Crazy Wristbands: Okay, NOW I've got a problem. I showed up with my 12- year old son at 4:30 on Friday afternoon. We walked up to the venue with our tickets and were told we cannot enter the venue unless we first have our wristbands. I asked, "We aren't planning on buying anything, can't we just enter?" "Nope. Got to have the wristband." He then pointed across the street to the Nationwide box office where a line a quarter mile long was standing in the sun. And not moving.
So now Owen and I are standing in a huge line that isn't moving, directly across from the festival where nobody is entering. Holding our tickets. Meanwhile, Red Wanting Blue has ended and X Ambassadors are starting. Thankfully, I was mostly concerned with seeing Noel Gallagher so I wasn't too stressed (yet) but people around me in line who bought tickets and were fans of X were understandably upset. By 6 pm, we have only moved 20 yards or so and Owen is asking, "Should we just go home?" At that point people just began blowing up social media, myself included, hoping to draw attention to what was happening outside the venue.
Just before we were ready to bail on the whole thing, people emerged from the box office and began handing out wristbands to anybody who had a ticket. Geez, that wasn't so hard. After waiting with our tickets for about 90 minutes, we got into the festival with 15 minutes to spare.
So in the future, if my ticket does not gain entry to the show, it needs to say on the ticket (in big letters) - THIS TICKET IS NOT GOOD FOR ENTRY - because normal folks like me just assume I can at least enter the show and then get my wristband. I am assuming this policy was changed for Saturday & Sunday. Once in the venue, the line to load up the wristbands was long but mostly because the entire line of 300 ticket holder flooded in at the same time. I heard the rest of the weekend was smooth. Grade: F
For the record, I put $20 on a wristband. With activation fee that gave me $18.00. I bought one beer and one Sprite leaving me $5.00 I didn't use. The fee for "unused" money was $3.50 so I should be getting a tidy $1.50 back on my credit card. If just 1,000 people did this each day of the festival that's $16,500 in fees. Like picking free money up off of the ground. Pretty crafty indeed. Well played.
Social Media: Sure, the interwebs are crawling with haters but here is an idea, next year PromoWest Fest should put somebody in charge of handling the complaints through social media. People who are paying good money to attend a festival have a right to their opinion, both good and bad. In fact, many of these ideas will help you improve the festival in the future. Hell, if not for social media, I'd still be standing in line with my son waiting for a wristband.
So instead of trying to shut people up, how about, "We appreciate your concerns and are working hard trying to improve the situation in the future. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and have a great PromoWest Fest." See, that's not so hard. You can use it next year. You're Welcome. I would think of all companies, PromoWest would understand that people having feedback about the festival isn't personal, it's just business. Grade D
But to be clear, my over all impression of the first PromoWest Fest is very positive and I look forward to attending again in 2017. Considering how many things can go wrong when planning an event of this magnitude, they got most everything right. Hats off to PromoWest Fest. It's a welcome addition to the Columbus social calendar and it has real upside to become something special in the future.
Overall Grade: B+
Colin Gawel plays in the band Watershed. Read all about him in the book Hitless Wonder. He is also a member of the band Why Isn't Cheap Trick in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?. And the League Bowlers. and The Lonely Bones.
Below: Noel Gallagher and the High Flying Birds showing why the first PromoWest Fest was a success. It's the music stupid.