After spending last week at two city music festivals, I've developed a few hypotheses. First, musical tastes change across state lines, and second, neither Bumbershoot nor MusicFest NW has the festival system totally figured out. Quarantining a music festival to an oversized park won't unite the city's music community (Bumbershoot), but spreading shows all over town means music fans struggle to see the best acts (MNFW). Here's what I think the festivals can learn from each other. (Oh, and I'll just point out that I understand MFNW and Bumbershoot are totally different festivals and this exercise is kind of like comparing apples to oranges, but let's just pretend it's more like comparing oranges to tangerines.)
Paige Richmond The Head and the Heart performed at MFNW this year; THEESatisfaction performed at the same time on Saturday night. Although the venues were half a mile apart, it was nearly impossible to see both bands in one hour.
Here's what Bumbershoot could learn from MFNW.
Here's what Bumbershoot could learn from MFNW.
1. Engage the whole city in music. Unlike Bumbershoot (or even Capitol Hill Block Party), during MFNW, there's no one part of town with a monopoly on music. The festival essentially takes over Portland, it lasts for five days, and it's what pretty much everyone is talking about. When I got coffee on Sunday morning, the barista saw my wristband (that's how you get access to the festival) and started talking to me about the bands she saw (Man Man was her favorite, in case you're curious). This happened a few other times throughout the weekend, and it made me think people in Portland were actively interested in their music community, rather than passively acknowledging the festival's existence.
2. Make individual performances feel like actual shows--and ticket them as such. Like I mentioned before, MFNW runs on a wristbands, which means you can go to whatever show you want but aren't guaranteed entry if the venue is already full. To circumvent this, you can buy tickets to individual shows. (Menomena's Saturday night show, for example, was sold out before the festival started). This works well if you're interested in catching a few specific bands but don't want to pay for festival passes. Bumbershoot's mainstage-only tickets kinds solves this problem, but what if all you really wanted to see was Fatal Lucciauno at the Sky Church on Sunday of Bumbershoot? Not possible.
3. Up the party factor. MFNW's shows are held--much of the time--at actual bars. And those bars are charging the same amount for whiskey that they did last week, when there wasn't a festival going on. There's no beer garden situated far away from the stage where you have to buy a $5 Bud Light. I get that Bumbershoot is family friendly, but c'mon, it's a music festival. There's got to be some sanctioned debauchery.
And... what MFNW could learn from Bumbershoot:
4. Proximity of venues is important.
4. Proximity of venues is important.One of the most frustrating aspects of MFNW is that it's impossible to see all the bands you want to see, even if you're realistic about scheduling them (don't try to see two acts with same start time, for example), because the venues are spread out all over the city. On Friday night, I planned to see Okkervil River at 10 p.m. and Tallest Man on Earth on 11 p.m., and figured I'd miss maybe the last few songs of Okkervil to make that goal. But the acts' respective venues were about a mile and a half part; walking would take up too much time, which meant a cab was necessary, which meant waiting to hail a cab in the middle of a city-wide party--you get the idea. I only saw four Okkervil River songs before bailing. At Bumbershoot, you can jump from band-to-band with no problem, because the stages are near each other. Maybe MFNW can make better use of some outdoor spaces (Portland's waterfront, for example?) to solve this.
5. Stagger set times. One way to get around the aforementioned problem is to stagger set times, the same way Bumbershoot does. It's hard to catch half a set when two bands play concurrently; if the Head and the Heart started at 9 p.m. and THEESatisfaction started at 9:15 p.m. on Saturday night (instead of taking the stage at 9) I might have been able to see them both.
6. Try having bands play earlier.
6. Try having bands play earlier.Most of the shows at MFNW start around 8 p.m. and bands are scheduled to play all the way until 1 a.m. Sure, MFNW is great about staying on time--bands rarely start late--but c'mon, it's test of physical fortitude to stay up til 2 a.m. five nights in a row. (Maybe that's just me.)