Experiencing the highs and lows of the summer festival scene can make even the most passionate festival fan feel a little jaded by the time Labor Day weekend rolls around. Inevitably, seeing so many of the same bands, sponsorship activations, vendors, and even your fellow fans making their way around the country can be reason enough to say to yourself awake me up when September ends.
Perhaps thats why XLIVE found the Middle Waves Music Festival to be so refreshing when we had the opportunity to travel to Fort Wayne, Indiana on September 16-17 for their inaugural event.
As was the case for many mid-sized Midwestern cities that rose to prominence as major manufacturing hubs, the era of deindustrialization caused a significant number of jobs and people to leave the Fort Wayne area throughout the late 20th century. Faced with the daunting challenge of revitalizing a once bustling downtown neighborhood, the city decided to clear a number of vacant buildings to create the 30-acre Headwaters Park that opened in the late 1990s.
It was fitting that Headwaters Park was selected as the site for the first Middle Waves, with the beautiful outdoor space that served as the epicenter for Fort Waynes revitalization now playing host to a weekend that was an important reminder that festivals can serve as catalysts for community growth.
Our favorite element of Middle Waves was the fact that the two designated side stages featured an almost entirely local lineup that was free for the community to attend. From the heavy psychedelic rock of Heavens Gateway Drugs to the mellow indie pop of Void Reunion, Fort Waynes finest received the rare opportunity to play a festival stage in their hometown as the undercard to national acts including Best Coast, JEFF The Brotherhood, Bully, Doomtree, and Oddisee.
With Middle Waves being a first-year festival, there is also plenty of room for improvement moving forward. Many vendors that we spoke with on-site mentioned that since the event didnt sell out, they were disappointed that the festival organizers chose not to make festival passes available to them to thank them for their support. This struck us as a simple first-year festival oversight, but never underestimate the importance of making sure that your vendors are having a positive experience so that they will decide to return for future editions of the festival.
Nevertheless by the time Wayne Coyne and his beloved Space Bubble emerged to serenade the crowd with a singalong of aDo You Realize?? on Saturday night, it was abundantly clear to everyone in attendance that there are few things in life more magical than getting to see a festival take place right in your own backyard. As one attendee standing behind us said to her husband during the encore, aCan you believe that were seeing The Flaming Lips play six blocks from our house right now? This might be the best night of my life."
Interested in learning more about the impact that Middle Waves made on their local community? Be sure to check out the a We Built This City on Rock Roll session taking place on Tuesday, December 6th at XLIVE 2016 in Las Vegas. Middle Waves co-chairs Alison Gerardot and Matt Kelley will be on hand to share how they were able to put together a first-year music festival with little music industry background in a city that has traditionally been ignored by major talent bookers.