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Middle Waves Music Festival Co-chair Talks Launching a Festival

As a co-chair of the inaugural Middle Waves Music Festival, Alison Gerardot plays a key role in the marketing and business development efforts for a multi-day festival featuring 20+ acts from the indie rock, hip hop, and electronic worlds including The Flaming Lips, Best Coast, Doomtree, JEFF The Brotherhood, and Sidewalk Chalk. Taking place on September 16-17, Middle Waves brings a destination music festival to the revitalizing Midwestern city of Fort Wayne, Indiana.

During an hour long interview, Alison sat down with XLIVE to share her insights into the challenges and opportunities of putting together a first year festival while explaining how Middle Waves went from concept to reality with the help of their friends at the 80/35 Music Festival in Des Moines, Iowa.

Weve seen a number of mid-sized cities such as Boise, Idaho and Des Moines, Iowa establish local music festivals over the past five years that bring well known artists to cities that arent traditionally on the radar for talent bookers. What inspired your team at Middle Waves to bring a music festival to Fort Wayne?

You mentioned Des Moines and every year our community leaders in the Greater Fort Wayne area put together a list of similarly sized cities that have interesting community initiatives. We decided to go to Des Moines since they are annually voted as one of the top cities for young professionals in the country and weve been looking for ways to grow community pride and a sense of attachment in our Millennial community in Fort Wayne after they graduate high school and college.

We went to Des Moines and the community stakeholders that we met with said that the one event that really helped build momentum for the city as a huge source of local pride was their 80/35 Music Festival, which takes place each July in Downtown Des Moines and recently brought in over 28,000 people to the 2016 edition of the festival. With headliners over the years that have included Decemberists, Nas, Wilco, Weezer, Avett Brothers, Wu-Tang Clan and more, 80/35 has helped give Des Moines a relevance and coolness factor that we covet in Fort Wayne. Its all about creating an opportunity for the people of our city to feel awesome about calling Fort Wayne home, and building civic pride and giving ourselves additional recognition on a local and national level.

Once you had that initial realization that you wanted to bring a music festival to Fort Wayne, how did you begin the process of finding a venue and getting the necessary community support to make Middle Waves a reality?

One of the first things that we did is to fly out Amedeo Rossi, the organizer of 80/35, to Fort Wayne for a weekend of venue searching and strategy planning. We really wanted to have Middle Waves at Headwaters Park, a beautiful outdoor area in Downtown Fort Wayne, but there are so many events that take place there throughout the year that we were worried it wouldnt be seen locally as a unique venue for a music festival. Amedeo instilled a lot of confidence in us to use Headwaters Park since the setting on the river is beautiful and the existing infrastructure makes it the easiest place in the city to put on a festival.

The community support was amazing, even going back to the preliminary conversations we were having with local stakeholders before launch. Were fortunate that Sweetwater Sound, one of the worlds largest music retailers, was founded and is based in Fort Wayne. Chuck Surack, their founder, was a huge proponent of Middle Waves from the start and agreed to become a sponsor of the event. Our local CVB has been very supportive in putting together some vacation packages that help showcase Middle Waves to people in the region that are looking for a weekend getaway.

Most supportive of all have been members of our local music and arts community. Both before and after launch weve had so many local bands reach out to us about playing Middle Waves and getting involved in the promotion of the festival. Our hope is that Middle Waves will be not only an opportunity for us to bring major acts to Fort Wayne but to give our local musicians the chance to play in front of well known musical acts that can help them expand their audiences both regionally and nationally. Wed love to be able to export some of our talent around the country so that more people are aware of the great bands we have that are coming out of Fort Wayne.

What have been the most significant challenges that your team has faced during the process of putting together Middle Waves as a first year festival?

Sponsorship has been a big one since were really a community group and not an official body or corporation that can fund all of this on our own. We operate as a non-profit under our regional Arts United organization. Our sponsorship inquiries have primarily been from locals at this point, with many national folks already allocating their budgets for the year.

Parkview Health, one of our regional healthcare systems, joined the list of Middle Waves sponsors as the Main Stage sponsor and that has allowed us to have some clout when we meet with other local companies, since Parkview is a leading philanthropic supporter of the Northeast Indiana community. Weve raised more funds so far than most people in our community might expect, but we have to continue to explain to people what were doing at Middle Waves since this is a first time event. All of our research indicates subsequent years will be easier, once we have proof of concept.

The other major challenge has been learning the music festival business on the fly since there arent many of us on the Middle Waves board with a great deal of festival experience. Weve been leaning heavily on our friends at 80/35 to help make connections to national talent bookers, which has been helpful since they can vouch for us and help put us in front of the right production people since were starting from square one. We also have a few members of the board that have their own venues in town and have experience with the booking process, often with the same booking agents, so they have been a crucial part of the team that can help explain to talent bookers and promoters what our objectives are at Middle Waves in terms of size and scope for the festival.

Finally, were all volunteers. This is a community-driven event, and one that is all about sweat and willpower. Dozen of folks are involved at this point, and we are all passionate about making this an absolutely incredible event.

In terms of the marketing plan for Middle Waves, have you primarily been promoting the event locally to the Fort Wayne area community or are you looking to draw attendees on more of a regional level as well?

With students back in school in September, we thought it would be important to have more of a regional approach to marketing so that we could connect with local bloggers in South Bend to make sure the Notre Dame crowd knows about Middle Waves and likewise with Bloomington bloggers for IU students, West Lafayette with Purdue University. Weve also connected with event/happening mavens from the Indianapolis area that have reached out to us about promoting and supporting the festival.

We have quite a few marketing experts on our board including my co-chair Matt Kelley, who has a marketing firm based in Fort Wayne. Matts firm has been able to help out with video production, graphic design, and marketing collateral which has been incredibly helpful in expanding the reach of Middle Waves. Members of his team, along with volunteers from many other local agencies, are working on the festival as well, and were fortunate in the sense that we can use that additional money we save on outsourcing marketing materials to help pay for extra promotion as we get closer to the festival.

With the first edition of the festival about to take place in two months, what would you say are your primary short and long term goals for Middle Waves? What would constitute a successful event in your opinion?

Selling tickets and hitting our revenue targets is obviously important, but for the first year of the festival its more about the stories we hear after the festival from members of our community that will determine its success. Were trying to do everything in our power to make Middle Waves accessible to everyone in our community by making two of our three stages completely free to attend, so Im hopeful that everyone interested in attending will be able to experience some level of community pride from being involved in the festival.

Being a part of Middle Waves has made me incredibly thankful to be a part of a community that supports entrepreneurship and big ambitions no matter your level of experience and background. Theres no way that I could put together a festival like this in Chicago without any music industry background, but I can do that in Fort Wayne because were a mid-sized community that values new ideas and initiatives.

For more information on Middle Waves Music Festival, Alison can be reached via email at alison.gerardot@cityoffortwayne.org

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