Starting your own DIY festival

Advice from local festival organizers

So you’ve been around the block with festivals (and the block in this case means the campground, field, parking lot or wherever else a festival can be held). You’ve hosted a successful potluck or maybe a gift exchange. You have some unique ideas. But do you have what it takes to run your own festival? 

“It can be very time-consuming and stress-inducing in the best kind of way,” Adam Soloway of Real Love Summer Fest says.

Starting a DIY festival means having to do everything yourself – from mowing the grass in the field and putting up tents to building stages and booking talent, Soloway says.

“You really have to plan out every step of the festival,” Jamil Mahmood agrees. “Imagine you are a festival-goer and walk through from the time they arrive.” 

Mahmood, board chair and a founding member of Rainbow Trout Music Festival (RTMF), says organizers work most of the year to plan each upcoming festival. This includes arranging parking, ticketing and amenities – and that’s just logistics. There’s also the overall experience to consider.

“I think above all, a music festival should produce a feeling of community,” Max Porozny says. “Music is what brings people together, but the relationships and bonds that people build with friends and strangers is what makes festivals so amazing.”

Porozny, who’s been attending local and international festivals for more than 10 years, thinks people love festivals for more than just the music.

“(Festivals) provide a sense of togetherness that I think is lost in our daily experiences,” he says.

“People in Manitoba want to have a great time,” Mahmood says. “We love our music and want to be outside enjoying it. You add a bunch of people, great food …and you pretty much have summer goals for all Manitobans in one place.” 

When asked how to create a hit festival, Soloway says “I think the ones that are successful have unique aspects to them.”

He refers to RTMF’s local indie lineups (and, of course, its flowing river), Shine On’s improv and pig roast and Real Love’s quality headliners and touring bands as examples.

One key aspect of outdoor events is, of course, the weather. Both Real Love Summer Fest and RTMF have dealt with major weather issues. Real Love is moving to a new site for this year’s festival, while RTMF had to come up with an alternative parking solution on the fly in 2016 when their initial lot was completely flooded. 

Flexibility is a key factor in surviving such events with a stronger plan for the next festival year.

And lastly?

Mahmood’s advice: “Talk to other festivals, volunteer at every festival you can to learn, experience and be a part of them and don’t be afraid to ask for help.” 

“Take risks,” Soloway says. “You are an experience-maker and have the opportunity to provide hundreds of people with a weekend they won’t forget. Do crazy things, and the rest will fall into place.” 

“Also, make sure you get enough Porta Potties,” he adds.

Published in Volume 71, Number 27 of The Uniter (June 1, 2017)

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