The “Big City,” Summer and Festival Fatigue

Most viewers of this website know that I was pretty exited for the Big City Summer Fest when it first started. You also have no doubt noticed that I’ve not posted so much as a single image since the first weekend. That’s despite the fact that there were a number of bands I was very happy to see playing in Rochester, and yes it’s true, I never went to see any of them after the first weekend.

Let there be no doubt in anyone’s mind: I greatly appreciate the effort put into this festival and the fact that nothing of this magnitude has happened in Rochester. But despite the magnitude of the talent on stage, the crowd cannot be judged on the order of magnitude at all. In fact, the whole thing has been something of a flop as near as I can tell. Therefore, I’m posting this article in the hopes that the people who organized this event might hopefully take to heart the genuine constructive criticism of a supporter.  

I think I discovered a new concept this year, with the help of the Summer Fest: the “Festival Fatigue.” The primary reason for festivals is to present the audience with an at least seemingly exclusive weekend of. . . well, whatever gets people to a festival. Maybe two weekends, but that’s usually it. The Greek Festival, the Corn Hill Festival, BiMonSciFiCon and other festivals all create a certain “panic,” and draw people to a once-a-year, very brief event.

Big City Summer Fest suffers from a lack of exclusivity on this level. Three weekends, not even in order, do not compel an audience to the festival site. Such a setup invites a “wait and see” attitude followed by utter boredom. Rather than generate the interest it should, it diffuses the interest of the public beyond any reasonable expectations for a festival.

The irony is: festivals like the Park Ave Fest and the Clothesline Arts Festival and others invariably attract the same vendors and aren’t anywhere near as exclusive as the Big City Summer Fest was. There you have the magic of the festival in all it’s glory.

A second problem with the festival, which I am sure the event planners now realize, was the booze situation.  Many of the featured events took place in the abandoned storefronts that used to house Tiki Bob’s, Empire Brewing Company and others.  The trouble is: once a location has had a liquor license, and subsequently had that license removed as in the case of abandoned restaurants, no liquor or beer can be served in that location unless the space itself is licensed.  Even festival vendors, who have special licenses, cannot serve booze.

So the festival setup a situation where, quite inadvertently, they’d forced the audience to make a choice between watching the not-so-featured band for free outside and drink beer, or pay ten dollars to sit in an abandoned building and not drink anything.  You can see how this might have failed.

April Laragy from the Atomic Swindlers told me that the venue they were to have played at had already changed three times by the time they got there.  This was not at all atypical for the first weekend.  I suspect that had something to do with bands and their managers not wanting to play in places with no booze because they knew they’d be playing for crickets.

Enough bitching, now for constructive suggestions

I would personally recommend that, next year, they try something like “The Big City Summer Concert Series.”  That’s pretty much what it was in the first place.  Then you can setup a “Big City Summer BBQ Fest,” or whatever else as an individual event within a series of events and provide these things with much more exclusivity.   In fact, you could even find a way to bank-roll the “Concert Series” with the Park Avenue Fest or Corn Hill by having the event organizers for Big City pay to have major-name acts play shows at those other festivals.

Now, instead of a single multi-weekend event, you have a brand name of sorts with which to generate additional interest in festivals across the board.

I really like the festival in the middle of High Falls, even with all the problems inherent in the area.   But obviously, greater planning needs to be done in order to make sure that people are not cut off from the beer, which is unethical and cruel.  Come on, Duffy!  Give the people the beer!

By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.