Why Do We Complain So Much About LouFest?
By Jaime Lees
Tue, Sep 15, 2015
St. Louis loves to complain. We’re also passionate about our city. Mix up this cocktail and we’ll drop our customary Midwest politeness: You’ll hear enthusiastic speeches about every regional issue from the opening of a new IKEA to a possible new football stadium.
There are many things that divide this town, but most complaints are dropped if the matter in question has been shown to benefit the residents. Arguments are often ended with a conciliatory, good-natured, “Whatever. If it’s good for the city I guess it’s fine.”
But LouFest has been met with outright ire since the annual music festival began six years ago. Seasoned festival-goers whine that it’s too small. Those of us accustomed to smaller concerts whine that it’s too big. And each year the lineup is met with cries of “LameFest” or “more like PooFest.” Every single year there is an avalanche of criticism for this music festival, even if it does bring in money and is “good for the city.”
Why? I’m not sure, but I have a theory. I think that we’re all quick to whine about LouFest simply because of the actual name of the festival.
Most other major music festivals don’t have a tight association with the cities in which they are held. For example, while we all know that while Lollapalooza is now held in Chicago, it doesn’t necessarily represent Chicago. It could be held anywhere or moved to any other city without losing its identity. But with a name like LouFest, it’s implied that this festival somehow represents St. Louis.
This is why we all get bitchy. That “Lou” gives us assumed ownership, and therefore a free pass for complaining rights. And when I look at the LouFest lineup, it doesn’t at all represent the St. Louis that I know. So just like everyone else, I start complaining, too.
I interviewed LouFest founder Brian Cohen and executive producer Charlie Jones a couple of years ago and they really won me over. I asked nothing but hard questions and I was impressed with their answers. To be blunt, I expected them to be annoyed at my insistence that the festival didn’t include enough local acts in decent time slots. They countered my questions with a list of all of the regional considerations they’d included, like making a point of booking a couple of local bands each year and renting space to St. Louis merchants. They also stressed that they didn’t have to include any local flavor at all. True. Very true. Can’t argue with that.
I’ve been to LouFest on three different occasions to see three different bands. One time was to see Dinosaur Jr (on a side-stage at a criminally early time in the day) and the other two times were during different years to catch separate headliners. As such, I’ve seen with my own eyes that LouFest does lots of things right. From the very beginning the organizers were focused on recycling, encouraging people to bike to the festival and general eco-friendliness. And it’s lovely see major touring bands while lounging on the grass of beautiful Forest Park instead suffering through the flooded concrete bathrooms at Riverport.
I prefer my music just a little weirder than most festivals offer, so I never really expect the LouFest lineup to thrill me. But this year, in particular, the lineup immediately struck me as relentlessly bland. As I looked over the list of performers I realized why: Women and people of color were woefully underrepresented.
So I crunched the numbers.
I did an informal tally of the artists listed on the lineup (not including support musicians) and came up with a total of 128 performers. Of the 128, 112 are white men and only six are women. By my estimation, the LouFest lineup for 2015 was 90.6 percent white and 95.3 percent male.
Even if my calculations are off a bit here, the official numbers would still show a huge discrepancy. And if I’d included support musicians in my calculations (such as our beloved local talent — the backing band for Pokey LaFarge) the numbers for white male performers would just go even higher.
That is something to complain about, and I can’t imagine an acceptable excuse for this remarkable lack of diversity. I know nothing about what it takes to execute an event of this size, but I do know the talk on the street. I know what gets said in the real world, and what’s being said isn’t nice. In the months and months of planning that it must take to put together a lineup, somebody should’ve noticed this offensive trend in booking. I can’t call any festival that features 87.5 percent white male talent a success. Not here and certainly not now.
In a city with multiple richly diverse (and thriving) music scenes, this lack of women and people of color just doesn’t make any sense. And with the “Lou” included in the LouFest name, I expect to see some mirroring of our population — and the organizers just repeatedly miss the mark.
Maybe LouFest needs some kind of image consultant to point out these overlooked and/or ignored aspects. Some pieces of LouFest’s PR campaign just seem tone deaf. For example, in the weeks leading up to the fest, an electronic billboard on Highway 44 advertised multiple cheesy LouFest designs. Most were innocuous, but one of the designs seemed downright condescending to women: “LouFest: He is going, and yes, he thinks you’re cute.” So (straight) women (or gay men) only go to music festivals to flirt? Can’t they just like live music, too?
It’s bizarre that these kind of issues continue to exist in 2015, especially with an event that is so high-profile. I understand that it’s a corporate-sponsored major event and that it involves contracts and a lot of moving parts, but someone needs to be accountable for overall quality control.
I cast my vote with my money this year for a better, more representative LouFest: I didn’t go.
But I want LouFest to do well in the future — I’d just be happier if it did a better job of showcasing the city it claims to celebrate. Yes, lots of other festivals and smaller local events could be accused of this same issue, but LouFest is not just any weekend festival. Like it or not, LouFest is part of our face to the world.
So here’s what I ask of LouFest: First of all, fix your irresponsible advertising strategy. It’s not cute. Second, fix your future lineups. You can easily neutralize your white man problem by doing one very simple thing: include more locally-sourced musicians. (It’s eco-friendly!) If you look to our own neighborhoods, you’ll find a diverse pool of talent where women and people of color are plentiful and celebrated. Do it for us, your potential local-music-loving attendees.
Basically, LouFest, we like you because we think you are good for the city, but you need to start doing a better job of earning that “Lou,” OK?
– link: Riverfront Times
LouFest Expands, Keeps St. Louis Fans in Mind
By Jaime Lees
Thursday, Sep 5 2013
Now entering its fourth year, LouFest has outgrown its toddler phase and is ready to play with the big kids. What began as a relatively small affair has expanded into a respected event with national recognition; in years past it was somewhat of a boutique festival, far from the behemoth sonic sprawls created at Coachella or Bonnaroo. Occupying a plot of land in Forest Park, the LouFest organizers kept the concert cozy, ensuring a quality experience built around a small stage setup and local vendors.
Brian Cohen, founder of LouFest, first held the event in 2010 and set out to build an annual destination festival. Cohen’s recent partnership with C3 Presents is the latest step in that growth process. As the third-largest concert promotion company in the United States, C3 Presents organizes massive events — including President Obama’s inaugural celebration and other multiday music happenings like Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits. Whatever the company does, it does big, so regular LouFest attendees should expect something extra special this year — something that Charlie Jones, executive producer at C3, refers to as “an elevated experience.”
The inclusion of such a massive promotion company (and the connections that come along with it) has opened up new options to the LouFest organizers. In LouFest’s past, the bands were staggered on two different stages, but this year there will be a third stage and some overlap of set times. Instead of being able to see every set all day, music fans will need to make some choices. This new factor might be viewed as a possible inconvenience by previously spoiled LouFest attendees, but it is a standard practice for larger music festivals, and Cohen sees it as a positive thing, providing fans with the opportunity to see more bands.
“This year there has to be some decision-making to determine what bands you want to see,” Cohen explains.”Maybe you stay for half a set and then run to another stage. So that’s all part of the dynamic that makes it more interesting and exciting.”
C3’s Jones agrees with Cohen’s movement theory. “The park is huge. If you’ve been there the past couple of years, they’ve only utilized a very small portion of it. This year is not going to be that much bigger in a sense that there’s that many more people, but we are utilizing more of the grounds so that there’s more room to spread out with your blankets and move from stage to stage. Part of the philosophy that we have with producing events is motivating people to move around and experience other things, whether it’s music or food or just their friends.”
It’s hard to imagine the festival topping the psychedelic dance-fest that occurred last year. And though rain threatened to ruin parts of the event and forced muddy audience members to scramble for shelter, the show went on, and went on spectacularly. Headliners the Flaming Lips and Girl Talk made sure that the energy went up after the sun went down, and daytime sets by Son Volt, Dinosaur Jr and Dr. Dog were of legendary quality.
This year the lineup is more visually and sonically subdued, but it’s no less powerful. Headliners include monster acts Wilco, the Killers and the National. Rounding out the bigger names on the list is Alabama Shakes, a band that has gone from playing the Old Rock House here less than two years ago to getting near-top billing at LouFest. Like any large and diverse music festival, the lineup features often-seen touring bands awaiting their dues (Ra Ra Riot), hippie favorites (Trampled By Turtles), newer buzz bands (Wild Cub) and the electro-dance flavor of the moment (Icona Pop).
LouFest and St. Louis
Historically, LouFest has been a local operation from top to bottom. Organized and run by Cohen’s St. Louis-based company, Listen Live Entertainment, there has been great care taken to make sure that the festival welcomes and includes native businesses.
Says Cohen, “The beer is represented by two local favorites, Anheuser-Busch and Schlafly. Anheuser-Busch sponsors our main stage, and Schlafly has their beer garden. Our food court is full of local favorites, and in our market square we have local fashion and local retailers that come out and provide great things for people to browse through. So all in all we are a St. Louis event, born and bred. We try to reflect that in everything we do. We’re all about the city. We’re all about being a place to showcase the best that St. Louis has to offer. Not only music, but food and fashion and everything else. Our event is about celebrating all of those things.”
If there has been any criticism of LouFest over the years, it’s the fact that it’s called “LouFest” and that the name might imply the inclusion of more local bands on the lineup. But the festival has included local bands every year, even if their performances have been relegated to the earliest possible time slots.
“What we have done from the beginning is make sure that local bands are represented in the lineup,” Cohen explains. “That’s very important to us, and that’s a tradition that we want to keep. Other festivals don’t really do that. They don’t have a commitment to their local scenes, at least in the public way that we do.”
Over the years LouFest has featured performances from locals Kim Massie, So Many Dynamos, the Bottle Rockets, Magnolia Summer, Sleepy Kitty, Jumbling Towers and Jeff Tweedy (arguably a St. Louis native via neighboring Belleville, Illinois). And that streak doesn’t end — Tef Poe and Kentucky Knife Fight are on the bill for 2013.
“It’s a balancing act to determine how many to include, because part of the appeal of festivals is bringing bands to St. Louis that don’t really come here that often,” Cohen says. “So while there’s plenty of local talent that we could put on the stage throughout the day, we need to strike a balance between bands that you can see often in St. Louis and those that are going to provide a unique experience that our fan base doesn’t get to experience very often.”
Jones echoes Cohen’s “bigger picture” sentiment: “Whenever we go to a new market, and specifically St. Louis, it’s not necessarily a goal just to make a big music festival, but it’s to try to create an event that’s going to become part of the community and hopefully be thought about as something to do in that community for many, many years to come — a true cultural event that represents the park, the city and the fans that would come to it.”
12 p.m. Saturday, September 7 and Sunday, September 8.
$55 to $95. Forest Park, Highway 40 (I-64) & Hampton Avenue.
link: Riverfront Times