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Unconventional Party: PromoWest launches its years-in-the-making music festival

July 14, 2016

Though the inaugural PromoWest Fest kicks off Friday, July 15, the idea for the music festival was actually hatched three or four years ago, according to PromoWest President and CEO Scott Stienecker.
Of course, much has changed in the festival landscape since Stienecker and Nationwide Realty Investors Ltd. President and Chief Operating Officer Brian Ellis first tossed around the idea of hosting a three-day bash in the heart of the Arena District. Each year, a handful of new, regional events pop up, and the glut can make it hard for new launches to stand out in an increasingly packed field. (Here in Columbus we’ve already seen the addition of Fashion Meets Music Fest and Breakaway Music Festival, which is making its return this summer following a two-year absence.)
Indeed, earlier this year, The New York Times announced plans to shy from coverage of the major music festivals, Coachella and Bonnaroo included, citing the increasingly interchangeable nature of the events, which tend to draw from similar performer pools.
To counter this, Stienecker stressed the importance of focusing on “PromoWest-type acts” to lend the festival its distinctive voice. “We do it all, but we mainly do your what’s-hot-in-the-AAA (adult album alternative), CD102.5-type acts,” Stienecker said. “And that feel is right here if you look at the lineup: Flaming Lips, Ryan Adams, Noel Gallagher, Fitz and the Tantrums, X Ambassadors, the Wombats, Red Wanting Blue. That’s the feel we’re looking for.”
Intensive planning for PromoWest Fest kicked off in July 2015, just weeks after the company finished putting on Cincinnati’s Bunbury Music Festival (PromoWest purchased both Bunbury and its country cousin Buckle Up in late 2014), an event that will serve as a template for the Columbus fest moving forward.
“You learn everything about logistics [running an event like Bunbury],” Stienecker said. “You have to have all the restrooms and concessions and barriers and police and medical. You’re building a city.”
As with any city planning, bumps in the road inevitably emerge. With PromoWest Fest, these challenges first arrived in the form of family illnesses. In April, planned headliner Walk the Moon canceled its tour so singer Nick Petricca could step away and care for his father (the band was replaced on the bill by Flaming Lips), and later Tears for Fears removed itself from the bill citing family illness. Additionally, a planned third stage was scrapped and a handful of acts were relocated to an after party at nearby A&R Music Bar.
“The third stage was initially going to be at North Bank Park [adjacent to McFerson Commons and the festival’s remaining two stages] and we would have to cut off Spring Street and get all the barrier stuff and all the additional police and all the additional fencing and stage and sound and lights and security,” said Stienecker, noting the festival is expecting to draw 10,000 attendees per day, slightly down from an initial goal of 15,000. “So with the cost and time and hassle, we thought, ‘Let’s just put it in McFerson and use the A&R Bar we have as the third stage.’”
While attempts were made to retain all of the bands, some groups were unable to accommodate the new stage time and are no longer performing, including the Dear Hunter and Lonesome as Gold. Initially, local band Way Yes had similar issues with its reconfigured slot. The band was informed in late June its load-in time had been moved from 10 a.m. on the fest grounds to 8 p.m. at A&R Bar, and that it would be playing on Friday rather than Saturday. Working with the PromoWest staff, the group was able to reclaim a time on the Saturday bill, since prior obligations would have prevented some band members from performing on Friday.
“I really can’t understate how much we appreciate [PromoWest talent buyer] Steve [Boyer] and team’s ability to accommodate our schedule. It must have been stressful having to revamp the lineup and would have been much easier to simply drop us,” said Way Yes’ Tim Horak via email.
Assuming continued growth, Stienecker said reincorporating a third stage next year remains a possibility, confirming PromoWest Fest will indeed return for another go round.
“We’re going to do it … and we’re already looking at [July] dates for 2017,” he said. “We want to make this a multiyear [event]. … As long as festivals are viable we’ll be doing it.”
This blog was originally featured on Columbus Alive by Andy Downing.