Behind the scenes of this weekend’s FALL LINE FEST

The upcoming fest will feature over 40 bands performing at local venues along with unique events at several local restaurants and galleries. So how did it all come together?

Tracy Wilson knows music. She owns a record label (Little Black Cloud), works at Deep Grove Records, plays in the band Positive No, and is the USA Product Planner for Fretted Instruments at Hohner.

She’s also one of the organizers of the forthcoming FALL LINE FEST, which takes place this Friday and Saturday across several venues. Here are her thoughts about getting the first-year festival off the ground and what sets it apart.

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How did FALL LINE FEST come about?

The FALL LINE FEST is a small group of local volunteers who are proud of the city we call home. We wanted to build an event that shined a spotlight on some of things we believe make Richmond so special. Inspired by multiple-venue festivals like SXSW, MACRoCK, and CMJ, what better way to truly experience a city then to walk it from block to city block? We know that Richmond’s weather can be unpredictable so multiple indoor venues allow us festgoers the freedom to enjoy food, art, and music without the fear of being stormed on.

What sets it a part from other festivals?

Friday and Saturday will be a celebration of local talent from our food, music, and art community while including some national music acts to round things out. The events we have curated are not just music performances; for instance we have a video installation at the future location of the Institute for Contemporary Art and a large scale mural being painted by Ham? in the heart of RVA’s Arts District. So beyond 42 bands performing, during these two days we have a long list of non-music-related happenings plus multiple unofficial FLF events like the WRIR curated record label expo.

What’s it like putting together a festival of this size and scope?

Some days it can be maddening as there are so many moving parts to organize and so many aspects to consider. I have played & booked many shows over the past 25 years (as well as curated a handful of multimedia events) but nothing like the scale of a full-blown festival. Luckily the FALL LINE FEST team has been nothing short of awe inspiring. Every single person has brought something unique to the table and the responsibilities have been divided in a way that I believe is very mindful of each person’s strengths. I am very grateful to be working along side the people I am; dedicated and hardworking to say the least.

What were the difficulties putting together a festival with so many moving parts?

As you might imagine, any time you have a group of people working on something together, there will be differences in opinions and personalities but we have maintained a majority rules attitude. You learn very quickly that a festival of this kind won’t work unless it is a team effort. There isn’t a lot of room for ego so you have to accept that a collaboration means learning to be open minded and flexible. We broke our larger group into smaller teams and each team tackles specific areas like food, art, booking talent, and so on (divide and conquer!). We are all on multiple teams and we all meet and email often. Communication for something like this has to be detailed, organized, and happen often– like all day, every day.

Was it difficult getting well-known musicians to sign on since it’s a first-time fest?

We are in a fortunate position because each member of the FALL LINE FEST booking team has had a lengthy career in different aspects of the music industry or in booking major events like this. Our skill sets and knowledge of music genres vary so we tried to use this to our advantage when building a roster of artists we wanted to work with. We may have never worked directly with some of the FLF artists before, but we know some of them–or at the very least we have mutual friends. So there was a level of familiarity and trust already there which is very helpful when booking a festival for the first time. Rather than having the safety net of a well recognized and beloved festival branding behind us, we basically are putting our personal and professional reputations on the line. For the artists or booking agents we didn’t know we had no choice but to cold call. Sometimes that gets you a response and other times it doesn’t. You have to be persistent and patient.

In my opinion the hardest of festival planning isn’t securing a band to play. The hard part is taking your dream roster of artists and then having to start back at square one when you realize 99% of that list isn’t feasible for one reason or another. You have to step outside of yourself and ask not what you want but what would be great for the diverse group of people who are interested in a food, music, and art festival.

How are local restaurants going to be involved?

We have paired five chefs from our sponsor restaurants with five bands performing at The FALL LINE FEST. Each chef will create one prix fixe menu inspired by this one artist or band. There is already such a bond between the food and music community (musicians who work in the food industry) so I think it is truly exciting to be able to taste that cross pollination of influences.

In a continuation of this marriage between food and music, we will have a daytime food panel discussion with some of our city’s most beloved chefs & restaurateurs. They will talk and take questions about their backgrounds in music and how it inspires them in relation to cooking. This event will not be open to the public so only those with FALL LINE FEST wristbands will have the opportunity to attend.

What are some of the things you’re most looking forward to about the festival?

The ironic part about helping to build a festival like this is we won’t really have an opportunity to experience it and enjoy the whole thing. We will all be working, often just in one of the venues each night and all night. You will have to go and tell me all about it! I am, however, honored that The Well chose the band I am in (Positive No) to inspire their three course meal. I am dying to know what they create in our name and can’t wait to taste it.

Will there be a FALL LINE FEST next year?

It’s our goal to make this an annual festival. Our remarkable city deserves to be celebrated. What better way to do so than by getting people into our local businesses and soaking up our local talent on an equal playing field with nationally renowned musicians. Hopefully as this festival grows, so will the number of people traveling from other cities to Richmond. We want outsiders to know how tremendous our city is while giving locals another reason to be proud of their hometown.

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The FALL LINE FEST kicks off this Friday at 3:00 PM at the VCU ICA site (the corner of Belvidere and Broad) with an art installation, food trucks, and local beer. Music begins Friday across four venues at 6:00 PM. Saturday’s festivities start off with the Fueling Richmond food panel at 1:00 PM at The Camel. Music begins at 6:00 PM.

Tickets are available online for $20.

photo courtesy of PJ Sykes

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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