Illustration by Aaron Gelston
I’m watching Wayne’s World II for the third time this week, insisting to my roommates that its research. I skip ahead to the film’s second act.
Wayne Campbell struggles to get his fledgling music festival, Waynestock, up and running. Jim Morrison and a naked Native American visit him in a dream, laconically insisting, “if you book them, they will come.”
With PressureLife’s own music festival, PressureFest, taking place Aug. 18, I had to wonder, would it really be this easy?
Far be it from me to question the life lessons gained from ‘90s television and movies, but I knew I had to talk with the professionals around town if PressureLife was going to book a bill as ambitious and diverse as PressureFest promises to be. Taking place, simultaneously, across three stages on the 5 O’Clock Lounge, Symposium, and the Foundry, PressureFest will need to engage the audience with acts they’ll love and those they would never expect. I talked with Dylan Glover who books the acts that frequent Mahall’s 20 Lanes in Lakewood and asked what he looks for in a lineup.
“For me, there has to be a balance between popularity and integrity,” he explained. “If the band will sell out but the music absolutely terrible, I’m not going to book that show. There has to be a balance between respectable, interesting, progressive music and popularity. We still have to make money, but we don’t do it to only be about money.”
Including Mahall’s main stage, Glover also books the underground locker room stage and, most recently, the smaller apartment stage on the top floor. “The Apartment and the Locker Room have their specific limitations and strengths,” he said. “I’d be more inclined to book ambient or jazz or something that won’t draw on a main stage but has the artistic integrity that I’m seeking. I’ll put the punk or metal stuff in the Locker Room just because it plays so well down there.”
Glover would highlight the importance of balance once more, underscoring the necessity to find a sensible middle ground between persistence and patience when reaching out to talent. “Persistence is a good attribute, but annoyance is not,” he explained. “It happens to me as a talent buyer all the time, but it goes both ways. I’ll get four emails a day from the same act and then some from their mom in a nonstop onslaught. That doesn’t help.”
Glover may have been willing to offer his insights over the phone, but with Wayne Campbell’s concert education delivered through the medium of dreams, I knew it only made sense to sleep through my scheduled interview with the Beachland Ballroom’s booking agent. Four hours later, recurring nightmares of Morrissey chasing me down and force-reading his latest novel had failed to offer any nocturnal wisdom. If I took Jim Morrison’s somnambulistic mantra from Wayne’s World at face value, however, the more than two dozen acts already locked and loaded, in addition to the stand-up comedy and performance art, proved the hard part was over. All we had to do now was wait for the Aerosmith cameo in the third act and let the credits roll. Unlike cinema, life has a way hitting snags along the way and I felt we should be prepared.
Among these snags, one of the bookers for the Winchester, Jason Geisinger, considers “cancelling a show [to be] the worst thing you can do.” He stresses fluidity and a willingness to renegotiate deals while maintaining a balance between talent and venue.
“I’m not in the business of ripping people off,” Geisinger said. “I want to make it fair to the artist but I need to minimize the risk to the club.”
Glover agrees that, above all else, the show must go on. “Sometimes you get creative and reach out to local performers, which I’ve done multiple times,” he explained. “I’ve even played myself, if need be. There’s not one right answer, only what’s right at that moment. Adaptability is huge.”
The importance Geisinger placed on knowing how and where to promote a show has me seriously reconsidering the fleet of skywriters and dancing marmosets booked on retainer. “I do this in a lot of different cities and each city is different in terms of who’s responding to what kind of marketing,” he warned. “Cleveland is kind of a 50/50 town. It skews more digital, but if you go south, people are still reading the paper here. A lot times people get bit on the ass when they put a bunch of money to the band and then they won’t put any into marketing, or vice-versa.”
Geisinger’s parting words were true to form with those of the philosophic Wayne Campbell. “Go for what you know,” he advised. “Align yourself with people who are passionate about what you’re going after. The second that’s gone, in any capacity it’s probably not going to work out.” After a moment of reflection, he added, in true Garth Algar pragmatism, “Also, I’d suggest you write stuff down.”
Glover’s brass tacks were no less true, in concert booking and in life as a whole. “Expect to be frustrated,” he said. “Expect diminishing returns at first. But above all else, be nice to people.”
I’ve since returned with what I’ve learned from the gurus, sharing with the rest of PressureLife who will no doubt be doggedly assembling the fest as you read this. As we stand in the middle of Detroit Avenue envisioning the festival to come, the food trucks, beer tents, and numerous art vendors can all but be seen lining the street. The ink still dries on flyers heralding the likes of Mourning [A] BLKstar, Automatic Weapons, and more. The curtains have yet to rise on the triple bill holding court over three separate stages, but nevertheless drumbeats stir, leading the march toward PressureFest on Aug. 18. Looking to horizon, Wayne, Garth, Jim Morrison, and the naked Native American are gone. In their place, a new crowd takes the hill.
See you there.