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Jeff Moehlis: FestForums Brings Together Festival Movers and Shakers

Honorees include stars Jack Johnson and Rita Coolidge

Music star Jack Johnson and his wife, Kim, participate in the “Sustainable Events” panel discussion at the FestForums convention Nov. 19-21 at the Fess Parker DoubleTree Resort in Santa Barbara. The Johnsons also received an award for their contributions to music and sustainability, in part for their reusable pint glass pilot program. Click to view larger
Music star Jack Johnson and his wife, Kim, participate in the “Sustainable Events” panel discussion at the FestForums convention Nov. 19-21 at the Fess Parker DoubleTree Resort in Santa Barbara. The Johnsons also received an award for their contributions to music and sustainability, in part for their reusable pint glass pilot program. (Jeff Moehlis / Noozhawk photo)

If you've ever been to a music, film, food or wine festival, stop and think about all of the pieces that had to fit together to make it successful — the venue, the talent, ticketing, marketing, sponsorship, staffing, staging, security, insurance and much, much more. It's amazing that anyone can pull it all off.

From Nov. 19-21 at the Fess Parker DoubleTree Resort in Santa Barbara, current and future festival movers and shakers met to discuss these and other issues at the FestForums convention.

This included a "Festival Bootcamp," featuring the insights of people such as Kevin Lyman, founder of the Vans Warped Tour, and Nancy Kennedy, director of the Seattle International Film Festival.

Another notable presentation was "Sustainable Events" with a panel that included music megastar Jack Johnson and his wife, Kim, and Eric Shiflett from the Santa Barbara Bowl, who revealed that the Bowl has an astonishing 93 percent diversion of waste from landfills, thanks in part to efforts such as the Johnsons' reusable pint glass pilot program. At the close of FestForums, the Johnsons received an award for the contributions to the areas of music and sustainability.

Much of the draw for FestForums is bringing in successful people to share their stories, including those mentioned above.

A highlight was the opening keynote, an hourlong chat with Michael Lang, who was the co-creator of the Woodstock Music & Art Fair. We learned that before Woodstock, Lang got his festival start after dropping out of New York University and moving to Florida to open a headshop. Inspired by the Monterey Pop Festival, he put together the Miami Pop Festival in May 1968 in just six weeks. This was only partially successful: "Saturday was amazing," he said, but on Sunday, "the skies opened up." Unfortunately, they didn't have rain insurance, and after giving out refunds the festival wasn't profitable.

Undeterred, Lang and Artie Kornfeld pitched the idea for another festival that attracted financing from John Roberts and Joel Rosenman. One problem: They needed a venue and the appropriate permissions. Lang described fudging the numbers a bit as he shopped it around, claiming that there would be about 50,000 attendees over three days, when in fact there ended up being more than 400,000 people at the festival.

Unfortunately, after finally securing a venue, a month before the festival was scheduled to start, the town where they were planning to hold it passed a law banning it. Fortunately, they found Max Yasgur, a dairy farmer who was having a rough year and was willing to hold the event on his land. They managed to construct a city on his farm in that month, and the rest is history. Highlights included Joe Cocker, who Lang said "was mind-boggling"; Sly and the Family Stone, who "took the entire audience to church"; and Jimi Hendrix, who was "a revelation." Lang also received an award at the end of FestForums.

Singer Rita Coolidge accepts an award during FestForums for her lifetime of contributions to music.
Singer Rita Coolidge accepts an award during FestForums for her lifetime of contributions to music. (Jeff Moehlis / Noozhawk photo)

After his keynote, I asked Lang what he would tell someone who is trying to put together a music festival. His sage advice: "Be unique. Curate the hell out of it, because there are too many things that are just carbon copies of each other, and they're not going to survive."

Another featured individual at FestForums was singer Rita Coolidge, who gave a special concert on the first night and performed songs such as "We're All Alone," "The Way You Do the Things You Do" and "Superstar." Later, in an interview in front of the attendees, she reminisced about "musician's musician" Leon Russell, who recently passed away and had written the song "Delta Lady" about her, her uncredited contributions to the song "Layla," and her relationships with Kris Kristofferson, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash. On the final day of FestForums, Coolidge received an award for her lifetime of contributions to music.

Other FestForum awardees included super-chef Gilles Epié and actor Bruce Dern, who earlier had told stories about working with Alfred Hitchcock, Jack Nicholson and John Wayne.

Upping the celebrity power, Dern's award was presented by a very entertaining Quentin Tarantino, and Coolidge's was presented by Mary Wilson from The Supremes. There also were a number of awards given out to various festivals that are distinguishing themselves across the country.

FestForums was itself a huge success, not just because of the famous people who were part of the program, but also because of the useful discussions and networking opportunities that it offered to all attendees. Next time you attend a music, film, food or wine festival, remember that it's not just the stars who make it successful — it's also the hardworking, creative teams that put it all together.

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

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