Music festivals are the golden ring for pretty much every musician these days. The work is less, the pay is more, the stage is bigger and so are the audiences, but the competition with other artists for these coveted spots on the lineup is much greater. There are so many talented and deserving bands out there all wanting these dream gigs. They start booking the lineup a year ahead of time and sometimes only pulling from well-known booking agencies. It can be tough to score one of these as an independent artist without representation or even knowing when to apply. . Let’s say you do happen to apply during submission time, your website is stellar, you have high quality music, video and photos, the press is giving you rave reviews and your social media sites are all on fire, and you still get the “Thank you for applying but…” email, it can all be very discouraging. I’ve probably applied for over a thousand festivals throughout the years and have only played about 25 so I know the struggle first hand.
I have been completely on my own with booking, managing and everything else since day one and finally, this year was the pinnacle year of festivals for me with Rhythm on the Rails, Canton Blues Fest, Waterfront Blues Fest, Canal Winchester Blues & Ribfest and one more I just scored for next year that I can’t wait to announce! I get asked by other artists all the time how I scored this gig or that festival and I don’t have a simple answer as to how. Some of it is hard work and the rest, you might say is luck. Either way, they’re definitely interesting stories.
Last year I got a gig in Ohio so I was trying to find other gigs to make it worth my while to make the trip so I asked the venue about other opportunities in the area and he told me to try the Canton Blues Festival, that it was a pretty big deal. It happened to be the same weekend I was going to be in the area, so I went to the website and found their email and sent them my EPK. They responded that they were already booked for that year. Boo. The lineup was amazing with John Primer and Tab Benoit as headliners so I made it a point to go to the festival while I was in town. I found out who the festival organizer was and went straight to find him when I got there and introduced myself. He then invited me to the killer after party jam at the host hotel. After enjoying the festival, I put on a cute dress, grabbed my guitar and headed to the McKinley Grand Hotel where I melted faces and stole hearts with some amazing players I had never played with before. I got a standing ovation and made tons of new frans and even sold some CDs! A few months later I got an email from the festival asking me if I would come back next year and play the main stage. They had gotten an overwhelming response from the folks at the jam, sending emails asking about me. Plus, people on the festival committee were there. I was overwhelmed myself and immediately said YES!!
Scoring the Waterfront Blues Festival has a similar story. I ended up out in Portland playing some shows last year the same time as the WBF. The lineup is always out of this world with 4 days full of amazing music alongside the beautiful Willamette River. I wanted to go badly so I volunteered as VIP security to get a free pass to the festival that day. I got introduced to the festival director by a mutual friend and I invited him to one of my shows the next week. The fact that he showed up was the “lucky” part for me. I couldn’t believe it! I had heard that he was a fantastic guitar player so I called him out to come on stage with me to jam. We had so much fun trading licks and it was such a treat for me. After I got home I sent him an email thanking him for coming to my show and playing with me and that I would love to play his festival one day. And just like that, I can now check Waterfront Blues Fest off my bucket list!
It’s pretty much the same story with the other festivals. It’s all in who you know. Make it your priority to network and put yourself out there. Once you score a festival or two and can put them on your resume, getting accepted at other festivals gets a little easier. Besides being the best you can be musically, putting on a good show, having fabulous musicians to perform with, making your online presence stellar and easy to find, you must be a go-getter. You have to keep making those connections and friendships. Be grateful. Follow up and be persistent. It’s sometimes easier to give up than it is to keep trying.
Rejection hits hard especially when you know your worth, yet feel like nobody else does. Keep putting yourself out there. Keep honing your craft. Keep searching out new festivals, it seems like there’s a new one popping up every day. Keep updating your website. Keep making new music. Keep sending in those submissions and emails. Mainly, keep your chin up! You’ve got this and don’t wait on them to come to you – GO TO THEM!!
Stay tuned for Part Two, where I will discuss in more detail, tips on how to turn a trip to your favorite festival into a possible coveted slot in their lineup.