LAST WEEK MusicfestNW officially announced a drastic overhaul for 2014's upcoming festival. In 2013, the Portland music festival was spread out across 16 venues throughout town, with roughly 170 bands performing over six days. This year's event will be a two-day affair at Tom McCall Waterfront Park featuring 18 bands, to take place during the weekend of August 16-17. We talked to MFNW's executive director, Trevor Solomon, about the significant changes.
MERCURY: Was it your decision to move MusicfestNW to the Waterfront this year?
TREVOR SOLOMON: It was a group decision. There's a team that works on the festival, and it's something that we had internally discussed over the years, because the Waterfront is such a beautiful part of Portland. The opportunity became available this year via the city, and it was perfect timing. There were some issues with Pioneer Courthouse Square last year—doing the shows there didn't work as well as we had hoped.
Were neighbor complaints the crux of the issue?
Yeah. Neighbor complaints, and sound issues. Last year, it just felt like we had capacity issues, and people standing in line, and the wristbands were an issue. It's interesting. I know people are complaining online now that we're switching the festival. I see it. I read the Facebook, but I also have read the emails for years: "I bought a wristband and I can't get into my favorite show." I know what frustrates people, and I knew that it was a huge frustration for years and that I needed to fix it. When this presented itself, I thought it was a good thing. Yes, we're going to be like a lot of other festivals in a lot of other cities, but Portland doesn't have a festival like this. We have Pickathon, which is cool, but that has camping; it's not an urban festival (not that I'm trying to tell Pickathon what they are). So I thought this was a good thing for Portland, and a way to try something new.
Was there a financial impetus to make the change?
It was tough, because on the financial level, I think we did fine. It was something that we were continuing to try to do—we weren't making money doing it, but there was a passion to it and we were trying our best. But I don't think it was really financially based. I really think it was the model of what it was wasn't working, and we needed to try something new.
Is there an opportunity for more of a profit margin with this condensed setup?
Sure. We're going to one space. There are opportunities, sure—but there are also opportunities for disaster. It goes either way.
The Oregonian reported there will be 18 bands this year. Is that what you're looking at now?
Absolutely. Nine bands a day. No overlap.
And there was some talk of afterparties?
Yeah. Nothing's set in stone. We have sponsors that we're talking to—Nike and Heineken have been discussed. We might do a couple secret shows, we might not. It really, honestly, is so up in the air right now that nothing has been set in stone.
Are you booking bands that will appeal to a broader crowd?
Looking at the lineup that I'm trying to wrap my head around, I think it's going to appeal to a vast array of people in this town. You can't make everybody happy, but I do feel like it's going to have a good audience and we'll have some buzzy bands. And we'll try to have some local bands, also. It's not easy with 18 bands, but we'll do our best.
Knowing you personally, you've always booked MFNW based on your own tastes, in addition to having a well-rounded festival. Will you have to set your favorite bands by the wayside this year?
No. I feel pretty good about it. I'm able to enjoy booking this without making it feel like a job. I have to appeal to what people are gonna like, and yeah, there are some things I probably won't book that I'll be really kicking myself about that I wish I could, and in previous years I probably would have. I don't know how much punk rock we're going to have, and I don't know if I'm going to book Against Me!, but that's my favorite record right now. And it's somewhat of a bummer. But we had them in 2012. So I think the first year it's gonna be rough, but throughout time it will figure itself out.
It also sounds like this will be an all-inclusive festival, with food carts?
Yeah. We're trying to make it an experience. We want people to show up and have an experience of Portland. Maybe that's food carts, maybe it's coffee, or whatever. There are a lot of things within the city that people are interested in. And we have a huge space to cover.
What part of the park will it take place in?
In between Morrison and Hawthorne.
Will there be a stage on the south end and one on the north end?
Most likely. We're still figuring out the exact logistics. I like what Blues Fest does [in the south bowl], but logistically it was a little bit easier for us to be in the space we're in now.
Was there any talk of changing the name?
No, that never came up. This probably speaks more to Mark and Richard, the owners of the paper [Willamette Week, which runs MFNW], because they owned the festival back when it was North by Northwest, and before I ever came along it became MusicfestNW. The name is something that they believe in. It's just a bit of a change, but they're proud of what they've done and they want to continue.
How will TechfestNW be incorporated into it?
Techfest will be the same weekend. How it's incorporated is to be determined. We're gonna try to find ways, maybe it's a band that will cross over, or a speaker at Techfest who will speak to the people who want to go to Musicfest as well. We're still figuring it out.
Are any of the venues upset about the change?
Remarkably, no. I think some are disappointed. I think some are realistic when I've explained it to them... We've been doing this for years with them, and it's been a huge success. To be bummed is cool. To be pissed would be a little... I hope that they would realize we've made an effort for a long time to do this. For the most part, everybody was pretty cool. We told them late December, early January. And we decided that we were going to wait a little bit to announce it publicly.
What contributed to the decision to change the dates from early September to mid-August?
Those were the days that were available at the Waterfront. And why not do it in the middle of the summer? We had some rain last year, and these are the dates that are available. And now I won't be affected by the first week of football. I get to watch the first Dolphins game. I haven't done that in years.