Organizers of the Fall Line Fest, Richmond’s latest attempt at a large music and arts festival, hope the community-based event will expand next year, noting that things went fairly smoothly in its inaugural run Sept. 6 and 7.
The event featured 42 local and national touring bands playing in five venues, spotlighted nine art galleries and featured a preview installation from Virginia Commonwealth University’s Institute for Contemporary Art.
Numbers haven’t been tallied, organizer Jesse Medaries says, but capacity in festival venues was around 1,500. The event came “close to meeting that number,” he says, and the First Friday Art Walk brought in additional crowds that number in the thousands. Most attendees walked or biked between venues, with the farthest haul being between the Camel and the Hippodrome.
“I think we were all really pleased we could make it affordable,” Medaries says. “You want it to grow. I think that’s something we thought about [growing small to large] and we really wanted community support.”
The festival is headed by a 10-person board that includes Medaries, Stephen Lecky, Tracy Keats Wilson, Sean Rhorer, Daniel White and Matt Rawls, among others -- while sponsors for the event included Venture Richmond and Kroger. The board begins meeting next month to plan for the second festival.
Lecky adds that the ultimate goal was to expose local bands and venues to new people. Alison McLean, marketing director and floor manager at the Camel, says roughly 80 to 90 percent of the attendees Friday night -- the busiest night -- were new faces. Crowds through the weekend weren’t necessarily larger, she says, but Friday was strong.
“We’d like to see that [effect] expand every year,” Lecky says. “If anyone is planning on doing anything cool, we’d like them to do it that weekend.”
Lecky says the festival couldn’t afford to add transportation options the first year, but there are “ideas of having trolleys going back and forth and even having a band on the trolley.”
Another voice conspicuously missing from the event was local college radio -- hello out there, WDCE -- which Lecky hopes to pursue in the future.
The Fall Line Fest faces stiff competition from the established Hopscotch Festival in Raleigh, N.C., and Lockn’ Festival in Nelson County, held the same weekend. Down the road, Lecky says he hopes other events such as the RVA Street Art Festival could occur the same weekend. He notes that it would be difficult to change the festival date, because the idea is to coincide with First Friday, and pushing it to October would put it in competition with Second Street Festival and too close to the Richmond Folk Festival.
“Community support is key to making this happen,” he says. “This is not a huge organization. It’s 10 volunteers making this work.”
Not everything went exactly as hoped. Local musician Reggie Pace, whose group No BS! Brass band headlined Saturday night at the Hippodrome with New Orleans bounce artist Big Freedia, sends his impressions to Style Weekly by email:
“I’ve been to a lot of music festivals around the world in the last couple of years, so I was extra excited to play a world-class music festival at home. The organizers couldn’t have been more helpful and nice. The line-up was very hip, interesting and diverse. The pairings of the music with the restaurants in town was a clever idea. I can’t wait until it happens again next year.”
But Pace complains about the Saturday venue, which involved the “tyrant”-like micromanaging of Hippodrome owner Ron Stallings: “The owner of the place could not have been more unprofessional and downright mean. Being cursed at by the owner of a club after playing a crowd-rocking set at capacity (!) is one of the lowest points I’ve experienced since being part of this music community. I wish that amazing historical venue was in the hands of someone who would treat it with respect.”
Style Weekly emailed Stallings for a response [ed. note: response included below]. The alleged unprofessionalism, which Pace says also involved poor stage sound for several bands including the Photosynthesizers, got an airing in OneWayRichmond.com and mentioned on RVAPlaylist.com and on social media. Pace says that No BS already had decided against performing at the Hippodrome because of previous experiences, but made an exception for the Fall Line Fest.
Medaries did not want to comment on the Hippodrome but notes that in the future the Fall Line programming board “will re-evaluate what venues we work with.”
UPDATED THURSDAY, SEPT. 12:
Response from Ron Stallings via email:
"I am aware of the recent blogging and made the decision not to responded directly.
The HIPP's main mission is to provide a quality environment for all types of events and a state of the art venue for artists to perform and patrons to experience great entertainment.
Since we opened in October of 2011, the Hippodrome Venues have hosted over 350 different events and have served well over 130,000 guests.
We have bookings for over a hundred more concerts and events in the coming months, most with repeat clients and artists.
Our commitment is not only to the quality entertainment and arts programming, but to the community at large. We make our Speakeasy venue available on select nights for non-profits and various community organizations of all types to host fundraisers with no rental fee of the space. This is a chance for us to not only expose the quality of this historic location, but also involve the community in continuing its mission to be a beacon for Virginia's arts, culture, and socially progressive iniatives.
Because of our mission to provide an great experience for all, it is our written policy to maintain strict adherence to our house rules and the ABC laws.
If either a guest, artist or a promoter is not adhering to those standards we must be firm in protecting the experience of all the other guests and the reputation of the Hippodrome Venues.
Our aim is never to be rude to anyone, but always firm with adherance to following the laws set by The Commonwealth of Virginia. This venue operates with the highest level of professionalism and we do have an expectation of those that work with us to do the same."