If you haven't seen those "COMFEST" license plates rolling around town lately, it's because the festival's former music guru has moved on to a new gig.

If you haven't seen those "COMFEST" license plates rolling around town lately, it's because the festival's former music guru has moved on to a new gig.

Mark Fisher stepped down from the ComFest entertainment committee this spring after playing a pivotal role in music scheduling since he started volunteering in 1988. A few months before quitting ComFest, he became part of a 10-person board in charge of planning a massive national music festival and conference called Direct In.

Fisher said leaving ComFest had nothing to do with the new project.

"I quit in a bit of an emotional state, but it was the best thing to do," Fisher said. "It was almost like it was fate."

A ubiquitous presence scouting bands at local concerts and a longtime publicity contact, Fisher became synonymous with the festival for many. His "COMFEST" plates helped solidify the reputation, causing some resentment among his peers.

"I wasn't trying to be Mr. ComFest, but that's what I ended up being," Fisher said.

Fisher poured countless hours into ComFest over the years. But when his fellow organizers insisted on closing the fest early this year to combat the overcrowding that's plagued ComFest in recent years, the "rock 'n' roll lawyer" walked away.

"In my mind, taking the nighttime component out of ComFest was like castrating ComFest," Fisher said. "You look at a castrated dog, you can't tell they're that much different, but they are."

Instead, Fisher suggested a two-pronged crowd control plan: recruit more volunteers and stage a vast publicity campaign to educate newer festgoers about how to attend ComFest respectfully. It wouldn't be a quick fix, but Fisher was convinced in the long run it would better preserve the "party" aspect of the "party with a purpose."

"The music was the real motivating factor for me," Fisher said. "I don't deny that."

Though he's no longer involved with planning ComFest, Fisher remains a fan of the event and plans to volunteer as usual. He'll work a Saturday-night cleanup shift and participate in a program with other lawyers and law students "keeping an eye on the police, just to make sure everything's cool."

The new free time has turned out to be a boon for Fisher, who had intended to work on ComFest and Direct In simultaneously. He now sees that an undertaking as ambitious as Direct In requires his full attention - hence new plates that read "DIRCT IN."

The plan for the event is to combine the music-conference model employed by South By Southwest and CMJ Music Marathon, where bands play showcases at venues around town, with the large outdoor festival model seen at Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and Coachella.

A headlining outdoor event each evening at McFerson Commons or the new Columbus Commons would be bookended by afternoon and nighttime showcases at the city's bars and concert halls.

Inspired by ComFest's idealism, Fisher wants Direct In to have some "soul" to set it apart in a congested festival market. He's hoping the fest will stand out for the way it takes care of its musicians, perhaps by providing practical education or attractive amenities.

Though Direct In has garnered support from public figures such as Mayor Michael Coleman and County Commissioner John O'Grady, organizers won't move into the crucial fundraising stage until later this summer. Originally slated for May 2011, the target date has been pushed back to September 2011, which could lead to competition with Cincinnati's well-established MidPoint Music Festival.

"No date will be perfect," Fisher said.

Fisher admitted that even being ready by next September could be a stretch, but he and the rest of the board have no plans to scale back their ambitions in order to expedite the process.

"I haven't heard anybody talk about compromising," he said.