A few things festival organizers should consider as planning begins for 2018
Fashion is always changing.
The same is true of the Fashion Meets Music Festival, which has remained in a state of near-constant flux since its 2014 debut.
When the festival premiered as a three-day event, it was touted by organizers as a Midwest version of Austin, Texas' South by Southwest. Shows, in turn, were staged everywhere from McFerson Commons to venues scattered throughout the Arena District and the Short North, and included a mix of ticketed and free concerts featuring headlining artists such as O.A.R. and Local Natives. (Oh, and R. Kelly, who was initially booked to headline a ticketed Nationwide Arena show but was later dropped from the lineup due to community uproar over his inclusion.)
In its second year, the festival scaled back its ambitious plans (goodbye, urban camping), adopted a more industry-standard ticketed admission policy and reduced its length to two days. Despite the changes, attendance remained sparse — a problem that has continued to plague the fest in subsequent years.
Now, in year four, FMMF has relocated from the Arena District to a lacrosse stadium in Obetz, the recently constructed Fortress Obetz, a move that, judging by the various ticket deals currently being offered (buy-one-get-one-free tickets, single-day passes for $20), has done little to spark community interest.
But is it too late for the FMMF #brand to recover? Here are a handful of things the festival could do to try and bounce back for 2018.
Remember, the music is everything
In its first year, FMMF appeared so focused on the surrounding hoopla — Zip-lines! Ferris wheels! Big-name corporate sponsors! — that the music often felt like an afterthought. Indeed, since its inception, organizers have struggled to find the marriage between the two key words in its name (fashion, music), relying on too many acts whose only connection to fashion is that they probably almost always wear clothes (see: O.A.R., Third Eye Blind, Taking Back Sunday). Some of the event's most memorable performers have more effectively navigated these worlds, such as St. Vincent's Annie Clark, who commanded the stage in 2015 dressed in a bedazzled black body suit that made her look like a cross between a cat burglar and a dominatrix. The fest would do well to unearth more musicians who walk this line, such as Solange Knowles, Miguel or even Scottish rockers Franz Ferdinand, whose sound is as sharp as the band members' crisply pressed knickers.
Scale it back even more
Even at two days, this year's artist roster is loaded with filler. A single-day lineup featuring Tegan & Sara, Fetty Wap, Third Eye Blind and Joe Jonas' DNCE would offer significantly more punch than seeing the four headliners spread over two nights, especially given the largely underwhelming undercard. I'd much rather see a well-curated, 15-artist lineup than navigate long afternoon dead zones.
Study Riot Fest's social media presence
Riot Fest might have the best social media manager in the festival business, and it keeps a sense of humor at the fore in all of its public dealings. Too often, FMMF has responded to even mild online criticisms with instinctive defensiveness, which has only further turned off a portion of the public to the event. (In one instance, an individual who created a mock lineup poster — a rite of passage for every music festival — was bullied into removing the image after their employer received a call from a person with FMMF ties.) Ease up and learn that even the best-run, best-curated festivals have to roll with the punches.
Increase local outreach
Right or wrong, there are a number of local musicians who feel slighted by FMMF, whether from bad experiences playing the fest (some year-one performers had difficulty collecting payment), or even from not playing it (the fest abruptly canceled the local-heavy DJ lineup slated to perform inside the fashion tent in 2016). Organizers should take steps to repair this bridge, perhaps by hosting a year-round monthly concert series at a small venue to increase local interaction.
FMMF did well to move away from Labor Day weekend — a traditional concert desert that likely played a hand in suppressing attendance. Organizers have apparently also taken steps to better combine the fashion element with the music, incorporating catwalks into the stages so the models and musicians actually exist in the same orbit. (In past years, the fashion tent felt more like a fest-within-a-fest.) The move to Obetz could also be a good thing, allowing the fest the space to grow in what has to be a lower-cost/lower-pressure environment than a weekend event in the heart of the Arena District. With a little patience, and a lot of work, perhaps the fest can finally blossom into something worth following in year five.
The last resort
If the FMMF name is indeed too toxic to revive, maybe organizers should consider a more drastic renaming/rebranding. Just stay away from Fyre Festival; that name's already been taken and is having a few issues of its own.