Article and Photo Credit L. Paul Mann
The former Fess Parker resort hotel hosted a very unusual gathering of music, film, food and beverage festival heavy hitting organizers, at the three day Fest Forums convention. The event, held annually in Santa Barbara, opened at the oceanfront resort, Thursday, November 16th, on one of the first drizzly days of the fall season. The festivities kicked off the night before, with a pre-party sponsored by TOURtech. The company is celebrating their 15th anniversary as one of the leading providers of network solutions for special events and productions. The third-floor suite with a spectacular view of the Santa Barbara coastline, actually became an informal meeting place for convention attendees over the next few days, offering up an all day and late night open bar. The unusual gathering was rendered even more surreal by the massive ongoing hotel remodeling project being undertaken by the resort. The entire lobby and reception areas have been gutted and boarded up. The back service alleys usually never seen by hotel guest have become the walkways connecting the various parts of the hotel still open to the public. The remodeling project is scheduled to be completed next May, and it sounds like the name will sadly no longer include the affection moniker, The Fess Parker. That name, which so many locals have come to know the grand hotel by, will be replaced with the new name Santa Barbara Hilton Beachfront Resort.
The convention, which opened early on Thursday with coffee, pastries, fresh fruit and a large exhibit hall, was unlike most any other conference. With nearly as many celebrities and speakers in attendance as there were audience members, participants quickly realized their unique opportunity of unprecedented access to most everyone involved. For new festival planners, promoters and pure fans of the arts it was a valuable opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue.
The festival featured two simultaneous lecture halls as well as the bustling exhibit hall. In addition to the lectures, the Cinematransformer situated in the hotel parking lot featured ongoing film presentations. The showings came complete with Q and A sessions with the directors of the films. As the name implies, the Cinetransformer is a mobile, state of the art movie theater.
The festival lectures began with opening remarks by Elizabeth Mackay, delegate for the Québec Government Office in Los Angeles and the Québec Trade Office in Silicon Valley. The representative of the government of Quebec shared the regions affinity for all types of festivals, big and small, and the government’s commitment to developing the arts in a business-friendly environment. The first panel then took the stage for the opening discussion, “PURPOSEFUL FESTIVALS AND THE ADAPTING FESTIVAL CULTURE.” The discussion centered around an idea that eventually became the universal theme of the three-day convention, that a festival, regardless of what genre, should have a meaningful and purposeful theme and direction. The overwhelming message offered up by speakers at the convention seemed to be a call to social awareness through the medium of festivals. The first panel was moderated by Kevin Lyman, the maverick promoter that has brought more young bands and music fans together than any other promoter, through his revolutionary music festival, The Warped Tour. The music festival was founded in 1995 and is the longest running traveling festival in North America. The festival has been the first exposure to live music for generations of young music lovers, with affordable ticket prices and venues and bands geared towards a young audience. The festival also creates an unprecedented communal environment, that enabled a huge number of bands to participate, that normally would not have the opportunity to reach such large and enthusiastic crowds. The event works much like a traveling carnival, and all band members from openers to headliners are expected to take turns cooking and feeding the massive staff, creating a gigantic family atmosphere. Lyman just announced that 2018 will be the final year of the hugely successful Warped Tour. Much to the delight of local music fans he also revealed that the festival would be returning to Ventura County Fairgrounds for the first time in several years. The Fairgrounds are an easy Amtrak train ride for music lovers in Santa Barbara. The last train returns from Ventura just as the festival ends at dusk making it a perfect fit for inspired festival goers. Lyman emphasized during the discussion that it is important “To make your festival stand for something.” Members of the panel also included John Trumble who is the managing director of the New York City Wine and Food Festival. The massive annual four-day event raises money for various food charities, according to Trumble, with 100% of the money raised going to help feed those in need. Veronica Amador brought her years of experience freelancing for the biggest festivals in the country including Coachella to the discussion. Her love of the festival experience has led her to form her own company, which produces unique immersive events like the One Love Festival in Lake Perris. Also on the panel was C R Capers, the Founder of Revolution Media, which is a “new media” company that “leverages social media and large-scale events to change the narrative.” C R is referred to as a “new media socialite.” She is the founder of the Hip Hop Film Festival, named “BEST OF THE FESTS” for 2016. She talked about the importance of creating a social media buzz and using tools like free apps to get the message out and create a buzz for an event. Young promoter, David Beame also shared his expertise. The Event Director at the Global Poverty Project, a non-profit organization, working towards ending extreme poverty by 2030, he added insight into the importance of social media in creating a community. According to Fest Forums “In his role, David oversees the major events for the Global Citizen brand including event and broadcast production of the Global Citizen Festival, an annual 60,000-person festival on the Great Lawn, Central Park that coincides with the United Nations General Assembly and features the world’s most popular artists, celebrities, and world leaders.” The final member of the panel included Zach Tetreault, the drummer and sax player of electronic art rock band Hundred Waters. He is also the Co-Founder of FORM Arcosanti festival. The event is held annually in Arizona. Now in its fifth year, FORM has challenged the model of modern music festivals with its unusual application process and minimal impact initiatives.
While this fascinating lecture was taking place, a separate talk was happening simultaneously, with the organizers of the Glastonbury festival. The Commercial Director of the iconic festival, Robert Richards chatted with the CEO of See tickets, Rob Wilmshurst discussing the process of selling the cherished tickets for the event. The template of modern day music festivals, Glastonbury sells out each year in less than 15 minutes. The pair discussed the evolution of the ticketing process and how they now have a pre-registration database, where fans must submit photos to register, providing more security for the festival and ticketing process.
Lectures continued all throughout the day including music festival discussions, a celebrity chef book signing and review and an insightful interview with actress and activist Frances Fisher. There were so many intellectually stimulating conversations going on the first day of the event it was almost an overwhelming experience for festival attendees. Many welcomed the happy hour and after hours open bar to unwind.