The Monolith Music Festival has sent out an appeal for financial help to keep itself afloat for a potential 2010 installment.
The indie- and dance-centric music festival, which has taken over Red Rocks Amphitheatre the last three years in mid-September, has certainly not been wanting for talent. From the Flaming Lips, Spoon and Band of Horses to TV on the Radio, Justice, DeVotchKa, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Phoenix, Monolith has presented an array of hot acts angled toward the discerning underground music fan.
But coming at the tail end of festival-heavy summer schedules, and suffering poor weather and general economic malaise, has translated to half-empty seats at the 9,500 capacity Red Rocks this year — a bad sign that’s given the festival a matter of weeks to scrounge up the necessary $250,000 to move forward.
Read our interview with Baker after the jump.
Reverb: It may come as no surprise to hear you guys are in rough shape, but I’m guessing most people weren’t expecting an appeal for help so soon.
Josh Baker: It’s been a tough three months for us.
What made you decide to send out this e-mail now, instead of last month, or next week?
I’ve been thinking about it, and we’ve been trying to do our own due diligence and do our own stuff behind the scenes save it so it’s not really a public thing. A lot of people invested time and emotions into it and we didn’t want to diminish the festival by something like this. We had three great years, but we came to this point where we’re like, “Man, we’re running out of time. We’re running up against meetings for next year, and our window of time is closing.” Matt (Fecher, Monolith’s co-creator) and I pretty much do this because we love it and think it’s great for the community and great for Colorado. We really enjoy doing it and we’ve put our lives into it for the past three years. It’s almost like our child.
Do you see this as a result of consistently low attendance?
No, we just came up a little bit short on tickets. We actually had our strongest year ever this year. It’s an expensive venue to do a show in, and the rain on the first day really hurt us. Sponsorship and tickets and all that were all up, but not quite in line with where we needed them to be to be successful. Our mantra’s always been to just break even. There were a lot of positive factors to take away from this year.
So what do you blame this on mostly?
The weather was definitely one of the biggest factors that happened — had it not been 50 degrees and raining on Saturday. Our walk up (sales) on Sunday were really strong, but not so strong on Saturday. That’s probably 75 percent of it.
How many sponsors did you already have lined up for 2010?
We’ve already talked to our sponsors and the people we need to talk to for next year. There’s just not any light for next year until we get to that point of recovering from last year. We’re not a huge corporation. It’s self-funded. We don’t have huge coffers to have fall back on.
Did not having AEG as a promoter for the first time this year make a big difference?
That’s not really an issue. They put two good years in for us. I think we did a good job of marketing and booking it this year on our own. I guess it would be good to have anybody who had the financial backing to support us, though. In our minds, when we did this, it was a five-year plan. We knew that by year three or four or five you’d see trending and history and all the things you’ve built start coming into fruition. I think we did a good job and attracted tons of national attention to the state and the festival and even the local bands that played the festival. Our whole hope for this is maybe somebody’ll see this and believe in the same idea.
What would it take, financially, for you to get back up there?
About $250,000. That’s kind of the magic number so that we’re OK for next year. We’ve got some things solidified for 2010 that are just there waiting on us, but those sponsors are not going to support until they see that we’re ready to go.
Kind of a Catch-22…
Exactly. Our sponsors are the reasons why it happens — they really are. They’re the ones that make the ticket prices cheap and do the things that help our fans have a good time. And our sponsors know our situation.
Have you considered a venue change from Red Rocks?
We’ve certainly thought about it. I think that’s one of the number one reasons why people like to attend our festival, though it did provide its limitations this year. It’s probably about 50-50 with fans — 50 percent wouldn’t care if we changed it, and 50 percent would. But those that would care might be pleased with the new amenities we might be able to offer an another venue. Although I don’t know what or where that would be now. We have no intention of moving it right now, but that’s the biggest expense of doing it, is at Red Rocks.
How does the late-season timing, after so many other music festivals have already taken place, come into play?
We’ve found that the late fall time slot has been advantageous to us from a sponsorship and travel perspective. There’s a lot of things happening in one chunk of time over the summer and we seem to be that one event that has it’s own little space. I mean, there’s Treasure Island, Bumbershoot and other festivals around that time, but they’re regionally-centric. Otherwise there’s not a lot going on then. But if we found the right weekend (early summer or mid-summer) we’d consider it. There are a lot of things to be cognizant of when making that decision. We’re talking to other partners and investors and there’s some interest.
So what’s the deadline to get the $250,000?
We’re looking at between two and four weeks. We don’t want to set a hard deadline on it, but that’s the time frame in which something needs to happen.
Do you look back on this year’s festival and see anything you could have done differently?
For a lot of it we got backed into a corner based on our cashflow in terms of when we could start booking bands. It would be fantastic if we could start booking bands and be part of spring and summer and fall routing plans, as opposed to flying bands in when we do. The longer we wait, the fewer options we have and that affects the price. Being able to start earlier, spend more time on marketing, getting on-sale dates earlier — those are things we always want to do. But it’s just me and Matt running the fest so there’s only so much we can do in in a day with the resources that we have.
Read the full text of today’s press release:
We are very saddened by the nature of this announcement but wanted to bring it to you first. We feel like we have always been very fan-centric, honest and open with you therefore it’s important to us to communicate the severity of our current situation. We have tirelessly promoted and produced the Monolith Festival for 3 years now. Over the course of those three years we have witnessed some amazing performances, met a bunch of great friends and produced a very special event that filled our voracious appetite to deliver the most amazing new artists in the world. Many of you who know us know that we do this out of sheer pleasure, undesirable love of music and a vehicle to tout our admiration for hardworking musicians.
With that said, the future of the festival is very grim. A tough economic year and an opening day of chilling rain combined to put a serious dent in our humble operation. We have continued to pursue any and all options that would allow us to recover from this year and head into 2010 with full steam. At this point in time, we have been unable to secure any options. We are communicating this message to you – the fans, the media and the artists who have supported time and time again for good reason. We hope that somewhere, in our vast network of music lovers, that there may be someone with the means to pull us up by our boot straps and give us chance to continue building this amazing event.
If you have any input or know of someone who may be interested in investing in/purchasing our small but mighty event, we would love to speak with them. We have a number of options available for interested parties/individuals. For more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Again, this is our last resort and we have explored just about every option that is available to us. To the folks who we still hold financial obligations to, we whole-heartedly appreciate your patience and willingness to work through this tough time with us.
A very special thanks to the fans who have bought tickets, told your friends, blogged and shouted from the mountaintops about their admiration and love for Monolith. We encourage you to continue this as it can only help our cause. We would also like to thank our loyal, generous sponsors who have been there for us year after year. Specific thanks and credit goes to Esurance who saw our vision for this event and remains the sole reason why this event was even possible.
Contact us at email@example.com”
Update: Founder and director Josh Baker and co-founder Matt Fecher have set up an account at kickstarter.com for fans to donate money, with a goal of raising nearly $38,000 in the first two weeks.
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John Wenzel is the co-editor of Reverb, editor of the Get Real Denver blog and an arts and entertainment reporter for The Denver Post. He also maintains a Twitter feed of absurdist song titles. His book “Mock Stars: Indie Comedy and the Dangerously Funny” was recently published by Speck Press.