Thursday, August 1, 2013

NEW COLUMN: jackDawe, August 1, 2013

Why Aren't There Music Festivals Like Fringes? 
by TJ Dawe

[PUBLISHER: There could not be a happier way to start a new month than with a new monthly column - jackDawe - by someone we admire tremendously: TJ Dawe. Enjoy! GLC]

There’s no reason why the idea of an unjuried arts festival should be restricted to theatre. 

It isn’t. There’s visual art as part of the Orlando Fringe. Washington DC has a yearly show called Artomatic (no connection to the Capital Fringe). Same concept: applicants are drawn from a hat, and are given a certain amount of gallery space to showcase whatever they want to present to the public. 

Why not music too? 

It could work just like a fringe:
-artist selection by lottery, or first-come first serve
-$10 tickets (or thereabouts)
-all genres welcome
-artists pay an application fee, pay their own way to and from the festival, stay with billets, pay for their own food and beer
-artists make 100% of their own box office
-there’s a festival program with details on every act
-each act gets six or seven performances over the course of ten to twelve days, and a single tech rehearsal/sound check
-a variety of venues, in size and type, in reasonable proximity to each other. Some would be sit down venues, some cabarets, some bars, some known and established, some thrown together for the festival
-each act gets a mix of peak and off-peak time slots
-each company promotes itself 
-there’s a central gathering place (beer tent, fringe bar) where patrons and performers can kill time between shows, read their programs, talk to each other, get hammered, put on cabarets

I’d venture to say there’s more popular interest in music than in theatre.

If a number of Fringe Music Festivals were to spring up in some kind of a sequence, that could encourage performers to tour. 

I can picture similar problems as have happened with Fringe festivals: 

-no quality control. There’d be some baaaaad shit, no avoiding that. 
-not every act would find an audience or make a dime.
-many solo performers. It’s cheaper and easier to tour alone. (I don’t actually see this as a problem, but some do)(and a saturation of minimalism can have the counter effect of making a bigger ensemble seem refreshing by comparison)
-some acts would steer themselves towards gimmicks, there’d be a general artist gravitation toward what sells rather than what’s in their soul and needs to come out (although any artist can choose to cultivate work that lies in the overlap between what you want to do and what people want to see)
-more applicants than spots. More Bring Your Own Venues being accepted, year by year, spreading the festival out, thinning the audience out. 

And I can picture similar benefits as have happened with Fringe festivals:

-many artists who otherwise wouldn’t be able to get an initial break putting themselves out there, learning on their feet, developing their craft, expanding their reach and increasing their productivity through playing to more people in more places, year after year
-some artists getting paid decently for their work 
-some acts spring-boarding to further opportunities
-merch sales
-artists seeing each others’ stuff, learning by osmosis, and cross-pollinating (given the ease with which a musician can join other musicians, I can picture there being plenty of sitting in and jamming - a delightful prospect)
-the cultivation of an audience with an appetite for new, unsigned acts, from across the globe and right here at home. 

Would it work? Beats me. Depends on who’s running a given festival, what else is happening in that city, when in the year it happens, whether or not the local media is willing to cover it. If someone had described Canadian Fringe Festivals to me before they existed, would I have put money on that horse to win? Shit no! But they’re happening. Most eke out their existence on a shoestring, but they’re surviving. Even thriving. Some have celebrated their 25th anniversary. Most boast a yearly - if incremental - increase in attendance and ticket sales. 

And I’d venture to say there’s more popular interest in music than in theatre. How thick is the music section of your local entertainment weekly newspaper? How thick is the theatre section? How many plays does a non-theatre person see in a year? How many concerts and clubs does a non-musician go to? 

So somebody do this already! If I had the organizational smarts, the gumption and the time, I’d do it. But I don’t. So someone do it! 

TJ Dawe lives and creates new theatre in Vancouver, and tours it all over the place. He's on Twitter @TJ_Dawe. 


  1. I like the idea. It could incorporate workshops too. Either as part of the act. Or running alongside the music events.
    Who would provide the P.A.? The act or the Fringe?

  2. Workshops - absolutely. Artists cross-pollinating is one of my favourite things about fringe festivals. To my mind, it doesn't happen enough.

    I think the Fringe should provide the PA. In fringes as they exist now, each venue has technical equipment - basic or elaborate, depending on the venue. People can bring their own smoke machine or strobe light if they deem it necessary. I picture Fringe Music festivals being run the same way.

  3. Absolutely! I want to start this in Orlando and I'm going to search for people who will come on board ASAP!


  4. hey - please do it! and let me know when it happens!


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