Wednesday, July 27, 2005
A conversation with . . .
Kris Hodges talks about the challenges of running
FloydFest, not the least of which is keeping it
from becoming a 3-day re-enactment of 'Mad Max'
It’s been three years since FloydFest was born, the child of husband-and-wife team Kris Hodges and Erika Johnson. This weekend, the festival turns 4 years old. With seven stages and top-name acts such as Ani DiFranco, FloydFest 4 promises to be bigger than ever. On the eve of his festival’s fourth birthday, Hodges offers a glimpse into how FloydFest kept its moorings during the years of expansion.
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FloydFest is the kind of idea that you know a million people have sat around their campfire talking about.
Kris Hodges: But we’re actually doing it. … It’s actually happening, it’s bizarre.
It is bizarre. Even to be able to get together the first one is impressive enough. How has the festival progressed from the first one to the fourth?
KH: I don’t even know where to begin. I think people are craving authentic experience. The concert keeps me in check, on my character and who I am. … I think as long as you can be yourself, the sky’s the limit and anything’s possible. If you try to sell yourself as something you’re not, you get into trouble and things won’t grow as positively as something like FloydFest has. We attract sincere people. We ourselves try to keep it sincere, and that’s the fuel behind a community effort like this. Obviously me and Erika are the directors and we have to hold some semblance of leadership, but we let everyone be their own leader.
It’s interesting what you say about the festival keeping your values in check. It’s easy to imagine the situation turning into something out of a movie, where everything starts off idealistic and then the corporate stranglehold moves in and there you are like, "It used to be about the music, man!"
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KH: Yeah, it’s funny you bring that up. We had a call from Microsoft, MSN. And they want to bring their bus to the site this year. And you know, in our fourth year we can use all the help we can get. We agreed to let MSN bring their music bus on site — something to sell their downloads or whatever — and we’ve kind of had an uproar of, "We’re going too corporate." Listen, until you stop using gasoline, drinking Coca-Cola and using your computer, I don’t want to hear it.
Can you give me an idea of who all is putting together the festival these days and what that’s been like?
KH: Erika and I have been kind of the driving force behind it. Even from the beginning, we’ve worked on a staff year-round of no more than six people. As we get closer to the event it gets up to about 12 people, and by the time the festival is rolling it’s around 24 folks who are just "super volunteers," we call them. Without them, none of this would happen.
What’s the process in selecting the performers?
KH: I have an idea of the vibe I want to go for. This year I’m already thinking about next year. I have to piece it together and see what I’m trying to accomplish. I listen to my audience constantly. I go over all the bulletin boards and requests and surveys and who they want to hear, I look at the artists that have been most well-received in years past and largely I look into my intuition. I see who’s selling the best in the area, I see who’s popular and then I really dig deep to present some of the best players that I see who are kind of under the radar. I get hundreds if not thousands of submissions, and I do look through those of course, too. … Luckily, Ani DiFranco contacted me this year. Our reputation is building where artists are realizing, "This is the kind of place I want to play." … As far as B- and C-level bands, it’s perseverance. If they persevere enough and they strike a chord with my listening ear, they pretty much have a good shot in. This one girl asked me recently, "How do I make it?" Give all you got and ask for nothing.
That’s how you make it as an artist, period. "Give me your soul, and don’t expect anything back."
KH: Exactly man.
So how does that work? Do you pay B- and C-level groups?
KH: Half the bands here are playing for free. They want to be promoted, and this is an opportunity to promote them. … We have 80 bands this year. Production alone is a nightmare. But I’m dedicated to promoting and helping artists from all levels.
It’s a great gig. A lot of visibility. What do you think is the significance of somebody like Ani DiFranco playing the festival?
KH: It builds, man. I remember when I first got Norman Blake for Oddfellas Cantina. After that, when people see a name like that associated with a venue, they think, "Wow, OK, I’ll play that venue now." … And you gotta treat them right because they talk. FloydFest is known as being one of the best hospitable events for artists in the country. … Word spreads and your best advertisement is gonna be how you treat people. … You get a name like Ani in, and it really paves the way for next year.
And a festival atmosphere can definitely get weird.
KH: I swear, I got hired to work this festival last weekend … because they had heard that FloydFest really is a good clean really artistic festival, so I got called in to help with what is otherwise this hard-core, drug-infested mess of a festival up in northern West Virginia. I went and worked for 16 hours, and just the emotional drain of watching these kids just create a barter town — I don’t know if you remember "Mad Max" — a barter town from hell, man. It’s disrespect, dirt, trash, drugs. It was disgusting man. It drained me senseless. I haven’t even been able to get over it yet. I go to a lot of festivals. I study every aspect, I work with them, I promote FloydFest at them. They run the gamut.
If a festival like this doesn’t have the right vibe behind it, it could very easily turn into that.
KH: Easily. And that has a lot to do with the bands you pick and how you present yourself. … At some of these other festivals, they’re just looking for a reason to be a derelict. We work really hard to create a more wide-ranging appeal.