There’s been a lot of chatter around town about Moogfest lately. And, with the recent announcement that the event will now be bi-annual, with the next festival taking place in 2016, it appears that the folks at Moog are going to take their time in re-redesigning a festival that is guaranteed to be a financial and cultural success (or, at least not be $1.5 million in the red again).
As a member of the media, I had the opportunity to attend two Moogfest events since arriving in Asheville, the first in October 2011, and the second this past April (2014). They could not have been more different, and this was not by accident. Kudos to the folks at Moog for trying to change things up and build Asheville's version of SXSW, but judging by the financial flop that they ended up with, partially subsidized by tax-payers, it looks like they need to do more than just tweak a few things to get back on track.
For what it’s worth, here are five easy-to-implement suggestions that I believe will improve the event for 2016 and beyond:
1. Shorten it.
Five days for such an event is too long, at least for now. Contrary to what the Moog folks might think, electronic music is not that popular, at least not in a city and region where guitars, banjos, and upright basses rule the day. Keep it to three days, max. Perhaps five years down the line it can be extended, but for the time being, keep it concise, build a following, and then consider expansion.
2. Include more real bands.
You know, the kind whose “instruments” have strings and such, and are not limited to the latest MacBookPro, OS-X version, and digi-techno app that never goes out of tune, nor requires the "musician" to be able to keep a natural beat. Moogfest 2011 was a perfect example of what can be done with the integration of electronica and “real” music into one event. Despite what Moog thinks of its ex-promoter of choice, It struck a nice balance, and there was something for everybody – even a wanna-be-rock-star- techno-trance-phobe like me. To this day, people are still talking about the Flaming Lips show on the outdoor stage. But, when it comes to those two guys and their Technics turntables from Amsterdam (or, was it Berlin?) that they saw at the Asheville Music Hall (or was it The Orange Peel?) this past spring, nothing but crickets. If I want to watch someone “play” a turntable, YouTube will suffice (or go to a club, if that’s your thing). If I want to watch someone play a Mac computer, I’ll just put a mirror above my desk and fire up Garage Band. What I won’t do is spend hundreds of dollars to see someone stand behind a podium with a computer or a magical black box in front them.
3. Easy on the Hip-Hop,
especially trash like Riff Raff, or whoever that metal-mouthed, talentless cartoon character was who performed in the basement of the USCC this past April. Are you kidding me? Moogfest wants credibility, and profit, but they paid a clown like him big bucks to scare folks back to Los Angeles. If his Erector Set mouth wasn’t enough to inspire an early exit to Haywood Street (or Hollywood Blvd.), then the so-called music -- and I use that term very loosely -- was the clincher. It was a joke. It’s not that I don’t like Hip-Hop (actually, apart from a few exceptions, I don’t), but c’mon. Surely, they could have done better than Mr. Raff. Same goes for the likes of M.I.A. Sure, she was popular and packed out the TWA, but what did the show have to do with Moog? Or electronics? What did it have to do with music for that matter? Why was she part of the festival??? The only remote sign of any talent on the stage were her two back-up singers. I certainly didn’t find anything of intrigue in her voice or lyrics, nor in the guy spinning the turntable on stage (or playing the Mac?), or back stage, or on Lexington Avenue, or wherever he was. And, what was up with the dude jumping around the stage all evening as if he was having an epileptic fit (while occasionally humping one of the monitors)? What does it say about an artist when her most memorable moment of her gig was when she asked everyone in the audience to flip her the bird (and, the happily obliged)? Is that what folks paid big bucks to see at MoogFest? Is that the level of sophistication that Moog is looking for in its artists and in its fan base? Surely, they can do better than that, can’t they?
4. Bring in more Moog veterans.
In my humble opinion (okay, maybe not so humble), the highlights of the 2014 edition of Moogfest were The Keith Emerson Band and The Bernie Worrell Orchestra, who played back-to-back to each other at the Diana Wortham Theatre. Here you had two top-shelf artists who lived and breathed Moog in its early days, and they’re still doing it today. They performed. They PLAYED keyboards. It was about as real as Moog representation can get, and both artists and their bands blew everyone away that had the privilege to see them perform in such an intimate setting. Kraftwerk gets an honorable mention here as well, but they were hardly the most dynamic group that I've come across, and for all I know they were miming to a pre-recorded soundtrack (though I hope that wasn't the case, and doubt that it was). I’d also give a nod to Nile Rodgers and his band, who were quite entertaining, and supremely talented. Leave the other noise to some sort of HipHopFest or MacFest, and put more Moog pioneers in the line-up. Let them wail, and let them inspire festival fans to make many return trips to MoogFest. Come 2016, I'll still be talking about how Keith Emerson nailed Lucky Man to the point where I thought his Moog was going to start smoking. On the flip side, I hope that after the 2016 event, I'm not, once again, complaining about the likes of Riff Raff, and I hope that M.I.A. lives up to her name.
5. Go Local.
I’m sure that Moog had a fair share of local businesses on board for the event (at least I hope that they did), but why, in a city bursting at the seams with creative and marketing talent, did Moog have to hire a NYC PR firm to manage the press corp during the festival? And, I met at least one fellow photographer who claimed to be “shooting directly for the festival”, and he was flown out from Los Angeles to do the job -- money that would have been better spent on one of Asheville’s many fine photographers. For the money it cost to fly someone out from the West Coast and put them up for five or six days, Moog would have had a line of local photogs out their door all the way to Pack Square eager to get that pie, if not just a piece of it. What happened to the widely acclaimed Asheville mantra of “Go Local” when it comes to Moogfest? Wouldn't Ashevillians know the Moog product and the local music market better than someone on Madison Avenue? Or L.A.? Or Detroit? Wouldn’t locals know the venues and their quirks, the city’s logistical demands, the local media outlets and their staff? The people that were put on the ground during the festival to manage the media appeared to be junior interns who were reporting to senior interns or, possibly, the other way around (all of which were flown down from NYC). At times, it was laughable how unorganized things were for the press, particularly the photographers (of which I am one). And, when they slapped a 60-seconds-and-out rule on the photo pit for media photographers in the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, I stopped laughing. It wasn’t funny. I had a job to do. How are the media photographers supposed to capture the essence of an entire show in only 60 seconds? It’s tough enough to do it with the normal protocol of shooting only the first three songs of a concert, but sixty seconds and out? How are we supposed to hype the glory of such a grand event if we’re not allowed to fully experience it, and portray that experience to the public?
So, that’s my two cents about how Moog can 1) improve the talent representation in the festival; 2) get more people to attend, both locals and visitors alike; and, 3) make a profit (without the need for tax-payer assistance). This will ultimately result in a more enjoyable experience for everyone – including Moog’s accountant.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to one thing: The Music.
You can have a gazillion lectures pitched at electro-geeks the world over, but if you don’t get the music right, you’ll be hard-pressed to convince the common folk to cough up a few hundred bucks for a ticket to see live-ish music -- especially in a city where you can take in some of the region’s top musical talent just about any night of the week for less than fifteen or twenty bucks per gig, often less.