Column: Red Sky still hasn’t found its footing

After its first year, which was full of both trip-ups and great successes, I hoped that Red Sky Music Festival would find its footing.

It hasn’t.

Festivals tend not to be amazing in their first year. Coachella, for example, lost so much money that it took a year off between its first and second events. Kanrocksas, a big festival that debuted last year, isn’t on the calendar this year either. Organizers are planning a 2013 show near Kansas City.

With its 2011 debut, Red Sky had some great moments: big bookings, well-attended shows, some great bands. It also had quite a few screw-ups: one missing headliner, Monday to Friday schedule, poorly attended sets, sound problems, some lackluster names.

This year has some popular artists (Rascal Flatts, Brad Paisley and Def Leppard), but the scheduling is screwy (one day off in the middle), the festival is half the size it was last year (three days compared to six) and some of the daytime bands are head-scratchers (Logan Mize, for example, is probably talented, but is he a draw? No.).

I thought with one festival under their belts and a year to plan, Red Sky organizers would fix some of the nagging issues and make improvements, but this year’s Red Sky has some gaping holes.

Is it easy to book a festival? It sure isn’t. Though many think it’s like naming a grocery list of bands and asking them to come, it’s not even close to that simple. Dates, routing, money, sponsorships and all kinds of things dictate who can or cannot play.

Still, that shouldn’t be an excuse for putting on a poor event.

So what could they do to improve? (Some of these may be obvious and organizers may have tried, but we aren’t seeing those efforts in this year’s festival.)

Diversify the lineup. I thought 2011’s lineup had huge diversity. Country and rock were well-represented. (Hip-hop wasn’t, but it was about the only corner of the musical world that didn’t make an appearance). Having a bit of everything gives your ticket-buying audience more and more reasons to pay you.

Pick a set of dates and stick to it. Maybe two or three days is the way to start. Six days last year seemed overly ambitious and this year’s festival was shortened from six to four to three. Two or three days is easier to fill and probably less costly.

Make it a series. This would turn the idea on its ear, but who says you have to have a festival? Why not turn it into the Red Sky Music Series and book bands outdoors from after the College World Series through September. Stir Cove and the Pinewood Bowl sure do a good job. This would be a similar concept, but with bigger acts. (One thought: It’s possible that it’s cost-prohibitive to rent a stage and a covering for the ballfield and then set it up every time you have a concert.)

***

On a related note, those calling for Red Sky organizers to give up, cancel the festival and the like should cool out and quiet down. Folks, you don’t have to go. If you want an indie rock fest so bad, buy tickets to Maha Music Festival.

Besides, Red Sky’s stated focus is more akin to Summerfest than Lollapalooza. This is what gets me the most: Red Sky doesn’t want to be (and I doubt they ever will want to be) Coachella or any indie-styled rock fest. I don’t know what you people were expecting.

Does it really hurt Omaha’s musical reputation? I’ve heard many people say that and it’s a ridiculous statement. Sorry, but a festival featuring established and popular country and rock acts doesn’t hurt the reputation or destroy the history of Maha, Saddle Creek, 311, Bright Eyes, Buddy Miles or anyone else from Omaha.

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10 Responses to Column: Red Sky still hasn’t found its footing

  1. Rob Carraher says:

    I hear ya. But my biggest issue is that they have failed to put on the festival that they have claimed to want to put on. I understand that it isn’t an easy task to book for such an event. But the problem is that there are much smaller markets that have succeeded at much higher levels. I feel like if you get the right people running the show, then it shouldn’t be difficult to book for the slated amount of time. I agree that they should focus on maybe 2 or 3 days. Summerfest manages to do it for 11 Days. There is no reason that they shouldn’t be able to do it for 2 or 3, and bring in the same quality acts that that fest has. In my opinion, they shouldn’t be outdone by State Fairs, and so far they have been. I wish we would get a festival like Coachella or Lollapalooza, but I know that is not what this is. I don’t expect that. But I definitely expect more. They need to start working on booking now for next year, and fill out their headliners. And there are so many quality bands to fill in the holes, but they just need to get to it. That is my two cents.

    • Kevin Coffey Kevin Coffey says:

      Starting with two or three days and then expanding would be where I would have started. It’s a good venue and a good idea, but it’s been disappointing.

      • Rob Carraher says:

        I agree it’s a good venue. But being from Lincoln, the venue alone isn’t enough to make me come up to Omaha. Even if it isn’t a festival made especially for me, there should be at least something for everyone. That is the idea behind summerfest. They aren’t trying to bring you there for all 11 days, but get you to come out for a day or two. Red Sky needs to try to tap into every demographic, otherwise they need to come out and just say they are a Country/Classic Rock Fest.

        • Kevin Coffey Kevin Coffey says:

          Yes. Diversity genre-wise would help out a lot. I’d like to see more rock and hip-hop (i.e. some stuff that’s not all legacy acts and country).
          As for the venue, I meant that it’s established and you don’t have to make it work like throwing a festival in a cornfield. It’s downtown and pretty easy to get to.

  2. Mike Herman says:

    I’m just disappointed because I want a better festival to go to. I’ve been to ACL once, and I loved it (it’s not cheap to travel to festivals).

    • Rob Carraher says:

      I’m right with ya. I have gone to Lollapalooza the last 4 years, and I am going again this year. It is expensive, but it ends up being worth it, because the draw for me is huge. Even if Red Sky was 1/4 of how good ACL or Lollapalooza is every year. It might be enough for me to keep my money in the state, and spend more money on shows throughout the year. But instead, I save it up and blow it out on Lolla. I was thrilled that Pinewood Bowl decided to do a concert series this year. I would rather go to any of the Pinewood Bowl shows over any of the Red Sky shows.

      On a side note, Maha did an amazing job this year putting together a fantastic bill. They managed to get interesting acts that don’t play shows around here all the time. Good work there.

  3. Joel says:

    To say expecting some indie bands wasn’t realistic since they were trying to emulate Summerfest and not Lollapalooza isn’t entirely fair in my opinion. Naming a festival you are trying to emulate brings to mind certain expectations, especially with those familiar with that festival.

    Knowing it would be much smaller in its first years, I expected only a fistful of bands I’d be excited to see from the indie genre. Last year, you could maybe make an argument for a couple of the bands they booked. This year? None. For the sake of comparison, a few “indie-friendly” bands that played at this year’s Summerfest: Foo Fighters, Ben Folds Five, The Avett Brothers, tune-yards, The Head and the Heart, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Lupe Fiasco, The Promise Ring, Death Cab for Cutie, fun., The Roots, Cake, Brendan Benson, Trampled by Turtles, Fitz and the Tantrums, The Hives, Devotchka, Fountains of Wayne, Sleeper Agent, the Walkmen, The Joy Formidable, Young the Giant.

    So yeah… when Red Sky mentioned Summerfest in their initial public reveal, I expected an indie band or two. Or ten. (And I realize many of these bands were booked at Stir, etc. but it’s the principle, not the specific bands.)

    • Kevin Coffey Kevin Coffey says:

      I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect some of those style of bands. Last year, there were a good amount of them. This year, organizers certainly avoided those types of groups this year.

      That said, a lot of people seem to think Red Sky was expected to be Bonnaroo, but it never was designed to be like that. That’s the point I was trying to make.

      I’ve said, and I’ll continue to say, that I think the festival would be helped by more diversity of genre in the lineup.

  4. Pingback: Red Sky Report Card: What worked and what didn’t | Rock Candy

  5. Kevin Rose says:

    The following are selections from a Facebook friend with some connections to the 80/35 fesitival in Des Moines “It blows my mind that a team comprised primarily of volunteers can plan and implement a 2-day music festival and have all details (Including a complete lineup) ready to market months before the actual event takes place.

    And then you have a promoting juggernaut (Live Nation) working with a governmental entity and all the resources attached to it (MECA) who for the second year in a row, doesn’t even know who will be playing their multi-day festival a mere 18 days before gates open. Yes…I’m looking at you Red Sky.”

    Seems like valid reason for criticism. As hard as it is to book shouldn’t it have its lineup and dates announced more than three weeks in advance – Regardless of the demographic it is going for.

    For that matter I have a hard time calling an event with only one stage going at a time a “festival”. The marketing of this seemed more to suggest three separate concerts with opening acts all day on a separate stage. Maybe that is my bad for not understanding the marketing.