The former Fess Parker resort hotel hosted a very unusual gathering of music, film, food and beverage festival heavy hitting organizers, at the three day Fest Forums convention. The event, held annually in Santa Barbara, opened at the ocean front resort, Thursday, November 16th, on one of the first drizzly days of the fall season. The festivities kicked off the night before, with a pre-party sponsored by TOURtech. The company is celebrating their 15th anniversary as one of the leading providers of network solutions for special events and productions. The third-floor suite with a spectacular view of the Santa Barbara coastline, actually became an informal meeting place for convention attendees over the next few days, offering up an all day and late night open bar. The unusual gathering was rendered even more surreal by the massive ongoing hotel remodeling project being undertaken by the resort. The entire lobby and reception areas have been gutted and boarded up. The back service alleys usually never seen by hotel guest have become the walkways connecting the various parts of the hotel still open to the public. The remodeling project is scheduled to be completed next May, and it sounds like the name will sadly no longer include the affection moniker, the Fess Parker. That name, which so many locals have come to know the grand hotel by, will be replaced with the new name Santa Barbara Hilton Beachfront Resort.

The convention, which opened early on Thursday with coffee, pastries, fresh fruit and a large exhibit hall, was unlike most any other conference. With nearly as many celebrities and speakers in attendance as there were audience members, participants quickly realised their unique opportunity of unprecedented access to most everyone involved. For new festival planners, promoters and pure fans of the arts it was a valuable opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue.

The festival featured two simultaneous lecture halls as well as the bustling exhibit hall. In addition to the lectures, the Cinematransformer situated in the hotel parking lot featured ongoing film presentations. The showings came complete with Q and A sessions with the directors of the films. As the name implies, the Cinetransformer is a mobile, state of the art movie theatre.


Day 1

The festival lectures began with opening remarks by Elizabeth Mackay, delegate for the Québec Government Office in Los Angeles and the Québec Trade Office in Silicon Valley. The representative of the government of Quebec shared the regions affinity for all types of festivals, big and small, and the government's commitment to developing the arts in a business-friendly environment.

The first panel then took the stage for the opening discussion, 'PURPOSEFUL FESTIVALS AND THE ADAPTING FESTIVAL CULTURE'. The discussion centered around an idea that eventually became the universal theme of the three day convention, that a festival, regardless of what genre, should have a meaningful and purposeful theme and direction. The overwhelming message offered up by speakers at the convention seemed to be a call to social awareness through the medium of festivals.

The first panel was moderated by Kevin Lyman, the maverick promoter that has brought more young bands and music fans together than any other promoter, through his revolutionary music festival, the Warped Tour. The music festival was founded in 1995 and is the longest running travelling festival in North America. The festival has been the first exposure to live music for generations of young music lovers, with affordable ticket prices and venues and bands geared towards a young audience. The festival also create an unprecedented communal environment, that enabled a huge number of bands to participate, that normally would not have the opportunity to reach such large and enthusiastic crowds. The event works much like a travelling carnival, and all band members from openers to headliners are expected to take turns cooking and feeding the massive staff, creating a gigantic family atmosphere. Lyman just announced that 2018 will be the final year of the hugely successful Warped Tour. Much to the delight of local music fans he also revealed that the festival would be returning to Ventura County Fairgrounds for the first time in several years. The Fairgrounds are an easy Amtrak train ride for music lovers in Santa Barbara. The last train returns from Ventura just as the festival ends at dusk making it a perfect fit for inspired festival goers. Lyman emphasised during the discussion that it is important “To make your festival stand for something.”

Members of the panel also included John Trumble who is the managing director of the New York City Wine and Food Festival. The massive annual four-day event raises money for various food charities, according to Trumble, with 100% of the money raised going to help feed those in need. Veronica Amador brought her years of experience freelancing for the biggest festivals in the country including Coachella to the discussion. Her love of the festival experience has led her to form her own company, which produces unique immersive events like the One Love Festival in Lake Perris. Also on the panel was C R Capers, the Founder of Revolution Media, which is a “new media” company that “leverages social media and large-scale events to change the narrative." C R is referred to as a "new media socialite.” She is the founder of the Hip Hop Film Festival, named “BEST OF THE FESTS” for 2016. She talked about the importance of creating a social media buzz and using tools like free apps to get the message out and create a buzz for an event. Young promoter, David Beame also shared his expertise. The Event Director at the Global Poverty Project, a non-profit organization, working towards ending extreme poverty by 2030, he added insight into the importance of social media in creating a community. According to Fest Forums, “in his role, David oversees the major events for the Global Citizen brand including event and broadcast production of the Global Citizen Festival, an annual 60,000-person festival on the Great Lawn, Central Park that coincides with the United Nations General Assembly and features the world’s most popular artists, celebrities and world leaders.” The final member of the panel was Zach Tetreault, the drummer and sax player of electronic art rock band Hundred Waters. He is also the Co-Founder of FORM Arcosanti festival. The event is held annually in Arizona. Now in its fifth year, FORM has challenged the model of modern music festivals with its unusual application process and minimal impact initiatives.

While this fascinating lecture was taking place, a separate talk was happening simultaneously, with the organizers of the Glastonbury festival. The Commercial Director of the iconic festival, Robert Richards chatted with the CEO of See Tickets, Rob Wilmshurst discussing the process of selling the cherished tickets for the event. The template of modern day music festivals, Glastonbury sells out each year in less than 15 minutes. The pair discussed the evolution of the ticketing process and how they now have a pre-registration database, where fans must submit photos to register, providing more security for the festival and ticketing process.

Lectures continued all throughout the day including music festival discussions, a celebrity chef book signing and review and an insightful interview with actress and activist Frances Fisher. There were so many intellectually stimulating conversations going on the first day of the event it was almost an overwhelming experience for festival attendees. Many welcomed the happy hour and after hours open bar to unwind.


Day 2

A cloudy morning gave way to a spectacular sunny day on the Santa Barbara coastline as the second day of the Fest Forums conference opened at the new Santa Barbara Hilton Beachfront Resort, formerly known as the Fess Parker hotel. The schedule was overflowing with fascinating lectures, intriguing films, delicious food breaks, and was capped off with some excellent music from iconic keyboardist Chuck Leavell.

One particularly insightful lecture took place in early afternoon entitled, 'Solving Special Challenges of Smaller/niche Film Festivals.' Shawn Guthrie, the manager for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, suggested upcoming event organizers, “Know their festival," and can articulate their vision of what the event is supposed to encapsulate. Carl Spence, the founder of the College of Creative Studies, suggested to “be prepared as anything can go wrong. Take care of your people. Word of mouth is the most important advertisement.” He also suggested using APPS like Slack. Slack is a cloud-based set of team collaboration tools and services. Director Michael Nash shared his experiences working with celebrities. He suggested taking special care of these high profile guests as they may have half a million followers or more on social media and can spread the word about your project much more efficiently than advertising. Nash shared a story where an intern had watched one of the films coming to a small town film festival. The intern noticed that the Governor appeared in the film and suggested the festival contact the Governer's office asking him if he would attend the festival. The statesman agreed to come and introduce the film, and the whole town turned out for the relatively small festival. CR Capers, creator of the Hip Hop Film Festival, among other things was all over the conference again on Friday. In this lecture, she suggested, “Try to think outside the box. For example, don ’t spend five thousand dollars on a walkie-talkie communication system if the event is on a tight budget. Instead use whatever social media works, Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat on cell phones. Don ’t worry about appearances. Don’t worry about keeping up with the Joneses.”

There were many other great conversations throughout the second day of the festival including a distinguished panel of successful women in the arts, discussing how to make a difference in the entertainment industry. The universal theme of Fest Forums of giving back to the community in one form or another was stressed by all the prominent people on this panel.

For music fans, the highlight of day two came during the keynote lecture, by Chuck Leavell, which turned into a performance and storytelling session. The master keyboardist flew in from Europe where he has been touring with the Rolling Stones. A singer and songwriter, as well as the go-to keyboardist for some of the biggest names in classic rock, Leavell told endearing anecdotes about his career in rock. The stories were punctuated with performances of songs representing the different periods of his music from his rise to fame with the Allman Brothers Band to his work with “the world's greatest rock and roll band," the Rolling Stones. Leavell revealed that he had learned to play piano from lessons that his mother Frances gave him as a child. At a young age, he announced to her that “When I grow up I want to be a musician. She answered back, 'Son, you can’t do both.'” In addition to his stories and songs from days in the Allman Brothers and The Stones, he also shared memories and songs from his collaborations with Sea Level, Eric Clapton, George Harrison and Roger Waters, among others. In keeping with the theme of Fest Forums, Leavell also shared his other passion, tree farming, and conservation. Leavell became a tree farmer when his wife inherited land in Georgia. Together they created Charlane Plantation, now a 2500-acre award-winning tree farm.

The evening ended with another happy hour and open bar as well as a celebrity chef dinner outside in the hotel courtyard on a beautiful fall night.


Day 3

On the third and final day of this year's Fest Forums in Santa Barbara a small army of celebrities turned up for the celebration. It was a full day of films, lectures, food, wine tasting, and great live music. The morning got off to a sleepy start as vendors began closing down the exhibit hall and the early birds to the convention sipped coffee and ate fresh fruit and pastries.

There were only a few dozen attendees in their seats when the first lecture of the day started in mid-morning. But by the time the two elder statesman of music festivals finished their conversation entitled 'Glastonbury versus Woodstock', the meeting room was nearly full. Robert Richards, the commercial director for Glastonbury and iconic music festival promoter, Michael Lang, the co-founder of Woodstock engaged in a riveting conversation about the history of the two legendary festivals. The exchange was moderated by Elliot Lefko, the president of Golden Voice/AEG. The combined company is responsible for some of the most successful festivals n the country, including the prestigious Coachella festival.

While Lang grew up in Brooklyn, Richards hailed from London. But when the young English boy was only twelve years old he flew across the pond to attend the original Woodstock concert in 1969. Lang was wavy enough to realize that making a documentary film of the event was important, which launched Woodstock into international notoriety. He had worked on a documentary the year before at the 1968 Miami Pop Music festival. Richards shared the history of Glastonbury 47 years ago, which started as a money-losing venture. But promoters were convinced that music festivals were a very British thing and that only they were the only ones that would put up with the rainy, muddy conditions that are most common in Great Britain. Richards quipped, “The 40th anniversary of the festival in 2010 was the only year it didn’t rain and fans hated it.” Apparently, it was a record-breaking heat wave, and festival fans preferred the rain and the mud. Lefko reminds the pair of promoters that both their festivals initially failed financially, as did the first Coachella fans. But they were such a hit with music fans they built a loyal base of followers, that eventually translated into profitable ventures. Lang also shared the news that there will be a 50th anniversary Woodstock festival in 2019.

Richards shared many stories of Glastonbury including how the founder Michael Eavis got T Rex to play the first festival at the last minute when the Kinks pulled out. The farm owner and would be music producer paid T Rex from the profits in the milk from the cows on the farm every two weeks until he had paid the performer back. Now the festival makes a profit of about 2 million pounds a year. Richards joked “Yeah ,about two million dollars,” alluding to the dropping pound. All the profits are donated to Greenpeace and 750 local charities. Lang talked about how they had to set up a water purification system at Woodstock, and the lake level dropped about three feet.

One of the most popular lectures of the day featured a discussion on cannabis and its commercial incorporation into the festival world. One event offered wine and pot pairings to sample different flavours. But the closing keynote lecture was the one that filled the lecture hall with celebrities and convention-goers alike. Multi-talented musician and music producer T Bone Burnett was interviewed about his life’s accomplishments by the film impressarios, the Coen brothers. As Jeff Bridges and other film and music stars looked on, the brothers coaxed anecdotes out of Burnett about his undertakings, including his collaborations with the Coens. There was a discussion of how Burnett and the Coeens have not embraced the transition from analog to digital technology in their respective mediums. “Recorded music is a petrochemical process. Vinyl is the best medium and lasts the longest,” Burnett offered.

The music master also shared some projects on his wish list including two historic American musical groups that have focused his attention of late. The first, the Fisk Jubilee Singers are an African-American a cappella singing group, consisting of students from Fisk University. The group was organized in 1871 to help raise funds for college for young former slaves and their children. Their early repertoire consisted mostly of traditional spirituals but also included some Stephen Foster songs. Burnett also mentioned that when the band toured England and played for the Queen in the 19th century, the Queen asked where the soulful singers had originated. When they told her they were from Nashville, she apparently gave the Tennessee town, the moniker Music City, which has endured. Burnett also revealed that he was inspired to pursue the work of “the father” of American music, Stephen Foster. The songwriter who wrote over two hundred songs, some of which are the most popular in American music, started a music school in Nashville in 1932. The school produced some of the most influential music writers in American music including Woody Guthrie.

The convention ended on a high note with an awards ceremony outside in the hotel courtyard followed by a concert by local pop star Kenny Loggins and English singer Judith Owen. The festival awards honored winners in nine categories and included actress Frances Fisher, T Bone Burnett, Chuck Leavell and Kenny Loggins. Local actor and musician Jeff Bridges was the presenter of some of the awards. Earlier, in the day director Susan Kucera showed a preview of her new film 'Living in the Futures Past'. The beautifully filmed nature film and a documentary on the philosophy of energy consumption were narrated by Bridges. The Academy Award-winning actor has engaged in a number of social causes and charities. He spoke at length about his shared passions when introducing the awards for Loggins and Burnett, both well known for their tireless work on behalf of multiple charity and fund raising events. Both Loggins and Bridges are well known in the Santa Barbara area for their social work, especially providing food banks for needy residents.

As a spectacular sunset painted the oceanfront courtyard in myriad colors, Kenny Loggins played a very special concert consisting of some of his biggest hit songs. Convention attendees sampled wines from across California while Loggins serenaded them. Tourists passing through the open courtyard were astounded to see the pop star playing for the intimate gathering and took selfies. Loggins told an endearing anecdote about his hit song, 'House at Pooh Corner'. He had written the song but Disney didn’t want his band at the time (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) to record it as they had acquired the rights to the Winnie The Pooh story. I was going out on a date one night, and I mentioned the song to my girlfriend, "I'm bummed tonight because I thought I had my first song recorded, and it's not gonna happen. The Disney lawyers put the kibosh on it." She looked at him and said, "Disney lawyers? Let me talk to my daddy about that." I did not know that I was dating the daughter of the CEO of the Disney corporation Loggins shared gleefully.

Welsh singer-songwriter Judith Owen, fresh off a tour opening for Bryan Ferry, closed the convention with a haunting set of tunes, combining elements of jazz, pop and blues music. Now hailing from New Orleans, the influences of the Big Easy could be heard in her music. The singer-keyboardist was backed up by a talented percussionist and three-piece string section that gave an intriguing dimension to her performance.


Photos by L. Paul Mann
www.lpaulmann.com

















Related Links:

http://www.festforums.com/


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