Carlock: Ending Venetian Festival was right decision

Published 3:25 pm Friday, July 27, 2012

Well, southwest Michigan residents all managed to live through their first year without Venetian Festival. It was a glum week for those live music lovers steeped in local tradition and perhaps most notably for those who worked the festival throughout its 33-year history. Facebook activity bubbled with sad-faced emoticons and emoting between festival volunteers who couldn’t believe they had free time on their hands this past week for the first time in one, two, even three decades.

What needs to happen now is that volunteers need to move on and do something positive with all of these feelings. Ending the Venetian Festival was the right decision. Nothing lasts forever and the fact the festival could no longer convince the city to get on board was an indicator of its ailing health. The relationship between the festival and the city was like one of those marriages that you take one look at, you know is kaput, yet no one has been brave enough to file divorce papers yet.

Eventually, the festival became so financially shaky without the major sponsors of the ‘80s that it became dangerously reliant on the city’s financial support in the form of gratis services. When the city said no more gratis services, they couldn’t afford to continue. To the city’s credit, it put up with the festival far longer than it wanted to. As far as I’m concerned, the Great White “F-bomb scandal” in 2001 and the city’s forcing of an “acceptable performance” clause marked the beginning of the end.

The excellent news is, all of those volunteers and resources and attendees are free to spend their time, energy and money elsewhere: All they need is a new focus. But they can’t focus till they move on, just like those relationships that people go to therapy to get over. The work is the same: acknowledge what the failures were on both sides and learn from them. Take that self-awareness into the next relationship and make it stronger, better and be grateful for the opportunity to improve who you are and what you bring to the table in the future.

A year ago, I talked on FB with board members about what to do next, and my advice is still the same. First, take a new festival to Benton Harbor. The city has nowhere to go but up and plenty of land.

Next, get really clear about what you’re creating and selling and who you’re selling it to. A new festival must exist in a piece of land more appropriate for an event. The insistence on having the lake as a visual backdrop for the rock stages irritated property owners, which alienated the city, and it was never necessary, really. I don’t need to see the sunset over Styx’s shoulders. I’m there to see a concert, and honestly, I like the lightshows I paid to see to actually be effective.

The majority of music festivals happen on expansive land plots. They don’t happen with stages tucked in between condo high rises at lakefront property. Seriously. St. Joseph does not want tens of thousands of drunken people wandering around their Special Place On The Lake looking for a special place to take a leak.

People drive to Rothbury to attend a music festival in the woods. People traveled to Woodstock to see their favorite artists in a field. Look harder; plan better on the next phase of this festival. Find up-and-coming artists you can hear on the radio looking for a crowd of 50,000. Study the Warped Tour. Study Rothbury. Study Milwaukee’s Summerfest. Find a way to attract those numbers and make it happen. And for God’s sake, no more Smooth Jazz, I beg you.

Dave Carlock is a 25-year veteran of the entertainment business whose work as a recording engineer and producer, touring musician, and songwriter made him Googleable. His continuing work as an Independent Content Creator of Sound and Image has earned him a Grammy Award certificate, two Platinum Record Awards, and a Paragon Award in advertising. Currently, he brings national and international artists to make records and music videos at his production studio in the Benton Harbor Arts District.