I loved BayFest. It was one of my favorite Mobile events. The weather was almost always spectacular and even if the line-up didn’t include artists I could find in my own collection, it was a cheap ticket to experience many acts I might not have otherwise. Walking between stages and chatting with friends was an added bonus, as was the people watching.
I experienced it as a high school senior, a college kid, a single “young professional” and with my kids as a wife and mother. I have a couple of decades of many different cherished memories with many different dear friends, all with that festival as the backdrop. And that’s pretty hard to say of any event, especially a citywide music festival, many of which bit the dust in other cities long before BayFest.
There are various reasons why the festival just couldn’t hang on. Declining interest from sponsors and declining ticket sales were given as the official ones, and I am sure that is true. There are so many things competing for our attention, attendance and disposable income these days, it’s hard to do it all. And BayFest tried to be everything to everybody and that’s an impossible order to fill.
The unofficial reasons are vast and range from completely unbelievable to “that sounds about right.” But it does seem there was a bit of unwillingness by the top dog to listen to those around him crying for the festival to reinvent itself into a more modern incarnation. And you know what they say about old dogs and new tricks.
But who knows, maybe it had just run its course anyway.
There were many people, though, who worked so hard on it from day one — the nuts and bolts folks — and despite whatever problems ultimately brought it to an end, they should hold their heads high and be proud of all the blood, sweat and tears they put into this great festival over the years. Your work was impressive and appreciated, and I am positive that was not said enough to you guys.
And equally as impressive are the folks who quickly stepped in and put Ten Sixty Five together as a replacement last weekend. It provided a much-needed tourniquet for the downtown bars, restaurants and, especially, the hotels from experiencing the complete bloodbath they were expecting with the last minute cancellation of BayFest.
The major sponsors were the Jake Peavy Foundation, Wind Creek Casino, Gulf Distributing and Regions, with folks from Red Square Agency, Soul Kitchen, Downtown Mobile Alliance and other downtown movers and shakers helping out as well.
There were three really smart changes organizers incorporated into this festival that, if at all possible, should be kept. (And while I am sort of comparing the two festivals, I do realize there is really no way BayFest — as it was and with its size — would have been able to do some of these things. It really is apples to oranges, but I just wanted to highlight some of the cool things about the oranges, if you will.)
The first was that it was free. And in addition to that making it obviously more affordable for folks, it just provided a much more laid back vibe than a festival where you have to stand in line to get into a fenced off area. And even though BayFest allowed re-entry, there was still just something really neat at Ten Sixty Five about being able to simply just walk up off the street and hear a band. Forget the turnstile; no wristband required. Absolute freedom to roam is cool.
The second was the integration of the stages more into the heart of the LoDa business district and the third was allowing those businesses to take care of all of the vending. I can’t tell you how sweet it was to hear a band on the street and then being able to pop into any number of bars and restaurants for a quick bite and/or “to go” drinks.
And I know that was a welcome change for business owners who were used to competing with beer and fair food stands inside the previous festival, some even saying it was a better weekend overall for them.
But it also provided so much more choice for the festival goer. I heard one persnickety craft beer friend absolutely rejoicing at his ability to get exactly the beer he wanted. And it also just highlighted our local cuisine choices so much better. It was nice to be able to grab a roll from Liquid or a burger from Heroes and pop right back out and enjoy the music.
Is a free music festival something that will be sustainable long term? I suppose it will depend on whether the folks writing out the big checks feel they are getting enough bang for their buck. And if they do, and it continues to grow in size, will it be maintainable as is from a public safety standpoint?
I don’t know, but I hope organizers will be able to find that sweet spot where it can go on in a similar fashion, without getting so big they have to add all of the things that make a festival lose that perfect vibe and soul. That’s a difficult and fine line to have to walk.
But I hear there are already plans for Ten Sixty Five to live on, and maybe even more than just in the first weekend of October, as there is talk there could be some sort of springtime event as well.
I’m really looking forward to it, as these guys really hit all the right notes. Kudos.
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