The beginning of the new year seems a good time to make plans, and a group of locals and reputable music industry figures are doing just that. Specifically, organizers hope to bring The Grounds back into Mobile’s music scene with what is being called the Rocking Horse Music Festival, a philanthropic two-day event they hope will bring a lineup of stellar entertainment and fill The Grounds with 25,000 people. The festival has tentatively been set for April 21-22 of 2018.
The concept for Rocking Horse begins with local Brian Diemar. Over the years, Diemar has created commissioned remixes for bands such as Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, Slayer and The Chemical Brothers. He has also engineered projects for bands such as Ministry and Duff McKagan (Guns N’ Roses). Recently, Diemar says, his “bread and butter” has been providing musical scores for the film, television and video-game industries.
After the couple settled in Mobile, Diemar’s wife, Ariana, established the Dream Acres Equine Sanctuary, which rescues “abused, neglected, unwanted and/or slaughter-bound horses.” Eventually, Diemar discussed Dream Acres with his friend Douglas Freel, a filmmaker who has directed music videos for such artists as Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Def Leppard, Rush, and Faith No More and documentaries for Metallica (“Cliff ‘Em All”) and Ministry (“Fix: The Ministry Movie”).
The work of Dream Acres and other horse rescue organizations touched Freel’s heart at a time when he felt he needed to give back to the world. The conversation turned toward toward Rocking Horse as more of a pipe dream.
“We were talking about the horse rescue here,” Diemar explained. “[Freel] was talking about having friends that do horse rescues too. People that he’s worked with in the industry that are big artists are also horse lovers. Jokingly, he said, ‘You know, to raise money to rescue horses, we should start a festival and call it Ponypalooza.’ We had all these friends who are horse lovers and all these artists too.”
“In my life as a filmmaker right now, I’ve done enough stuff that’s been only for rock ‘n’ roll,” Freel added. “I’ve gotten to a time in my life that I want to use my powers for good. I really dig the horse rescue thing and all the people all over the country involved with horse rescues. Brian and I know so many rockers that also love horses that it seemed like a natural segue into the nonprofit world.”
Diemar brought the concept to Grammy-winning producer/engineer Toby Wright, whose credits as engineer and/or producer feature a nearly endless list of legendary names, including Alice in Chains, Ozzy Osbourne, Primus, Slayer, 3 Doors Down, Trey Anastasio and Korn. Diemar and Wright are also partners in the Mobile-based label Burning City Frontiers and bandmates in Bells Into Machines, which also includes alt. rock legends Paul Barker (Puscifer, Pigface), Lee Popa (Ministry, Killing Joke) and Chris Connelly (Pigface, Ministry).
Wright, the studio pro, was attracted to not only the philanthropy Rocking Horse will provide but also the chance to build upon something that’s been a centerpiece of his life for a very long time.
“I think that it’s my love for music and bringing it to the public,” Wright said. “I think if there’s a way that I can help people’s enjoyment for music then I will, either by record or live. You just gotta get it out there.”
As for their chosen venue, Diemar says The Grounds features a great layout that will cater to Rocking Horse’s needs, including its already established stage and extensive parking areas. The Grounds also provides a convenient setup for festival shuttles the organizers plan to have transport attendees from across the city to the venue’s main entrance. Rocking Horse organizers also plan to build a second large stage in the property’s “midway” area.
Diemar says the stage setup and the festival’s choreographed daily schedule will allow those in attendance to experience all featured bands with little travel across the property. As a band finishes on one stage, the crowd can literally turn its focus to the other stage for the next scheduled band.
Plans are to use The Grounds’ indoor facility for a “silent rave” and other space to feature various charities, including animal rescue groups, the Disabled American Veterans and a local children’s charity to be selected in the future.
“The people at The Grounds couldn’t be nicer,” Diemar said. “From what they’ve told me, they want to do festivals. This is something right up their alley as well. Partnering with them is a no-brainer.”
According to Diemar, their concept will also focus a great deal of attention on local culture. Organizers hope to fill The Grounds’ concession areas with food from local restaurants and to create a beer garden that will feature regional craft beer and wine. With Mardi Gras being an integral part of local culture, Rocking Horse is also planning to have a Mardi Gras parade roll through the festival at some point.
“This is my hometown, and I’m proud of it,” Diemar said. “There are a lot of good things here, and I want other people to see that too. The flavor of the festival is going to be very Mobile-centric. We want to showcase Mardi Gras and feature as many local food and beverage vendors as possible. We want to give the crowd a little taste of Mobile.”
As far as the lineup, Diemar says no bands have been confirmed but organizers are aiming to make announcements by late summer. Diemar, Freel and Wright are working to create an eclectic lineup for a two-day festival filled with names big enough to effortlessly pull festival-goers from across the Southeast and beyond. All three believe their respective music industry backgrounds and connections will make it easy to fulfill their wish list.
Diemar says organizers also have visions of holding a “VIP pre-party” in downtown Mobile on April 20. In addition to the featured bands, they also plan to bring several special guests to perform unique live collaborations.
“Everyone should understand the idea that it’s a benefit show, for one, but also we want to put together the strangest combinations that we can get away with,” Freel said. “It would be musicians that you wouldn’t expect that would come together.”
Rocking Horse organizers expect a very busy 2017, Wright says, filled with troubleshooting, phone calls and conversations. Freel hopes Rocking Horse will be not only successful but also unique.
One thing Freel hopes will make the festival unique is its location. Organizers say subsequent festivals could be held anywhere from Dusseldorf, Germany, to Denver, Colorado. However, Diemar adds, they aren’t opposed to holding future installments in the Azalea City.
Ultimately, Diemar, Wright and Freel hope this festival will provide the crowd with lots of of great music and local flavor. However, they are extremely dedicated to the charitable foundation upon which it is being built. They hope to have a positive charitable effect while showing the public a different side of the animal rescue world that will inspire people to get involved.
“When people look at animal rescue, they’re either drawn into immediately, or they really aren’t,” Freel said. “They’re used to seeing it on late-night TV, with dogs shivering in the cold. They usually change the channel. We know people are coming to rock out. They might buy a hay bale for a horse, but there might not be a lot of focus on how bad these horses’ lives were to begin with. We want this to be a call to action.”