How to build a Music Festival, March 25th, 2016

     Let's see here.... Now, I know all my friends out there in Skinny Land are dying to get to the next chapter of the Weejy's World saga, but be patient.  Oftentimes, certain things happen in the restaurant world that might keep you from getting around to things like... I don't know... Free time... Free time to write a collection of stories based on actual events in your life...  I'll definitely get back to where I had left off at some point because things were just starting to heat up, pun intended, but not yet.

    See, it's festival season, and I would be remiss if I didn't divulge to you the following information on how to create a festival of your own.  Many folks don't know that when I'm not flippin' burgers, hiring/firing, creating menus, or writing for the Skinny, I'm busy booking bands/artists/breweries/etc. for Hey Joe's and for whatever upcoming Keep Cleveland Boring event there is.  They don't call me Weejy "Jack of all trades" Rogers for nothin'.  In fact, they don't call me that at all.

Anyway, let's suppose you want to start your own music festival.  You're going to need four things to set up the nucleus of the festival:  1.  The Idea, 2. A Date, 3.  Contacts and a Venue, 4.  A back up plan.

Step One:  The Idea

    This is a no brainer starting point.  You can't start without having some sort of an idea.  However, it will take some brain work to have a catchy, original idea, and you have to spend some time in thought.  Think of things like this:  "What does my area need that it doesn't already have?"  Or simply, "What would I like to see in my town that it doesn't have?"  After all, you have to be able to appreciate it yourself to follow through with the idea.  Be passionate about it.  Believe in it.  Don't do it for the money.  Do it with zero expectations of a financial return.  Then, after you have a general idea, ask yourself, "O.K. Who cares?" 
    Quick back story: I had a high school English teacher who challenged her classes to ask this same question after finishing every paper or story.  I still ask myself that question after everything I write and apply it to festival brainstorming as well.
    Asking yourself, "Who cares?' is essentially asking, "Who else would be interested in the event and why?"  If you can't think of anyone, think of a way to include other ideas to go along with the festival that would make other people interested in your idea.  Sometimes it helps to include other people in the festival planning/brainstorming sessions, sometimes it doesn't.  But, if you are planning with a group, and I can't stress this enough: Make sure that you, alone, can follow through with whatever plans the group comes up with.  The reason is that, odds are, a lot of the people will talk the talk, but few will walk the walk when it comes down to something even as simple as sending out an email or making a phone call.  Make sure that whatever plans or ideas are created, when it comes to executing the plan, you alone won't overextend yourself.

    After you've established a great idea, the "work" starts.  But rule number 1 in creating a festival is to say it, then do it.  Don't ever say you'll do anything without following through.  No matter what it takes.

Step Two:  Set A Date

    Setting a date may sound just as silly as step one, but it's very important for a number of reasons.  The obvious reason is that you have to have a date to invite festival goers as well as whatever bands/artists/breweries/whoevers.  But, don't go into setting a date willy-nilly.  You need to consider other events that are going on in the area.  For example, if you're planning a country music festival, you wouldn't want to set your festival on the same day that a neighboring town has a country music festival with more well known acts.  On the other hand, piggy backing off of other events that are going on in your town on or around the same time can also be very beneficial.  Consider the weather.  Yes.  Good ol' Mother Nature can have a way of putting a damper on things, and we'll revisit this in a bit a little bit further in step 5, but always consider what your areas weather patterns are for certain times of the year.  Buy a Farmer's Almanac or look at an online rain graph to figure out weather trends for your area.  Once you have a date planned out, you can begin the next phase.

Step Three:  The Contacts, The Venue, and The Budget

    Step Three can only come after setting a date.  Oftentimes, the venue where your festival will take place could also be included in step two, as setting a date could depend on the availability of the venue.  Either way, you must have a venue booked and an idea of who to contact before you can move on to other steps.  Keep the venue's maximum capacity in mind.  This will be important when it comes to budget.  You can't book Pearl Jam in a place that holds 50 people unless everyone was charged $200,000 per ticket or you just won the lottery.  Anyway, once you have the venue, you can start contacting bands/brewers/etc. to come to your festival. Nowadays, with the internet and email, it's extremely easy to get in touch with different bands, distributors, artists, etc.  So, compile a list of who you'd like to include at your festival and get to work either by emailing or calling those people.  It might take a little bit of research to find out exactly who to contact, but again, the internet will help you with that.  Once you have your contacts, sell them your idea.  Explain to them why your idea is great and why they should attend. Bands will ask how much they'll get paid so you'll have to have a budget in mind.  Work with them on this.  If you're starting with zero budget, think of how you can turn around some sort of profit to be able to pay for their services.  Tee shirt sales alone floated the first Otherfest, but there are ways other than merch sales to make enough money to break even such as admission fees, food/beverage sales, fundraisers, etc.  But again, don't go into it thinking that you'll make millions of dollars on the first try.  You won't.  If you're lucky, you might break even. 

Step Four:  Have a Back Up Plan

    There would be nothing worse than putting in a ton of effort, time, and money into something that you're passionate about only to have something like rain destroy all your hopes and dreams.  But, it can definitely happen.  Matter of fact, it will happen.  That's why you'll need a comparable back up plan in case the elements take over the day.  This should be considered when setting your original venue/date. In case of rain, don't be set on doing something outdoors in an area that has no shelter.  The nearer your main concentration of people will be to shelter during a festival, the better.  Also, if you can promote the festival as rain or shine and even promote the "in case of rain" back up plan as well, everyone knows that no matter what, they won't be overtaken by a monsoon if they come to your festival. 

Now, these are just the basics of creating a festival.  There are many other things to consider, but as far as just starting it, this is one way that it can be done.  The most important thing is to actually do it.  Don't just talk about it.  Put forth the effort and make it happen.  There will be no greater reward than seeing hundreds or thousands of people having a good time while attending something that you've created. 

January 20th, 2016

     ...Continued from October of last year...

    Quick recap where we are in the story: I had just moved from Iowa to Cleveland to take the reigns of the Hey Joe's kitchen.  I believed in Hey Joe's for what it represented to the Delta even if it was brand new and had no street cred... yet. Hey Joe's was a place where live music and creativity could thrive.  My mission wasn't to immediately get payed millions of dollars in this environment, it was to make everyone- from the staff to the community- believe in Hey Joe's, so that everyone could see it for what, to me, it was worth.  I took the responsibility personally.

    So, you ask, how do you make people believe?  In sports, more specifically running track, which in a previous Weejy's World tales I've compared to working in a kitchen, it's simple to make people believe.  You make people believe by winning the race.  If you win every time, people believe that you're an awesome runner.  Restaurants aren't too different, but the race of the restaurant world starts on the first day of business and might not ever end.  There are definitely daily check points along the way in the restaurant world to take metaphorical water breaks.  If people are cheering you on at these check points, or, in other words, if people are still coming into your restaurant on a daily basis, then you're doing something right. 

    Bear with me.

    Backtracking a bit, Hey Joe's wasn't sure what it wanted to be in its conception. It was originally supposed to be a record store or a coffee shop, as in, a "cup of 'Joe.'"  Hence the name.  Somewhere during the planning phase and after the naming phase, however, it was decided that Hey Joe's would be a burger/beer/music joint. Fair enough.  Good plan.  Anyway, if you talk with the owner of Hey Joe's, Justin Huerta, he'll tell you the first year was tough.  I actually came here one year after it was open, so sadly, I missed all the fun that comes with opening a restaurant (sarcasm).  Anyway, there were tons of mistakes made in the first year just like any other restaurant on the planet.  When I started in August of 2010, let's just say there were still some issues.  The good news for me was that the kitchen staff was pretty decent.  They could cook, more or less, and they could work fast- a solid base to start with.  The issues had more the do with a lack of systems and a lack of real identity.  There was no real menu nor a set way of "what went on a burger."  Nothing in the kitchen was portioned out.  I repeat, portion control didn't exist in the Hey Joe's kitchen prior to the summer of 2010.  In other words, one burger might've weighed 6 ounces and the one next to it might've weighed 14 ounces.  That's not good for consistency.  That's not good for pricing purposes.  That's not good for anything.  There were some other kitchen "no-no's" that I won't get into due to time constraints, but, long story short, there's no way the place would be open today had it kept operating in such a foolish, and, I'd say, disrespectful way.  In racing terms, there would be no one cheering us on a various daily checkpoints under this model.  So, mission number one was to set up an actual menu, set real systems in place, and fire the moron who claimed responsibility over the kitchen prior to me.  I will not, at this time, discuss problems with the front of house.  But for the first few weeks, I can say I missed a lot of my co-workers from the Fairfield Golf and Country Club, even Jess, the compulsively lying waiter who always stirred the pot- and trust me, that's saying something.

    Around the same time I was coming into a groove of setting systems in place, a buddy of mine asked me while hanging out at Hey Joe's:  "How does this place make money?"  He meant it literally, not facetiously.  I was shocked at the question because it made me realize that no one honestly knew what Hey Joe's was.  Of course, when I came into Hey Joe's I understood that it was a restaurant, but right then, I realized that no one else had any clue.  An entire year had passed by and no one knew what Hey Joe's was.  My hands were much more full than I previously thought.  The former track runner inside me had been standing on the block ready to endure whatever mileage it would take, waiting on the gun to sound.  I realized then that the starting gun had blasted long before I got to Hey Joe's.  I was entering a race that had started a year before I even got to the track. It was time to catch up. 

To be continued.

October 30, 2015

The first few months working at Hey Joe's were pretty intense.  To be fair, they were extremely intense.  It turns out people don't really like it when it's your first day on the job, and you start telling them what to do and how they do things aren't right.  But in doing so, you'll find out which employees are there for selfish reasons (the ones who just want a paycheck or tip money) and those who are there to actually help a new business get its feet off the ground.  I yelled a lot to get my point across.  Sometimes it was necessary.  Sometimes it probably wasn't.

September 27, 2015

In the year 2000, while in high school, nearly half my life ago, I scooped ice cream at a drug store in Clarksdale, Mississippi. I suppose you could consider that my first job in the service industry. Banana splits were a serious pain to make. Milk shakes weren't much better. I preferred customers who ordered in simple terms: "blue" for blue vanilla, "red" for strawberry, "Rocky Road" for Rocky Road. Simple.

August 18, 2015

They say that all good things must come to an end.  So do all regular things. So do all stupid things.  Towards the end of my tenure at the Fairfield Golf and Country Club in Fairfield, Iowa, I told the general manager, "I wish there were a way that I could make a living here..."  What I really meant was something like: "I'm about to bust a move, and I know you probably can't afford me, but if you can, let me know, and I might stick around."

July 15, 2015

Where did I leave off.... Ah yes... I believe I was explaining a little bit about an all-night cooking experience.  I'll try my best to recollect details of the night so you can put it down as fact. What I remember is this:  It was the last stretch of one of those brutal Decembers at the Fairfield Golf and Country Club in Fairfield, Iowa- the oldest country club west of the Mississippi River.