Festival season in Minnesota is upon us, and there’s a new wave of music festivals organized by and featuring teens and young adults. That wave includes ROCKchester this weekend, LeGrandFest in mid-August, and one set for Labor Day weekend that’s so new it doesn’t even have a name yet.
With age restrictions at venues for both concertgoers and performers and the constant pressure on young artists to prove their worth, these local festivals are offering a platform for many young artists to not only network and build experience, but also to just celebrate and demonstrate their talents with their friends.
ROCKchester started when Med City’s Dylan Hilliker decided at 16 that there weren’t enough opportunities for musicians to play shows in town and not enough draw for the few shows that did happen. “I kinda got fed up with the idea that I wasn’t getting paid for the stuff that I was working on and not feeling legitimate just because Rochester wasn’t taking music that seriously at the time,” he says. “I had friends who were also in music at the time and we were all like, ‘Where can we play? What can we do?’ and so I was just like, alright, I’ll book a show.”
Now in its third year, ROCKchester has ramped up its efforts in comparison to years past, going from one night in a dive bar to a two-day festival at Pure Rock Studios. They’ve dropped their teens-only rule for musicians after the first year, hoping to draw more interest, and expanded to two days to split musicians by genre and hopefully drive ticket sales up and keep the attention spans of fans.
This year’s ROCKchester features artists based in both Rochester and the Twin Cities — namely Early Eyes, Guytano, Fauna & Flora, Good Luck Finding Iris, and Why Not among many others. Hilliker says that this year is full of a lot of firsts and is all about learning what works, but that “we’re trying to make this a full experience for people.”
On the same theme of learning what works, LeGrandfest is going on its fifth year and while they’re much more established in comparison to the first year, they’re still making big changes year after year. The first two years were held in founder Mitchell LeGrande’s backyard, after outgrowing that, they moved to a friend’s farm out in Hugo. After a run-in with the police asking for permits, they decided to get official and rent out Polar Lakes Park in White Bear Lake last year, as they will again this year.
LeGrande says that even though the festival has expanded greatly, their mission is still at the core of the operation. “Our whole goal has always been to give the underdogs opportunities. Young people are doing all these great things, and why doesn’t anyone know about it? So we try to give as many young musicians a chance as we can.”
Last year, says LeGrande, the festival featured 38 bands. “We gave over one hundred young musicians a stage outdoors, which they never get. We gave a dozen [visual] artists a chance to have an art booth up, which they never get because they can’t afford the permits. This year we have internships, so I have a team of eight interns who have been really on the ball with things like websites, marketing, band recruiting, and that’s been great. That’s been the idea: give young people the stage, at everything.”
Like everything in life, with starting something new and learning what works best, there come difficulties. Convincing people to respect the idea of the festival was a big struggle, especially in the planning of last year with all the park board and city council meetings LeGrande had to go to and defend the festival in order to use the park and get the necessary permits. “People look at you like, “are you joking?” and that was hard for me personally because I felt qualified to do it, I had been putting it together for years, I had a packet this thick [gestures about an inch] of all the details that go into it for anyone who wanted to know.”
Because there was hardly a budget to pay the musicians, it was a collaboration between artists and event, and there were difficulties getting all the artists on the same page. Artists received a platform to perform, but LeGrandfest couldn’t do everything, so getting all the bands to advertise the festival and get people out to the show was a challenge.
Local band/creative project Juniper Douglas are putting that same idea of collaboration at the center of a currently unnamed music festival they are planning for Labor Day weekend this year. They’re all about collaborating with other artists, but they say that this festival is a “massive project. We can’t collaborate with as many people as we want to, so it’s easier to have one place where everyone can just do what they want to do.”
(Juniper Douglas are a duo, but they asked that their individual names not be used in this article, as they prefer to keep the emphasis on the band as a whole.)
With the majority of their acts lined up, but contracts not yet signed, they can’t leak the lineup — but they made it a point to say that they wanted this festival to act as a platform for artists to break free from their typical setlists or performance habits. “We don’t want to limit them to what they usually play. This is a festival where you can come and play whatever you want with no strings attached to your outside groups and all of that. Do whatever you want, it’s fine!”
The unnamed festival is set to be held at the Southern Theater. The band say they didn’t have to do a whole lot of convincing in order to get the space, having built relationships with the management and having played there in the past.
“You have to respect the venue that you’re playing at. A lot of people expect favors from venues, it’s that whole like artists-give-each-other-favors complex, where like you do this for me and I don’t pay you, but you’ll get a lot of draw. For us as artists, it’s really important to respect the space, respect the people who are running the space, respect the people who are coming into the space. We want to work with [the venue], we don’t want to work for [the venue], and we don’t want [the venue] to work for us.”
In a scene where basement shows and backyard gigs are the norms for young bands and music fans, these festivals are evidence that young people are capable of more than they’re usually given the opportunity for. The organizers of ROCKchester, LeGrandfest, and the yet-to-be-named Labor Day festival are providing more opportunities for for young people to get their feet in the door.