Notebook: Moontower Music Festival

Kris Bentley and Nick Jamerson of Sundy Best on stage at the Moontower Music Festival. The inaugural Moontower Music Festival, presented by LexEffect, was July 26, 2014, at Equus Run Vineyard in Midway, Ky., with a lineup featuring Moon Taxi and Sundy Best. Photos by Rich Copley | staff.

Kris Bentley and Nick Jamerson of Sundy Best on stage at the Moontower Music Festival. Photos by Rich Copley | staff.

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The folks at LexEffect certainly have a good idea: get Lexington, or the immediate Lexington area, in on the summer music festival scene that is marked to the west by Louisville’s Forecastle Festival and to the north by Cincinnati’s Bunbury Festival.

And we do have our share of genre specific events in town including the Festival of the Bluegrass and the Red, White & Boom country fest in Lexington, as well as events in the region such as the the Master Musician’s Festival in Somerset.

Saturday’s inaugural Moontower Music Festival at Equus Run vineyard in Midway brought the Lexington area into the pop and rock festival sphere with headliner Moon Taxi and other acts such as Brave Baby and Buffalo Rodeo, augmented with some country and bluegrass from Sundy Best and Tyler Childers. It’s a far cry from any of those majors fests, but it’s a start.

It was a nice afternoon that ended with a raucous evening as Moon Taxi took the stage. Just eyeballing it, the crowd appeared to fall short of the hoped-for 1,200, but the audience did grow and enter and exit during the day.

So, as with any new event, there are successes and lessons learned. Here’s a quick look at what worked and what needs work at the first Moontower fest.

The Music

Moon Taxi frontman Trevor Terndrup plays to the fans at the Moontower music festival.

Moon Taxi frontman Trevor Terndrup plays to the fans at the Moontower music festival.

Worked: Organizers went for a diverse, non-genre-specific lineup that was cool to see and felt somewhat curated with local and regional talent. Moon Taxi was a prime choice to end the evening with a big party of a set. Brave Baby and Machines are People Too sounded great and complimented the headliner. Bowling Green’s Buffalo Rodeo and Louisville’s A Lion Named Roar were great examples of bringing in examples of burgeoning home-state music scenes.

And if you were going to inject the day with some country, Sundy Best and Childers are great choices, Sundy Best almost guaranteed to bring in an audience of its own. So you have to give LexEffect props for picking an interesting lineup, even if it had to go without a major headliner.

Needs work: Certainly LexEffect didn’t have the corporate or major underwriting that helps float some other events’ ticket prices. But $45 felt a bit steep for this lineup, particularly without a major headliner and with events such as Red, White & Boom selling a two-day lineup of 18 acts for $20. I am loathe to say anything against the diverse genre lineup, but I do have to wonder fans of certain styles maybe felt $45 was a bit much for only a few acts they wanted to hear.

That said, right before Moon Taxi, I talked to some people who seemed perfectly happy to have paid that much and just come out for the headliner and Sundy Best.

Brave Baby frontman Keon Masters gets a drink as the temperatures reached the upper 80s during the band's set at the Moontower Music Festival.

Brave Baby frontman Keon Masters gets a drink as the temperatures reached the upper 80s during the band’s set at the Moontower Music Festival.

With a six-band, one-DJ lineup, it was striking how much time was given to each act, which was cool as some festivals confine early day acts to dissatisfying five- and -six-song sets. But there seemed to be too much breathing room in this schedule. Something almost happened at Moontower that never happens at festivals: Brave Baby was almost started 20-minutes early. The time between bands wasn’t entirely necessary — Moon Taxi looked like it could have started 10 minutes early — and the gaps gave the day something of a start-stop-start-stop feel. While DJ Gary Klass did a great job spinning between bands, considering most of the fest took place in sunlight and temperatures in the high-80s, festival goers appeared to use the gaps to go look for shade.

Certainly if the festival expands, it will have to schedule more tightly. Red, White & Boom uses a great format of putting solo or small combo acts between bands so the music keeps playing while the more work-intensive band setups take place behind them.

The venue

Hailey Roby, a Midway College student, and Leigh Hardin, a University of Kentucky student, play cornhole by the vineyard at the Moontower Festival.

Hailey Roby, a Midway College student, and Leigh Hardin, a University of Kentucky student, play cornhole by the vineyard at the Moontower Festival.

Worked: If there was a broken record Saturday, it was people complimenting the beauty and intimacy of Equus Run Vineyard. Even bands were mentioning it from the stage, and the event-oriented Equus Run staff seemed to be geared toward keeping things going. And people also seemed to enjoy the wine — really, really enjoyed the wine.

Needs work: I do have to wonder if the distance from Lexington proper and unfamiliarity deterred some people from going. As we always say, it is hard to ask people who are not there why they didn’t come, but it is probably a valid question.

It was not made abundantly clear how many activities were on the site. Some vendors in the “Artist Alley” told me they were not seeing much traffic, and the activity area with cornhole and monster Jenga seemed to be spottily used. The layout sort of gave you the impression things stopped at the food-truck area, so you had to go looking for the other stuff. Some more signage might have helped get people into more of the event.

The event

Fans cheer as Moon Taxi takes the stage at the Moontower Music Festival.

Fans cheer as Moon Taxi takes the stage at the Moontower Music Festival.

Worked: LexEffect founder and president Kaelyn Query said the aim was to be local, local, local. And between Equus Run’s wine, the Kentucky Ale beer and food truck eats, as well as the aformentioned artists’ alley, Moontower felt very homegrown. These days, that’s a big plus. Having proceeds benefit The Nest only added to that.

LexEffect is an event-planning firm, and they seemed to have the details down. It is not uncommon to go to new events and see glaring holes in planning, like accommodating parking or concessions, by people who are more arts oriented than planning geared. There were none of those problems here, that I saw, save for the water-bottle-filling station running out of water.

Needs work: I cannot think of anything logistically that distracted from enjoyment of the festival. It might be worth asking if late July is the best time for this event. Could it have benefited from taking place when area colleges are back in session, or would it have been overshadowed by early school year events such as football?

That’s one perspective. It will be interesting to see how the Moontower festival proceeds from Saturday, but you have to say it was a bold initiative to add a new dot to the summer festival map.

Kris Bentley and Nick Jamerson of Sundy Best on stage at the Moontower Music Festival.

Kris Bentley and Nick Jamerson of Sundy Best on stage at the Moontower Music Festival.

 

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