[listen] LIV Music and Arts Festival Recap
It was hot.
Really hot. As in, people were so drenched with sweat they looked like they’d just crawled out of a swimming pool.
Despite the B.O.–inducing heat, music lovers flooded the Commerce Arts District June 19 to partake in Wichita’s first LIV Music and Arts Festival. They were rewarded with live performances by local artists and plenty of Tallgrass beer.
“We should have had tents, we should have had misters,” festival organizer Adam Hartke said, laughing. “Next year, we won’t repeat those mistakes.”
As advocates of all things live and local, my friend and I joined the sweltering ranks on that steamy Saturday eager to see what a non-Riverfest festival in Wichita might look like. And it looked, well, like any good Commerce Street event. Beefy motorcycle men mixed with flowing-skirted hippies, and the party girls of Old Town mingled with hipster boys whose vintage shorts showed off way too much pasty leg. Stereotypes swirled as everyone gathered under the lure of live music.
LIVfest, the brainchild of Adam Hartke (president of Hartke Records), took its name from the Roman numeral for 54 as a tribute to Highway 54 (aka Kellogg Avenue), which runs over the south end of Commerce. LIV also stands for “Live in the Vortex,” a reference to Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Wichita Vortex Sutra.” Enlisting the help of folks at The Anchor, Rock Island Live and a handful of other Wichita music venues, Hartke organized an all-day, two-stage event featuring solely regional talent and local vendors.
The lineup engaged a wide variety of listeners, featuring artists such as indie boys Hot Air Balloon Trauma, hip-hop groups A Squared and Mannish Law, and bluegrass kings Split Lip Rayfield. As far as I’m concerned, though, Carrie Nation & The Speakeasy stole the show; they braved the scorching mid-afternoon heat and gave a smart-mouthed, fast paced performance. Although the majority of the crowd sought sanctuary in the shade, several of us were so infected by their energy that we couldn’t help but turn the sunny south end of Commerce into a full-fledged dance party.
Between acts, festivalgoers fueled up with burgers, bottled water and pints of Tallgrass beer. It was sponsors like Tallgrass that kept LIV Fest afloat; no project is complete without a few major mishaps, and the organizing team definitely felt the blows as several other sponsors rescinded their offers. With revenue deficits of $6,000 two weeks before the festival, the crew began advertising discounted VIP passes. Hartke described the swell of community support as tremendous.
“Schane at The Anchor sold tickets three-for-the-price-of-two out of her pocket,” he said. “She seriously would sell two and pay for the third herself. Alex from Kirby’s gave $1,000. We had donors everywhere. That gave us the confidence to go through with it…we had the greatest pre-sell of any show I’ve ever done.”
It was the sudden discount that convinced us to mark LIVfest on our calendars. Only $20 for two meals, three drinks and after-party access: what wasn’t to love? And thankfully, scores of other music-loving Wichitans shared the sentiment. According to Hartke, selling about 600 passes would have allowed the organizers to break even, so as total attendance reached somewhere between 750-1,000, community interest proved overwhelming. Around 9:30 p.m., I snuck backstage in hopes of a good photo opp. When I turned around, it wasn’t just Split Lip Rayfield jamming on a gas tank that had me cheering; equally as awesome was the sight of the rowdy audience. Stretching from the northern end of Commerce almost all the way down to the Fisch Haus Gallery, their shouts and applause were deafening, and it was clear that LIVfest was a huge success.
Though he claims that plans for next year’s festival won’t begin until August, Hartke has already hinted at a promising 2011 installment. He made no comment about next summer’s lineup, but he did stress the intent to include a greater number of vendors, healthier food options and access to recycling bins. Hartke found inspiration in the considerable turnout of the first annual LIVfest, as well as the waves of positive feedback.
“Wichita has its ups and downs, and sometimes I get down on it just like everyone,” he said. “But this festival proved what this place is made of…I enjoyed it even more than some huge concert with Tom Petty headlining. It was more genuine. It had more passion.”