"Everyone is doing a great job": how to throw a DIY festival, feat. Fauxchella's Conor Alan

"Everyone is doing a great job": how to throw a DIY festival, feat. Fauxchella's Conor Alan

Like many people who maintain an interest in the DIY rock scene, my Twitter cornucopia overflowed with news, pictures and videos from Fauxchella VI this past October. Fauxchella is a music festival series put on by the Summit Shack, a DIY venue / event production / media "conglomerate" out of Bowling Green, Ohio. This year's lineup was dense with kick-ass up-and-coming bands, including some I have seen myself (calicuzns, Kerosene Heights), some I have interviewed (Cheem), and some I have featured on The Alternative's TikTok (Funeral Homes, Molly O'Malley). By all accounts, it looked like an amazing event and I had not a small amount of FOMO for not making it to BG to catch it in person.

One particular post-Fauxchella social media post caught my eye: fest organizer Conor Alan published the festival's line item budget on Twitter, with the caption "dont throw fests if you don't love to do it kids":

Fauxchella 2023's budget

I was dazzled both by the sheer undertaking of the event production and by the transparency of actually sharing the budget. Turns out that transparency is just part of Conor's whole deal as a live event planner. I Zoomed with him to get the inside scoop on what actually goes into planning a fest of this magnitude (three days, two stages, over 60 individual sets) and learned so, so much about the logistics of DIY show organization, from volunteer management to the necessity of walking in circles around a parking lot trying to help bands not get their vans towed. If you have any interest in doing live show production of your own, reading about how Summit Shack pulled off 2023's rendition of Fauxchella will surely be inspirational.

Also before we get into the interview, I must shout out this extensive piece on the prior history of Fauxchella by Taylor Grimes in Swim Into The Sound, published back in April. It provided me with super helpful background info and is also an amazing, comprehensive read. Okay....let's get into it.......

Is there a single word for what you do or are there just many hyphens? Like, how would you define yourself for someone who doesn't know what you're all about?

Are you familiar with JJ from X-Ray Arcade? They do a lot of DIY stuff and bigger venue stuff in Milwaukee. JJ always tweets "I'm just a guy" [laughing] and I kind of resonate with that. For an actual answer....I don't think there is a specific term. I manage a band, I'm an agent for multiple bands independently, we do local shows and promotion through the Shack, we do the fest through the Shack. Also all the video content that we do, Serg On The Street...It's, I don't know..."music guy." I'm in a band too. I've got my toes dipped in a little bit of everything right now.

That's incredible. So I saw you posted the budget, the line items for the fest, and I was blown away, and wanted to talk about festival logistics — what it is actually like, boots on the ground, to throw a live event of this scale. Like I saw the net profit was $250 —

— $150 after wristbands! Because I forgot to put that in the the finalized budget.

But there's also an amazing amount of ticket sales, no advertising budget, a lot of money going in and out...will you talk me through when you're starting to plan a Fauxchella? What do you have to get done in order to get the initial plans laid?

Historically — I know this is a strange answer, but it's just kind of when I'm feelin' it? A lot of times, I've forced myself to get a lot of work done when I'm not in the right mindset to get it done, but when something cool in music happens, it's really easy to ride that wave of motivation, and it compounds.

I usually end up finding a few bands that I really want for it. For [this year's] Faux VI, I was messaging Edgar from Ben Quad about getting the date for the next Fauxchella lined up. I was in a good spot that day, so I texted Ellie [Hart - another person from the Summit Shack crew], I pulled up the Howard's calendar, sent a few messages, and saw, realistically, it was going to be October. Which weekend would work best? Edgar had the Ben Quad tour, so they had to get that squared away for radius clauses. Once we got everything finalized, we settled on the weekend. We were originally doing just the Saturday, but we had always talked about expanding. And I love messaging bands. There's so many new bands that I haven't seen yet, and so many friends have been recommending me bands. I'd fallen out of touch with being present within music, because before Covid, I was hitting it really hard. I'm a very habit-based person, so I had to make music a habit again. Which took some time, 'cause I played a lot of video games over Covid.

I was playing video games for the first time over Covid!

Oh hell yeah.

I learned how to play Mario Kart. Video games felt right for Covid.

Exactly. So yeah, finding the bands, getting their availability. That's anywhere from six to nine months out. And then once I have a few confirmations and I have the dates solidified, then I'll message the bands that I already have booked and be like, Hey, who would you like to play with? I asked Ben Quad and Charmer, who were the Friday headliners, and then ended up getting Dikembe and Jetty Bones, and polled them to see what bands they would like to play with.

Then it's a snowball effect of messaging a band, Hey, we're doing this on this day. Here's the bands that have confirmed. Are you interested in playing? I'd say that most of the time I end up messaging more bands than we have slots for, because I'm fully expecting a bunch of people to say no, and then everyone says yes — not everyone, but way more yeses than I'm anticipating, so I adjust the schedule. In this case I added two more days.

I think we ended up with with...69 performances. Ben Quad and Arcadia Grey played multiple sets and did the battle set. I think it was 60, 65 bands? We had some drops leading up to the fest. I had a list of bands that had expressed interest in playing after I'd got the initial lineup set up, and a number of them ended up being able to hop on the fest. Milk on the Rocks is a local band — a high school band, I think one of them still plays football for Bowling Green High School.

No way.

They volunteered at the festival early on Friday and then went and played their football game, and I was talking to one of the other members of the band and they're like, Hey, if anything else happens this weekend, Milk On The Rocks would love to play. And I was like, That's awesome. You're local, you're here, you've already volunteered. I've talked to you a lot of the day. Cool kids — good band, too. They did an Equipment cover, it was awesome. And kissyourfriends dropped Saturday morning because they didn't feel well and didn't feel comfortable coming down to play a show. I messaged Ellie and I was like, Hey, Ellie, do you have contact info for Milk On The Rocks? I think that was at 10 a.m. and they played the slot at 1 pm. A lot of stuff operates on the fly, and a lot of stuff is eight months in advance.

So the location, at least for the past couple of these, has been Howard's Club H. How has it been partnering with them over the years?

It's been awesome. I've known Kelly, the bartender at Howard's, for years, and Nikki [Cordy], who was the head bartender there in the early days of us booking shows there instead of at the garage. Steve, the owner, I've gotten to know really well over the past few years. Great dude.

The gang had reservations about doing the fest at Howard's the first time, because we liked to do it in the house. It felt like our thing, wholly. But as many horror stories as I've heard over the years of people partnering with venues that end up not working out, Howard's has been a godsend. Steve's been great. Steve usually runs sound, but for Fauxchella VI, we hired two of our own sound people: Jake, the drummer for Equipment, was running main stage audio the entire weekend, and then our good friend Mike, who's the guitarist in my band, ran side stage audio the whole weekend. I think it took a lot of stress off of Steve, because he didn't have to be there. We covered that so he could focus on the bar side of everything.

If shows do well, we give Howard's a cut. If shows don't do well, Steve refuses a cut, so the bands get paid. He's a supremely ethical guy. [Fauxchella] was all ages, which was huge for us. They don't do any surcharges for under 21. It's as good as you could hope for providing a 200- to 300-cap space for a bunch of kids to come see bands they like.

If you're partnering with a bar in terms of the infrastructure, is it something where they have insurance and security? Or is that something that you also have to worry about as the festival organizer?

In terms of security, we've got all the bar staff and then we've got a number of volunteers working different spots: volunteers outside watching the trailer, volunteers inside by the merch area, volunteers at the front door. We've never had any issues, knock on wood, besides random drunk townies — and that's a Howard's thing, you know what I mean? Those people would have been there regardless of the show happening. The people that come out to the shows and the people that come out to the festivals, I think it really stems from the ethos that we built at the Summit Shack.

Ellie manned pit control quite a bit for the fest, essentially making sure that everybody gets picked up. The crowd's so good, if anyone gets knocked down, 17 people all swarm and help pick them up and make sure they're okay. I know people online are just like, Push moshing is for weenies. You gotta kick someone in the head! But I'd rather everyone be safe. Everybody who's in it, gets it. Everyone's super respectful and careful to not severely injure anyone else. Everyone who comes to this fest is great. They're engaged, they're supportive. There's people there for every set, even if there's 65 bands. Every band's playing to at least 100 people every time. It's heartwarming. I can't express how important that energy that everyone brings is. It's 200 to 300 attendees mixed with however many bands are there that day, and all the media there, and the staff and everything. The fact that we've had pretty much no problems is incredible. I don't know if it's luck. I don't know if it's the culture. But I love it.

That's great. The reason why I ask about security is because I feel like we're coming off a summer of larger shows, or shows that are a little bit more based on Internet culture, with people not quite understanding how to act in public. Which I do think is a post-Covid thing.

Yeah. I haven't seen this firsthand. I've only heard about it people that have seen it, or just TikTok. We give a little brochure out to attendees, just like, Hey, if you ever have any issues or anything, text or call these numbers. This is Ellie, this is Conor. We will get you situated and everything handled as quickly as possible. We were supposed to have Damb and JJ and BJ — Damb's the Origami Angel tour manager, JJ works out of Milwaukee doing bigger shows, and BJ is just a long time show attendee — that we wanted to have besides just Ellie and I and Trey, who heads the media crew. Because it's 13 hour days, three days in a row. But JJ broke his foot two-stepping at a hardcore show, which is just still just a really funny story, and a very JJ thing to happen. I feel really bad, but it's pretty funny. And then Damb was TMing the Holy Fawn tour and BJ ended up getting Covid. So we lost all of our admins.

It turns out we were over-preparing, which is good — it's better to be over than under. But all the friends that were there, people who aren't even directly involved with the Shack, but are Shack people because they're close friends of everyone who's involved and come out to shows — they're just the homies, and they were unbelievably helpful the entire weekend. Summerbruise ended up staying the whole weekend, played their set Friday, knew that we had lost our admins and said, "If you need help with anything, ask us." It truly is a community effort.

I feel like I say it every fest: I was rewatching Minechella, the stream fest we did, and I said something along the lines of, "I feel like I do nothing and everyone else does everything." And I said that at Fauxchella VI, I said it at Fauxchella V. I've just been repeating myself for years. But I truly feel like everyone else is doing so much more, just because everyone is so present and helpful and mindful. This wouldn't exist without all the help that we have and all the support that we have, from the most important roles, to people who are there and say, "Hey, if you need anything, let me know." So many times, I don't end up asking any of those people for help. But the fact that they've even expressed it takes so much stress off of the team. It's invaluable.

How many people would you were on the staff slash volunteer slash admin side of things for this particular Fauxchella?

Let me pull up the volunteer sheet...[counting]...18 volunteers? The deal for the volunteers is, if you work three hours at any of the stations, you get an artist pass and you get in free all weekend. It was supposed to be three hours a day, but we had so many volunteers that most people just ended up working a three-hour shift and then got to hang out all weekend, which was great because I don't want to work people to the bone. We've got door help, wristbanding people and giving the attendees their trading card packs; gear help, which usually we try to book people who have been in bands, that get how that side of things works; and then artist check-in, getting the artists their passes.

I was doing traffic outside, because the volume of people was so much higher this year than we were used to. I was in the parking lot, like, "Don't get towed, don't get ticketed, if you park here, get a pass from me, I've got a hundred of them." Only three people got booted. It ended up being, like, 200 bucks to get the cars unbooted, and I didn't want to pass that off to bands. Unexpected cost, but it's fine.

I saw that in the budget. I was like, I need to ask about "towing"...

And we ended up selling leftover Shack merch from years ago. I've always been hesitant to sell merch at the fest because I want people to buy the bands' merch. And people, oh boy, do they buy the bands' merch. Merch sales go crazy at the Fauxchella. It's one of my favorite things. A lot of times the touring bands are getting paid anywhere from $150 to $250 — when there's 60 bands and the budget is what it is, with the cap at what it is, there's only so much wiggle room, and everyone gets that. I try to be as honest and upfront with people as I can when I'm doing the booking. And I think being being upfront and honest is a huge net positive, because everyone's on the same page. No one is confused. Everyone gets how the back end is working.

I very selfishly book a lot of these bands because I love them. Granted, I see one or two songs of each band because I'm just doing laps around Howard's in the parking lot the whole weekend making sure that everything's good. But the bands get to meet each other, too, and especially as the fests have grown bigger, they're from a lot farther away than I ever anticipated. The Losing Score played. They're from the United Kingdom. That's wild.

That IS wild.

Anyway, getting back to your initial question, we had more volunteers than we were ever expecting and people had to work less shifts to enjoy the weekend, which is great. We had Jake and Mike running sound, Ellie and I doing back-end admin stuff. Ian, Tara, Matt, Chance, Trey, Sergey...I'd say 30-some people, all varying degrees of involvement, ranging from just someone who worked three hours as a volunteer to the people who are organizing it all.

Do you have a particular style of people management? That's kind of a weird question, but working with so many people, I'm very curious about if you have any kind of strategy.

Shout out my mom for this one — relentless please and thank you's.


You can never say it enough. My mom always really hammered home when I was growing up to be as polite as possible. All my friends' parents loved me because of that, because I was just that good lil' boy [laughing] I think that's a great thing, to let people know that they are appreciated. You're not just saying, "Hey, can you do this thing?" and then running away. Yeah, I would say: as appreciative as I can be, as flexible as I can be, and as honest as I can be, because that's just the best way to do it. Nobody's confused. Everyone's on the same page. You're telling everyone the same thing. So just honest, appreciative, direct and flexible.

Amazing. Being polite is underrated and it does make people stand out.

I wish I could say it more!

I think my only other question is, what do people maybe not realize goes into throwing a live event like this?

The sheer volume of communication I need to do. As someone who's struggled with shutting down and disappearing for a few days because I'm overwhelmed with either social media or personal life, and knowing that about myself, I have definitely put a lot of mental effort into trying not to do that. Because the difference between getting back to someone in three days and getting back to someone within the hour is night and day. Especially with something that has this many moving pieces. Not only are you communicating with everyone to make sure they're on the same page, the bands, the staff, all the volunteers — you're communicating with each of these bands individually. So you need to be prepared to be messaging, emailing, and calling people a lot. I can only imagine what goes into fests on a larger scale, because while this feels like a lot of moving pieces, this is nothing in the grand scheme of festivals.

Anything you else want to shout out with the festival planning?

I want to shout out the general community, the state of the scene, for lack of a better description. Shit's great right now. Shows are great right now. Vibes are great right now. People are great right now. Wisconsin has come out of nowhere. Wisconsin is insane! The show attendance numbers are wild. Everyone's super supportive. They love their locals. And they should, because the bands are good, the crowd is good, the people working behind the scenes are good. I have nothing but good things to say about Wisconsin. There's a lot of spots in Michigan — Lansing, specifically, The Goblin Zone — doing amazing things right now.

The whole DIY emo Discord thing that came up — that sounds horrible on paper. And I don't think anyone who's involved in this community will bat an eye at me saying that. But it's supportive, it's understanding, it's all inclusive. People love the bands. People share videos with each other. There's a Fauxchella fest chat where people are posting their cards so they can trade with each other. It's people meeting people at other shows and establishing a network of friends in different cities that they can go to shows with. I don't think any anyone expected it to do what it's doing and it's succeeding as good as you could ever hope something like this to go.

Same with the DIY Twitter people. There's discourse — whatever, people want to argue on the internet. It's the internet, it's rage bait. It's not for me, unless I'm very obviously doing a bit, but some people, that's how they spend their time online and that's totally fine. DIY Twitter is in a great spot. People are supportive. People are shouting out bands they love all the time. People from old-school, huge bands. Chris Walla's on Twitter, just talking up young bands all the time. There are all these bands that could very easily not give people the time of day, that are investing heavily into this community right now. The whole thing's going great, you know what I mean? Everyone is doing a great job. Good job, everyone.

That will be the headline quote for this: "Everyone is doing a great job." Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate getting the behind-the-scenes look at this, and hopefully more people will be inspired to do stuff like this.

That's always the goal. I'd love to pass the torch off. I just started getting people helping out with booking Shack shows locally. I got torches to hand!

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