The first year for any large-scale music festival is probably the toughest. Everyone knows LEAF, people have heard of Flat Rock, even Trinumeral has been around. But what about a startup?
“The biggest challenge has been getting people to know the festival even exists,” says Loki Music Festival founder Jack Ballard. “It’s difficult getting the name out in front of people.”
And what about when your so-called mystery headliner bows out at the last minute? Ballard had scheduled wry alt-rockers Cake as the secret headliners. That secret was revealed last month, then Cake pulled out the first week of October – about a week before Loki, Ballard says.
“The band had some personal stuff and some business stuff that went awry,” he says. “We’ve been working with them for six months. They had confirmed, then stopped, then confirmed, then bailed. We decided it would be a better situation to have them not on the lineup.”
He’s quick to reassure they’ve been replaced by another mystery headliner, but this time, he’s not saying who it is until Friday.
Ballard notes that all the other parts of the festival, which launches this weekend at Deerfields retreat just south of Asheville, have been relatively easy. He chalks that up to a team of festival promoters and organizers he put together to ensure that Loki’s maiden voyage into the increasingly turbulent waters of the live-music-festival ocean were as smooth as possible.
Without much in the way of name recognition, the big gamble is making sure that the first impression counts. He’s trying to brand Loki as a different kind of music festival—more intimate than something like Bonnaroo—but with the same level of performers.
“From talking to people over the years, I’ve gotten the idea that people are looking for a more intimate style of venue and festival,” Ballard explains. “There are festivals—like Jam Cruise, for instance—that allow for more up-close-and-personal attention. You’re not in a field with 40,000 people hoping you can see the band. You’re up right next to them, and you can really see and hear the music.”
There’s also another theme to Loki—one fitting the name.
“(The festival is named for) Loki the Norse god of mischief,” Ballard explains. “He’s a shapeshifter. It’s getting close to Halloween, so we’re also going for that masquerade and voodoo kind of feeling. We also have a masquerade ball, and you’ll see people out in crazy outfits. We’re trying to make it so that when you walk in the door, you are shocked and surprised by everything you see.”
But festivalgoers aren’t likely to associate the festival’s experience with the frozen climes of Scandinavia. With a performer lineup partially culled from the New Orleans funk and jazz scene, the festival almost seems like a short-lived Bourbon Street in the woods. Add to that a collection of jam-friendly bands—Col. Bruce Hampton & The Quark Alliance, Larry Keel and Natural Bridge, George Clinton—and less jammy, but fitting acts—like Toots & the Maytals, Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra and Robert Walter Trio—and you can almost see the vision for the festival’s booking.
Even the addition of headlining act The Roots, a Philadelphia-based hip-hop band known for outstanding live shows and jazzy instrumentation, didn’t seem too far from the rest of the bill.
Meantime, Ballard offers this hint about the new headliner: “The only thing I can say is this group, the person who leads this group is very famous in the festival and music scene, and has never played with this group before.”
[Steve Shanafelt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. A&E editor Rebecca Sulock contributed.]
what: Loki Music Festival
where: Deerfields, in Mills River
when: Friday, Oct. 10, through Sunday, Oct. 12. (Tickets are $145, with some discounts and package deals available. www.lokifestival.com or e-mail email@example.com.)