Sunday evening my wife and I returned home from our annual pilgrimage to Audiofeed Music Festival in central Illinois. If you’ve found your way to this blog, I’m going to assume that you’re somewhat familiar with the fest. Audiofeed is great for music and spending time outdoors (lol high-90s heat index and violent rainstorms) but the conversations I have with friends and strangers are so valuable to me. Each year we have the pleasure of hosting a DIY Facilitator round-table discussion where folks involved with hosting bands, feeding artists, setting up shows, etc get together and talk about all sorts of associated topics like recipes, soundproofing materials, show curation, cops, and neighbors. One main goal is to connect the islands of individuals doing similar work in places around the country, and also to expose people who would like to get involved to a wealth of knowledge and experience.
The question that steered the conversation this year was ‘how can we do the thing better?’ Many of us have solutions to the basic needs of the artists and community; we can throw shows, we have places bands can sleep, we can cook a meal for them. It takes special care and attention to take a step back and think critically about what we’re doing and ask how we can do it better. How can we act with more integrity? How can we improve the experience of the community? How can we better serve the artists? Rather than take a copy-and-paste approach to our contributions, we discussed how we can push forward and address these questions.
The difficult step to take is turning attention from celebration after working so hard to accomplish something, and turn to being critical on what didn’t go well and what could be better, engaging imagination on how it might improve. There are people willing to re-imagine from scratch, to unknow everything they know about a show and rebuild it from the ground up addressing every difficult opportunity to improve.
I’ve been so encouraged by the dedication of people around me to take this sort of critical look-back, I can’t help but share with you. At the 2019 installation of the Riverlights Music Festival in South Bend, IN we successfully implemented a recycling program for the first time, only by the combined efforts of volunteers willing to dedicate resources to making it happen. It seems Audiofeed did something similar this year as I noticed recycling containers around the grounds for the first time this year. I learned about a band member who offers oil-changes for touring bands passing through his home-town. The folks surrounding The Radon Lounge in Springfield, Il have stepped up their food game providing garden-grown vegetables from their backyard to passing artists. Nat from House Fitzgerald in South Bend taught us a lesson about engaging the neighbors of our venues in conversation and consideration. That just begins the list of ways that people are investing in the long-term viability and sustainability of the DIY art scene.
I get excited when I see how many people are not simply happy with repeating the successful thing over and over in the same way and relying on the good results of the past, but taking time to celebrate a job well done but then dig in to work on doing better in the future. After the album is released, or the show is over, or the festival is wrapped up, we have to dig deep and be nit-picky. Get uncomfortable and consider the points of view of folks who do not think like us or experience things like us. Engage with people who disagree with us on how things should or could be done. Challenge yourself to re-imagine the format and the content.