Durham will double the volume of its music festival market in 2016.
Moogfest—a multi-day event meant to explore the connection between technology, sound and creativity—will move to the Bull City after a troubled four-year stint in Asheville. The event will debut in Durham May 19–22, only two weeks after the city's jazz-and-soul festival, Art of Cool, hosts its third run in many of the same downtown rooms Moogfest could use. Organizers will begin announcing the lineup in October and will host at least three festivals in Durham, spread over as many as six years.
"Moogfest was looking to strengthen the technology side of the festival. They are internationally known for their music, of course, but they wanted to accelerate their technology," Casey Steinbacher, the president and CEO of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, said Monday, ahead of Tuesday's official announcement. "Once they understood there was a really strong technology and innovation culture in Durham, they knew it matched well with what they were trying to accomplish."
Moog Music is based in Asheville, and late founder and electronics pioneer Bob Moog is buried there. Moogfest began as a rather modest niche event in New York a decade ago but relocated to Asheville in 2010 with the help of AC Entertainment, the Knoxville-based company that co-produces Bonnaroo. After three years, Moog Music and AC Entertainment parted ways, compelling Moog to rebuild the festival on its own in April 2014—and soon, to begin considering Durham as its new home.
Moogfest 2014 featured Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder, Just Blaze and nearly 100 more electronic acts. The New York Times called it "an outpouring of what music technology can do best." But it lost more than $1.5 million on a budget of more than $2.7 million. Less than two months after the festival, the Buncombe County Culture and Recreation Authority unanimously voted not to consider Moogfest's grant application for another $250,000.
"It's a huge blow to Asheville, because it energized downtown like no other event in recent years," says Jason Sandford, the founder of the popular Asheville news blog ashvegas.com. "When Moogfest didn't get that support, I'm assuming they went looking for where they might find some more support."
Emmy Parker, Moog's brand director, says those county funds weren't a deal breaker in the company's decision to move the festival. But the Triangle's technology companies—and the way they could help fund and profit from Moogfest—helped lure the festival down from the mountains.
"As far as the community of people that naturally stand to benefit from sponsoring Moogfest, there is no doubt that there are way more of those people in Durham than Asheville," Parker says. "If you want to do an event that is geared toward benefitting the community, that community has got to be able to stand on that platform and shine. There aren't enough companies in Asheville yet to support something like this."
Though Durham will offer Moogfest more tech opportunities, the new landscape will present some familiar challenges, too: First, organizers have to raise a significant amount of money. In the past, the festival relied on a combination of prominent corporate sponsorships and municipal cash and services to help foot the bill. The Durham City Council has yet to address the issue—it's on summer break—and the city's current budget, already the subject of a worrisome shortfall, allocates no money for it.
Instead, Moogfest will try to tap the collective wealth of the Triangle's technology companies for sponsorships, an effort spearheaded by the Chamber of Commerce. A committee that includes representatives from institutions such as Duke, Research Triangle Park, American Tobacco Campus and Downtown Durham, Inc., will also serve as introductory emissaries between Moogfest and local businesses.
Steinbacher said Monday that Moogfest's financial needs remained in flux, and she would not rule out the idea that the Chamber of Commerce would eventually contribute. But the hope is to find area companies whose brand will get a boost from Moogfest's tech-centric platform and to use the event to help foster a Durham that attracts a creative workforce.
"We will be working to help open doors to talk to as many people as possible in order to engage all of Durham and financially secure the kind of event we want to have," Steinbacher said. "It really is about creating a sustainable community that brings young talents to Durham."
They'll also need to find enough rooms to program. Downtown Durham has only four consistent music venues that seem like a quick fit for Moogfest—the clubs Motorco and The Pinhook and the much larger auditoriums Carolina Theatre and DPAC. According to festival director Marisa Brickman, Moogfest used at least 18 Asheville locations in 2014. The tally suggests Moogfest may need a mix of less-conventional settings (like the Durham Armory, which Art of Cool also uses) or more distant rooms, such as The Shed Jazz Club at Golden Belt.
"We don't have a lot of music venues, and for a festival of that size, that will be a lot more challenging. That is already the concern for Art of Cool," says Cicely Mitchell, Art of Cool's cofounder. "We don't have an amphitheater, like Red Hat in Raleigh, that's hooked up for concerts. "
The less tangible challenge for Moogfest is establishing a spirit of cooperation with area festivals predominately built by local fans like Mitchell, but not buoyed by large government grants or local organizing committees. Moogfest's Anderson said that Mitchell was one of the first people she met when she arrived in Durham, and that they've already started to share industry connections. To that end, Moogfest, Art of Cool and Raleigh's Hopscotch will co-present a concert in early August in Durham.
For Mitchell, Moogfest's larger size and resource pool could reiterate the homegrown nature of Art of Cool's offerings, distinguishing the two so they can coexist in the same season.
"My hope," Mitchell says, "is that all boats will float with this announcement, and that the spotlight will shine on our music scene and what's happening in Durham in the spring."
Though Durham has not yet allocated funds for Moogfest, council member Don Moffitt says he anticipates City Council will back the festival. The city already supports several such events. This year's budget, for instance, allocates $55,000 to Full Frame, $36,000 to American Dance Festival and $5,000 to both Art of Cool and the Bull Durham Blues Festival. Based on Moogfest's established brand and its previous attendance numbers, estimated as high as 25,000, Moffitt speculates the city's contribution would be on the high side of that range.
"It is the perfect fit for the technically savvy new generation of entrepreneurs we've been encouraging," Moffitt says. "It's a perfect fit for Durham."