In what could only be described as a perfectly resonant cultural expression of the times we live in today, the interwebs gleefully reported a few weeks ago the arrest of Billy McFarland, the A-list schmooze huckster who promoted the now legendarily disastrous Fyre Festival, on charges of wire fraud. Reports that the fast-livin’ McFarland — who had been hyping the Fyre experience as a watershed gathering of mythic rich-millennial indulgence on a private island in the Bahamas, replete with big money celebs and underwear model-perfect hardbodies — was blowing all his advance-ticket money on hot babes, private jets and metabolism enhancers, and eventually it caught up to him. Packaged and sold with flashy social media trappings and towering mendacity, the promises would simply prevail triumphant over the details.
Tierro Lee, producer and co-founder of the Arise Festival and a guy who lives deep in the tangled mechanics of festival-staging details, couldn’t resist a chuckle when asked about the Fyre debacle, even if he seemed to chalk it up to insufficient planning and rookie mistakes.
“That was just an embarrassment,” he says. “Here’s the thing: it is a challenge to organize the amount of people and the amount of equipment necessary to do this. The Arise Festival is very blessed to have Paul Bassis on one side of this, who’s been doing it for 25 years, and on the other hand me … I’m of the opinion that you can do nothing too far in advance. We do things so far in advance — we’re already making plans for next year.
“So, as long as you keep that wisdom and that pre-planning ethic, it’ll work.”
Arise turns 5 years old this year, almost old enough (as someone remarked) to be out on its own. Kidding aside, mounting and sustaining a sizeable multi-day arts festival, establishing a reputation in the ever-burgeoning music- and arts-festival scene, and keeping professionals and volunteers alike committed to the vision, as well as committed to the details, is no easy feat.
Lee says hitting five is crossing an important threshold. Even in a festival-rich market, Arise is securing top talent.
“There are a lot of steps in reaching out to those acts and making sure that Arise is on their radar,” Lee says. “And we’re learning how to do that further and further in advance, every year.
“And I’d say that we’ve gotten enough attention so that, when we reach out to artists, they return our call. I wouldn’t say that [was] so much the case in year one, or year two. But now that we’ve been around for five years, and that the intent of the festival, and the style of the festival is getting across, it’s a lot easier to get some of these national acts.
“And I would say also that [headliner] Ani DiFranco was very excited about being on the same bill as Tipper, as well as the same bill as Rising Appalachia. She was happy to get the call, and we’re really happy to have her.”
Anyone would be, but maybe The Righteous Babe is the right headliner for These Times. Arise is invested many ways deep in progressive values around social justice, community empowerment and environmental sustainability. Based as it is around issues and attitudes and lifestyle markers familiar and friendly to a progressive audience, in some ways the festival as a social statement was coasting downwind with a reliably sympathetic audience… some of which, in 2017, may feel a little more current on the wire these days, searching for more kinetics at a time when those values are being routinely marginalized and foreclosed from on high.
So, in times like these, does Arise need to be a little aggressive in its political texture?
“Someone asked me the other day a similar question,” Lee says, “and I hadn’t really thought about it until then. I think that the [purpose] of an event like Arise is that it’s more than a concert, more than an arts fair, more than a marketplace. It’s an expression of the current culture, or at the very least an opportunity for artistic expression, and artistic expression often mirrors what’s going in the cultural stew.
“And I think, in a Trump age, people can use this experience more than ever,” he says. “People want to talk to each other, they want to hear from each other, they want to get out of their individual bubbles and let the ideas flow across all these boundaries.”
Still, this is not an event where you’re likely to encounter a lot of Breitbart comments-section types, diehard Trump supporters or Confederate flag wavers. Can an event like this bridge the social divide that seems to yawn deeper and be less navigable now more than ever? Or is this just the same bubble, drawn larger?
“That’s an interesting question, and I think we will see,” Lee admits. “One of the things that have propelled me to manage these types of gatherings over the past 20 years is meeting all kinds of people along the way. … I have a guy who works with us, he’s ex-military. And now he’s running one of the support groups for men at the Arise Wisdom Village. Real positivity, real healthy.
“So, I think you gotta have your arms open wide enough. So I do hope and I do believe that we’ll reach all kinds of folks across these lines, including the political ones.”
On the Bill: ARISE Music Festival — with Atmosphere, Tipper, Lettuce, Beats Antique, Ani DiFranco, Rising Appalachia and others. August 4-6, Sunrise Ranch, Loveland, 100 Sunrise Ranch Road, 970-679-4200.