LouFest founder talks festival expansion, backstory
As part of this growth, organizers partnered with C3 Presents, the company behind festival giants like Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits, and added a new third stage. For the first time, acts on different stages will be playing simultaneously.
“The initial vision was to create a destination festival—something that would bring people to St. Louis from across the country, and to get to that point, you need a certain capacity,” Cohen said. “You need a certain number of stages and lineup of a certain size. The partnership with C3 was to get us one step closer to that.”
Cohen, who is a media specialist and instructor in the Washington University Department of Education and had no previous background in the music industry or promotion, founded LouFest in 2009 when he realized that St. Louis needed its own festival and it became clear that he would have to be the one for the job.
“I’ve lived in other cities that have had great music festivals, so as soon as I moved here, I felt that void,” he commented. “For a few years, I waited for someone else to do it. When it looked like that wasn’t going to happen, that’s when I had an opportunity to throw my hat in the ring and gave it a shot. At the end of the day, it was about me wanting to live in a city with a great music festival.”
And to Cohen, the city is an integral part of LouFest. He noted that keeping local bands on the lineup was a crucial factor in the planning process, with St. Louis-based acts like Kentucky Knife Fight opening the Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) stage and Wilco, whose origins lie just across the river in Illinois, headlining on Saturday night.
Additionally, local merchants will have stalls to sell their wares in the festival’s Market Square; hungry fans will find menu offerings from favorites like Mission Taco and Local Harvest in the cleverly named Nosh Pit, and the generic food stalls that occupy most modern festivals these days are noticeably absent.
Another crucial factor in the expansion of LouFest is the brand new date. The event will now be held on the weekend of Sept. 7-8, two weeks after the spot it had previously occupied the past three years. It is a decision that Cohen said was particularly based on the college demographic, as previously LouFest was held over the same weekend as move-in and freshman orientation for several area colleges (including Washington University), which meant that a large part of its prospective audience just couldn’t find the time to make it into Forest Park. Although Cohen initially thought that students could figure out a way to make it work, he acknowledged that organizers realized it just wasn’t happening.
Changing the date is all a part of the learning curve of running a music festival, which Cohen noted has been steep, especially for someone who was completely new to the business when he founded LouFest, and will only grow as the event becomes bigger and more factors come into play. At its heart, however, the process for building LouFest has been simple, Cohen said.
“What we do and what we continually do is we visit other festivals, and we make lists of what we like and what we don’t like. And then we try to keep out what we don’t like,” Cohen said.
However, the new stage and larger size won’t affect LouFest’s home base. It will still be held in Central Field in Forest Park, also the home of the annual Great Forest Park Balloon Race, which is commonly known as Balloon Glow. Instead of moving, organizers have decided to push back the boundaries, nestling the BMI stage back into the trees surrounding the edge of the field to create a more intimate and atmospheric live experience.
It’s the unique ability to see a band in an outdoor setting along with thousands of other people that Cohen said is one of his favorite parts of the festival experience.
“There’s something about being outside,” he said. “There’s something about being in an environment like Forest Park; it’s just so beautiful and so conducive to something like this.”
Cohen’s passion for festivals and live music fueled his initial decision to found LouFest, and that same love and perspective translates into the festival and how he hopes to continue to shape LouFest going forward.
“When I walk around the event, it really feels like an event that was produced from a fan’s perspective, and that was the goal,” Cohen said.
With a unique founding story and clear goals for the festival, LouFest promises to offer fans more than just its killer lineup, although Cohen knows that that is the main draw.
“There’s great music—that’s at the heart of what we do, but the experience that we’re able to create is something that’s special,” he said.
With a larger and more diverse schedule, a new date and a focus on constant improvement and expansion, LouFest will be a can’t-miss event, especially for students with such easy access to this unique and exciting festival. It’s definitely one for the Wash. U. bucket list.
LouFest will be held in Forest Park on Sept. 7-8. Two-day general admission passes are still on sale and can be bought for $95.