Kaelyn Query had a number in mind when the Moontower Music Festival was inaugurated last year. Specifically, it was 1,200. That was how many concertgoers she was hoping to attract to an event she very much looked at as the beginning of an annual tradition.
"Our goal was 1,200 people and we got 1,122, so we were just shy of what we were hoping for last year," says the owner of LexEffect, the local event management company that initiated Moontower in 2014 and will steer it again as the event's sophomore run gets underway Saturday. (LexEffect will also manage bookings at the new Manchester Music Hall at the former Buster's location when it opens next month). "It's a learning experience as you grow. But it was really nice to see the community get behind us."
This weekend's Moontower return boasts many changes — a new venue (from Equus Run Vineyards in Midway to Masterson Station Park in Lexington), a new summer time slot (from mid July to late August), and an enlarged concert lineup (from eight acts last year to 18 this weekend).
Despite the modifications, one element will remain unchanged: the festival's headliner. The Nashville-based prog-pop troupe Moon Taxi will return to cap the performance bill of national, regional and local artists again this year. While booking the same headliner two years in a row isn't exactly standard operating procedure for a music festival, especially one as young as Moontower, Query said the decision for the Moon Taxi encore was essentially made for her.
"We kind of let the audience dictate that. Part of what we asked in our survey (of 2014 patrons) was 'Who would you like to see? Who would you like to have back?' A lot of people put Moon Taxi on there again, so we had them back. I don't know if we'll have them back next year, but you never know. Everybody really enjoyed them last year."
Moving Moontower to a late summer time slot, though, was definitely part of the strategy for the festival's second outing. Query wanted to situate Moontower so it could attract part of the student population traditionally absent from Lexington in June and July. She also wanted to distance it from another popular summer festival.
"Last year, we were the week after Forecastle (Louisville's nationally recognized, weekend-long summer music gathering)," she says. "That helped, but it also hurt. People were in that festival mindset. But Forecastle has been around a lot longer. If somebody is only able to go to one entertainment event a month and they have already been to Forecastle, they're not going to be able to turn around the next weekend and go to our event.
"August seems to be a pretty good alternative, as far as scheduling went. It's not a big, big month for festivals in our area, so we thought it would be a nice to get just a little distance from Forecastle so that people who wanted to go had the opportunity."
Of course, the key to sustainability of any kind of event is recognition. Query says Moontower still has a way to go to match the awareness of other festivals in Lexington and around the region staged during summer. But she is both pleased with the identity Moontower has already created for itself and hopeful that visibility surrounding the event will continue to expand in coming years.
"It definitely takes several years to get something like this to the point where you can say 'Moontower' and people know what you're talking about," she says. "We find people, more and more, know what we're about, but it's still a process. I think we're still a couple of years away from saying 'Moontower Music Festival' and having people automatically know us like they do with Forecastle or Bonnaroo.
"No matter how the word of mouth is, though, we still want this to be an event that is very supportive of local bands, local vendors, local companies and local people. We want to stay true to that and support those people who supported us. We will always want to maintain that feel."