Growth is the key to any enterprise, any business endeavor. For arts related events, especially ones that struggle to attain even an initial audience base, it’s integral.
So what happens when a festival like the Moonshiner’s Ball says that it wants to steady its growth a bit going into its third year? Travis Young, the event’s chief organizer and a member of the host band Blind Corn Liquor Pickers, is eager for bigger audience numbers. But after crowd sizes doubled last year, he hopes to achieve a level of progress that lets the Moonshiner’s Ball grow in tandem with its audience.
“We found last year that with doubling the attendance come unforeseen challenges,” Young said. “As the population of your festival grows, it reaches a little further away from people you personally vetted, your networks of close friends as well as friends of close friends. We just felt we needed to have a little bit better of a system in place, so this year we’re not quite so aggressive when it comes to growing.”
Last year’s attendance wasfairly modest — about 900 — when compared to the stereotypical masses one normally imagines flooding to a music festival. But the Moonshiner’s Ball was designed as a comparatively intimate affair, with local and regional acts dominating the bill over national headliners. Also, the festival worked with a budget as modest as its intent. Yet the 900 patrons who showed up last year doubled the size of the crowd that inaugurated the event in 2014.
What interests me is a festival that you go to not because you know all the bands, but where you trust that the festival will expose you to bands that you’re going to enjoy.
Travis Young, Moonshiner’s Ball chief organizer
“Having said all this, we want to still be growing at a pace of about 50 percent, so we’re going for 1,200 people rather than the 900 we had last year,” Young said. “We raised the ticket price a little bit this time because we are spending quite a bit more, which is reflected in the caliber of the performers we have this year. I think we’ve raised the bar again in the acts we’re bringing in. We also have our second stage running throughout the day now. That’s allowed us to have more bands on the bill. We’ve done some things structurally to improve the experience. Our third stage, the late-night stage, has some additional sound and lighting, so we’re actually going to present bands there this year and not just have it be a DJ thing.
“But we also didn’t even have a security team out there the first two years. This is actually the first year we’ve hired one. That really eases my mind a lot. We also have a proper first aid tent that will be manned around the clock by volunteers. We’re just at a point now where we’re addressing things that really haven’t crossed our minds when we started with just our friends and a few bands out in a field.”
So how much growth constitutes good growth for a festival with such homegrown intent as the Moonshiner’s Ball? Young isn’t worrying about any kind of cap or cutoff for the audience size. He just wants to it to grow at a rate that he and the event’s production team can keep pace with.
“What I would eventually like to get it to is maybe 4,000 or 5,000 people, but I don’t necessarily want to get there overnight,” Young said. “That’s one of the reasons we want to be less aggressive about growing it this year. We want to make sure we have the experience right. We want to deal with every problem quickly and to the best of our ability. But I don’t really have the vision of this being a festival that eventually becomes about a lot of massive names. That isn’t really what I’m interested in.
We really try to present a community of artists and musicians from this state. Eventually, we hope to have the money to bring all of Kentucky’s best every time.
Travis Young, Moonshiner’s Ball chief organizer
“What interests me is a festival that you go to not because you know all the bands, but where you trust that the festival will expose you to bands that you’re going to enjoy. It’s a novel idea: Keep the numbers smaller and make the experience primo for everyone. Don’t let it turn into a field full of crazy people. Keep it small enough to where by the end of the weekend, people will get to feel like they know the other people there. But we still want to bring in people that wouldn’t necessarily come through there otherwise and then pair them with the great music of the state. That’s what we want to continue to do. But we love looking for those great bands you haven’t heard of yet and then bring them in here.”
Such thinking also helps explains the overall community feel of the Moonshiner’s Ball, one that extends to the artists performing there as well as to the audiences.
“That’s definitely the intention of the festival,” Young said. “We really try to present a community of artists and musicians from this state. Eventually, we hope to have the money to bring all of Kentucky’s best every time; people like Daniel Martin Moore and Joan Shelley. We would want to get them every year. But they have other tours and at this point in the game, we can’t afford all of them every time. But eventually, if we could do that, that would be the ideal.
“That would be true for the festival-goers as well. What we see happening with Moonshiner’s Ball, and I think this is probably true with a lot of festivals, but it’s especially true with this one, is growing from the inside out. I can basically pinpoint each ticket sale to little communities that have formed within our campgrounds. So the people who came originally bring more people with them the next time they come. Those little communities grow as a result each year. It’s that bunch of little communities within the festival that make up a larger community.”