A never-ending debate has loomed large for years: does Columbus need a “major music festival” to put it on the proverbial “map?”
Last I checked, our city was on the “map,” but yet, despite several failed attempts to create something on the level of the next Coachella or Bonnaroo, a “major music festival”—with A-list artists from multiple genres, for whom there is a palpable excitement—has been elusive. Exactly what constitutes such an event is always up for argument as well, but PromoWest Productions founder Scott Stienecker seems as good a person as any to lead Columbus audiences into that promised land.
When the inaugural PromoWest Fest kicks off later this month, Stienecker will be nearing almost 40 years in the industry. While many may take the PromoWest machine for granted, Stienecker’s independent empire was built from the ground floor featuring plenty of iconic milestones leading up to what it is today. In 1983, his journey here began when he purchased the Agora Ballroom and re-opened as the Newport Music Hall—currently, the longest continually running rock club in America. Polaris Amphitheater (later Germain), launched in 1994, may now be a relic, but was once a beacon for larger-than-life tours and open-air entertainment. Stienecker’s most sustainable triumph of the last decade though has come with his Neil Avenue compound, which includes Express Live!, The Basement, and the A&R Music Bar, cementing Columbus as a permanent stop for prominent bands, rather than being dismissed as fly-over country. When he took on the daily operations of Cincinnati’s successful Bunbury Festival in 2014, the next logical step was to bring the same experience to the city where PromoWest began.
One measure of success for PromoWest has been the variety of talent it has secured over the years. Be it indie-darlings like Neutral Milk Hotel, or hip-hop giants like Kendrick Lamar, few music fans can feel left out. The PromoWest Fest is emblematic of that mix, boasting over 30 acts as huge as Modest Mouse and Snoop Dogg, under-the-radar artists like AlunaGeorge and Moon Taxi, and even locals on the cusp of national attention like Forest and the Evergreens and the Worn Flints.
I recently spoke with Stienecker about the launch and what it takes to compete with other cities who already lay claim to those coveted “major music festivals.”
What was the impetus for PromoWest Fest and how did you get the ball rolling?
Three years ago I met with Brian Ellis of NRI and talked about doing a festival in the Arena District. Then we got sidetracked when we purchased the Bunbury Music Festival in Cincinnati back in 2014. After our first year of Bunbury in 2015 Ellis and Brian Ross of Experience Columbus met with us and asked, can you do a Bunbury type festival in Columbus. We said “yes.”
Hence, PromoWest Fest.
It seems like you’ve made the Bunbury Festival in Cincinnati hugely successful since taking over these past two years. To what do you owe that success and how do you translate that to what you’ll be doing in Columbus with PromoWest Fest?
It’s largely driven by the ability to land the acts and the sponsors. Bunbury was close to 50,000 attendees this year. Our goal for the first year of PromoWest Fest is between 30,000–40,000 attendees.
It’s hard to fathom that PromoWest is an “independent” company, given the scope and profile of the concerts you’ve brought to Columbus. Does that designation stunt your vision at all or prevent you from doing even more large scale events like this?
We are definitely an independent company—but that doesn’t stop us from needing to grow. Competition is always present from the big corporate players.
You’ve been in the industry for almost 40 years now. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the concert-going public?
The concert-going public tells us through social media what they want to see. Radio used to be the main driving force behind what people wanted to see. Now there are so many social media avenues.
Anyone in the line-up you’re most excited to see?
The first PromoWest Fest will take place July 15-17 in the Arena District. Visit promowestfest.com for tickets and a complete line-up.