You can’t really call Independents’ Day the festival that “could.”
It’s the festival that just “did.”
Personal checks, credit cards, a massive amount of volunteer labor, and sheer creative will launched what has now become one of Columbus’s signature events.
What started as an attempt to put some shine on a neglected Downtown quickly became a showcase for an emerging city—a collection of artists and musicians and vendors and a true celebration of the city, by the city.
From the beginning, it was different from your average fest—sure, there were sponsors and vendors and all that, but it felt like… ours.
Accessible, inclusive, and put on to the public with wink-wink spirit that challenged itself to evolve, Independents’ Day is essentially every out-of-market “yay Columbus!” op-ed piece rolled into one living presentation.
And now… it’s going away.
The ID team insists that the festival’s spirit will live on—that while the ID as we know it won’t be an assumed annual, it won’t simply disappear, but instead take on a different shape.
So before they take their final bow (9.16-9.17), (614) wanted to put the proper stamp on the end of an era—not just for the festival, but for a decade of creative evolution in Columbus that has redefined our city’s culture.
The following folks are the ones tapping the beer, booking the bands, putting up tents—the “captains” of what has become a cultural gift to the city. This is ID’s evolution and its encore—in its own words.
2013 Captain Alexis Perrone:
That last year on Gay Street  and the move to three days was a watershed year. We tucked part of the festival into Pearl Alley for Friday, exploded onto Gay Street for Saturday, and collapsed back into Pearl Alley for a jazz brunch on Sunday. There were logistics issues, weather issues, fighting with some of the neighbors, and the constant swelling of the crowd on Saturday. That was also the last year where we still had to escort cars from the parking garage in and out of the festival. Can you imagine now trying to get a permit for a festival, but one of the stipulations being you have to allow traffic to drive through parts of it? Gay Street had been our home, where this thing was born and grew, but that was the year I think we all knew we couldn’t go back again. It was time to expand.
Goodbye, Gay Street. For ID, 2014 was like trying to find a new house for a family that had tripled in size. What other area in Columbus would be able to handle a scaleable festival—a neighborhood fueled by independent DIY weirdness, and one that could also handle an ever-evolving festival’s needs? Well, there is this place on the other side of the river… Still, even the ID crew wasn’t completely sold on the idea that they could make magic happen elsewhere.
2015 Captain James Allison:
The move to Franklinton was really big. I think I came into the fold the second or third year of the festival in the music committee, and worked my way up to being in charge of that committee in year seven. I was so excited to finally be leading something in the festival, and simultaneously totally let down when I came to the retreat and the decision was made to move out of Downtown. In my head, the identity of the festival was rooted in that location. But that perception was exactly why we needed to leave, and the move turned out to be the best possible thing for us. This festival is way more about the people and ideas involved than its location, and moving forward—even its format.
Current Captain Shelley Mann:
The year we moved to Franklinton, everyone kinda freaked out. I think we all secretly wondered whether everyone would still show up. (Maybe that was just me…) But by about 3 p.m. on Saturday, there were already huge crowds of people—a lot more than we’d typically have that early in the day. I remember thinking, “This is working.” That year was the first year where the crowds came out on Sunday, too, and it really felt like a true two-day festival.
2014 Captain Shea Scott:
I didn’t believe Mike and Adam when they assured us people would actually come to the area. The footprint was huge and we were worried that it would look empty no matter how large the crowd was—I was wrong. The festival already felt pretty “big” downtown, but the move brought a noticeable increase in festival-goers. I remember being really surprised by the amount of people hanging out in Land-Grant; they didn’t have a license to sell alcohol yet. The building was packed just from people buying water.
Franklinton was, in fact, a revelation—a perfect, timely combination of an arts-minded neighborhood and an artfully crafted festival merging. It felt like Independents’ Day growing up along with the city around it. And “growing up” wasn’t just discovering how to bring more people out to party, it was learning how to bring out different kinds of folks. The second year in FTON saw the invent of kID, run by Ashley Baker—a festival within a festival for kids and parents. “Festival within a festival” also applied to an increased presence of street art and hip-hop—something that would find its own spin-off in the now annual 2×2 Hip-Hop Festival run by Josh Miller.
The next year, we added kID and Ashley Baker built a festival within a festival for kids and families. That was important because we started thinking about the festival audience as bigger than just your typical music fest crowd. Before that, we’d always laugh when people asked where they could buy something to drink other than a beer because we just never remembered to plan for people who don’t drink alcohol. For awhile I was the only person on the planning committee with a kid and I ran food and drink, and I’d still forget about the fact that people might want a lemonade or a coffee.
Adam and Dodson noticed a lack of diversity and worked exceptionally hard to incorporate the greater community. They did awesome things like partner with Creative Control Fest to create mini events. Adam went to the point of adding an associate artistic director whose role greatly became teaching us what we did not know about what we did not know. We have always been an open, smart event, but their efforts in 2015 made us so much better.
ID now had a robust list of sponsors and community partners pulling off the fest—not to mention cooperative and collaborative neighbors. The music lineup—which a few years prior had featured what is now one of the biggest bands in the world, Twenty One Pilots—now resembled a modern festival lineup, placing Columbus bands with national rep on display. 2015 saw the reunion of RJD2 and Blueprint’s Soul Position outfit, and members of “Super”seneca’s Sunday spotlight felt like a coronation. Then, in 2016, ID tried to top itself—which could be argued is partially why this year will be the last of its current iteration.
For me, each year I have a moment where I remove myself from my duties, stand back and just let myself take in the scene. I ask myself how we got here, where we are going, and think about all the people who contribute time and energy. Two specific times this happened, that really clicked for me. One was in the fourth year, when I was least involved in the organizing in an attempt to step back and see how it worked without me. I remember coming to the festival and being inspired that the event had a life of its own… and that it had nothing to do with me. I loved that. It made me want to be involved all over again. The second time was after months of arguing about whether a move to Franklinton would work, and the subsequent online hating and people saying it would never work out of downtown. There was a time during that first day of the seventh year, sitting with Shea in the golf cart, high-fiving each other, realizing that a group of dedicated people with a focused purpose can make anything happen anywhere.
For all the years I’ve been involved in the festival, I’ve never really “been” to the festival. When you are there, you are working. Hauling kegs, crawling under beer trucks to empty overflow pans, picking up trash, loading in bands, checking in volunteers…
You catch these moments of the festival where you see a band giving their all to the crowd or an amazing art piece and you can see the magic of the thing—but you’re not really in it. Last year, I decided to watch all of Miranda Sound’s set. Jacob Wooten and I abandoned our posts and for one whole set watched our favorite band together in a field full of people while the sun set. I could totally feel the spirit and the magic of all the great things about this festival.
2011 Captain Jacob Wooten:
I first joined in on the action in 2009. I had never been a part of something this huge before. I loved where everyone’s hearts were—no one was there for themselves. We all had our eyes on something much bigger. I’ve loved every single second of it. The problem is that I hardly remember any of the events that took place. The moment I step onto the festival footprint, I black out and just start working. ID has never been about any of the individuals involved, it is about cultivating culture and throwing the city one hell of a party.
The ID group is a weird little family. My first year at ID was year four and I helped park cars. The group embraced me even though I was like 20 and a broke college student. They let me become the Music Committee Chair for our last year downtown. I’m not sure that I had ever booked a band before. The entire committee came together as a team, pooled resources, and created an amazing line up. It was really special to see the stages running perfectly with huge crowds enjoying themselves.
When we could not decide when to hold the festival because every weekend had an awesome creative festival competing for it, we knew we did a good job. Now it is their turn.
For more, visit thisisindependent.com.