This weekend saw the first-ever Wilmore 9 Film and Music Festival, a two-day affair that featured over fifty bands and over twenty films scattered around various venues and theaters around Downtown Long Beach. And as anyone who's been present for the developmental years of a festival knows, the earliest years are the the ones with the most snafus. But overall, none of the slight glitches seemed to get in the way of a good time, and I was pleased with the general vibe of Long Beach; it's relaxed, vibrant and even warm it was comfortable to get my Vitamin D as I walked around and saw the sights. So I gotta hand it to the organizers for making the first year of Wilmore 9 pretty awesome. Here are just a few of the things that made it enjoyable.
5. The Shows at The Lot
On both days, most people seemed to gravitate towards the concerts at the Lot, which makes perfect sense. It's literally an empty lot, big enough to fit a stage, beer garden, art display, and adjacent to the food trucks and Mad Haus on Pacific Avenue. It's summer, so yup, most people want to be outside enjoying a cold one under the sun while checking out the various musical acts.
Downtown Long Beach is awesome. It's huge urban sprawl checkered with little hole in the wall art galleries, theaters and in short walking distance to major shopping areas and local businesses. Instead of finding a huge park or venue to concentrate everything, the festival is embedded within Downtown and incorporates everything that is already there, all within walking distance of each other.
3. Keeping the audience entertained in between bands
While the road crew and sound guys do their thing on stage in preparation for the next act, its way too easy to get bored. DJ Rahfee Zahkee's animated set prevented that, wherein he improvised mixing sound and music digitally to get gnarly results. Besides Rahfee, other DJs present mixed up a good time and livened up the audience.
2. The Music Line-up
Again, only one band I saw on the schedule was recognizable to me- and that was The Aquadolls. But sticking around the Mad Haus or the Lot or the LB Independent International school long enough for the next band to play is a gamble for bands you've never heard of, and no band disappointed. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I actually liked Stacy Clark, Cuates, and Rudy Love Jr's sets, because no matter what genre or style of music they played, they were entertaining and at ease with the audience. Whoever is the one booking the bands is certainly on point with new music.
1. The Film Selection
The first film title that jumped out at me was A Band Called Death, a hugely popular documentary about the titular punk band Death that was formed in the mid-'70s by brothers David, Bobby and Dannis Hackney of Detroit, Michigan. That's about the only film I recognized, but taking a chance on other films that were screening paid off. Sure, I wasn't able to see many, but having only twenty films showing at your festival means stressing quality over quantity.
All of these things made the inaugural year of Wilmore 9 cool, however it wasn't without its setbacks: low attendance, technical difficulties, and ticket purchase delays online were some of the problems I noticed throughout. And since the festival hopes to expand to nine days in the coming years, its important to make it go as seamless as possible for future audiences, especially those coming from out of town (like me). So in hopes of helping to curtail as many glitches as possible, here are some suggestions, just out of my observations.
5. Get more than one will call booth
The lone will call booth by The Lot bore the brunt of holding all the ticket information of every single ticket buyer for the festival. Perhaps the point is simplicity, but since the festival provides various attractions around DTLB and offers the opportunity to buy tickets for single showings of the films, it makes more sense to provide a will call booth for each of the various theaters instead of trekking from one to the other. It also provides an expected headcount of any given film screening for the poor AV kid wondering whether to start the movie or wait for more people to show up.
4. Not enough shade at The Lot.
For those who were hanging around the Lot, some were lucky to snag seats under a tent while others were made to sit it out on blocks of hay, without shade. Since the music events at the Lot were such a big draw, lots of people were snubbed of a place to sit and made to crouch behind some shade or sweat it out with Mr. Sun. And if you're eating something delicious, the worst thing ever is to have it melt in your hands in a matter of seconds.
3. Lack of signage.
I wasn't a big fan of the map given to us festival goers to have us find all the venues; its a simple map with big colorful numbers symbolizing a particular attraction site, fulfilled with lines standing in for streets and a legend dictating the actual address of each place with the corresponding numbers. But in reality, not every venue has its name emblazoned above the door, and I even missed out on many of the cool goings-on I looked forward to. Having some signs handy would be great on different levels; for one, it's just easier to navigate everything, it encourages people to check out something different, and in the long run, providing signs for oncoming foot traffic, especially those who aren't participating in the festival, draws curiosity and interest in Wilmore 9. Doing this would be a solid for non-LB natives such as myself.
2. Lack of social media presence.
Social media is a big part of people's lives now, so much so that people need Facebook or Twitter as a distraction for times when life gets unbearably dull, or to follow up on the latest news. Organizations, venues, news outlets, and yes music festivals are successful on social media when they consistently update: “Hungry? Check out the food truck vendors on 640 Pacific Avenue!” “Starting in 5 min: Held Together Comedy Improv group at Found Theatre!” #wilmore9longbeach. And so on. But beyond Facebook and Twitter, a social media coordinator will think big and find more ways to market the festival to wider audiences on different social networks, on top of updating followers throughout the festival.
1. The dinner and a movie event.
Preceding the actual festival was a dinner and movie event, where guests would be treated with a lovely dinner at La Traviata, and would enjoy one of the films screened at the festival. This might come as a slight to the lovely people who took care of me there, but I only was able to enjoy it as a member of the press. The price for the actual event, not included in the ticket price, may seem exorbitant to some. Overall there weren't many people in attendance, which wasn't so bad considering the sound system in the La Traviata screening room had its technical issues. If the festival is going to grow in length anyway, I'd say either incorporate it into the festival where more people would be in attendance (at a different venue), or throw it out altogether.
Not bad for your first year, Wilmore 9, you helped to make this summer not a bummer for everyone in attendance. The first year's always the hardest, but once the kinks are all straightened out, I don't see how it won't be a long-awaited event in the years to come. See ya in 2014!