When most people see the words "South Park" they probably think of the popular television cartoon show of the same name, which features the adventures of a foul-mouthed bunch of little boys living in a "podunk mountain town" in Colorado. Visions of Cartman, Kyle and Kenny spring to mind before live music, food, beer and discussion panels with the local and national movers and shakers in the music industry.
At least one man would like to change all that.
Matt Fecher is the brains (and executive director) behind Colorado's answer to "South by Southwest," the South Park Music Fest. Envisioned by Fecher to be more like a retreat set high in the mountains than the crowded media frenzy that "South by Southwest" has become in recent years, this year's event was a qualified success.
After driving about two hours southwest from Denver on the scenic and winding 285, South Park attendees arrived in Fairplay, as close to "South Park" as one can get (The actual town does not exist, although there is a South Park City, and within the town of Fairplay one can also find numerous signs and other references to the South Park television show). There the entire downtown area, about a four block square, was blocked off for festival-goers. Live music could be heard at one of the three outdoor stages, or any bar, club or hole-in-the-wall that had inputs for a microphone and a PA system.
Fecher said he was pleased with the turnout as well as the enthusiastic response he's been receiving from bands and industry insiders. This year, he received over 1,100 submissions from bands that wanted to play, which he managed to whittle down to 140. The bands came from all over the country, but in order to maintain a local vibe, over 30 percent were from Colorado.
Bands that played included local favorites the Swayback, Dressy Bessy, Love Me Destroyer and Wendy Woo Band, as well as hot unsigned acts like Margot and the Nuclear So and So's, and out-of-town indie artists such as Holiday and the Adventure Pop Collective.
"Sean Murphy of ASCAP has said that we've already accomplished what 'South by Southwest' set out to do, which was to make this a legitimate industry retreat, but at South By, it turned all corporate. We're two years in and we've managed to create the buzz," (CQ)ji Fecher said in an interview before the event.
They certainly have, with first year attendance of more than 6,000 on Saturday, and similar if not bigger numbers predicted this year, despite the always-unpredictable mountain weather (the day the Collegian was there, temperature fluctuated about by about 30 degrees throughout the day), and the all-indie lineup.
"Putting people in the mountains is the secret. South Park is unique in that people will come to see indie bands in the mountains. Anywhere else in the country an independent lineup would never draw that many people," (CQ)ji Fecher said.
In addition to booths full of crafts, food and drinks and live music blaring from every doorway, the festival also featured panel discussions at a nearby lodge. Topics ranged from "The Art of the Press" to "Current and Future State of Indie Music" and "Making a Great Record With a Realistic budget, and the panelists were a mixture of locals (such as Dave Herrera of the "Westword" and Don Strasburg, co-owner of Boulder's Fox Theatre) and national industry honchos, like Billy Zero, the program director for the XM Unsigned Channel.
The event was free and open to the public and judging from the crowd, many Coloradans took advantage of the opportunity to relax in the mountains while learning the ins and outs of the music industry.
"We're not about the money or anything like that, and I think that's why people have embraced it so much. I want this to be the Sundance of music; for it to be the yearly taste-making event," Fecher said.
For more information on this year's and next year's event, visit www.southparkmusic.com.