By Giles Morris
Issue #24.12 :: 03/20/2012
When last we spoke with Paul Beyer, founder of the Tom Tom Founders Festival, the local politico and salonniere laid out a vision for his event that sounded like SXSW meets a TED conference, and had people wondering how it could all materialize inside of two months.
Since then, Beyer’s hosted over a dozen public meetings in his apartment and communicated his idea to hundreds of people along the way. If last week’s announcement of the festival’s music lineup is an indication of what will happen between now and the kickoff gala at the McGuffey Art Center on April 13, there will be plenty of meat on the bone.
“I was serious about it being a community festival that built itself on community involvement and community input,” Beyer said. “Once people understood there was an open stage and an open invitation, they responded whole-heartedly.”
Solidifying the music lineup has to be seen as a feat on its own terms. Big national acts like Josh Ritter, The Walkmen, and Here We Go Magic are the headliners in a 30-plus band bill that has a distinct folk-indie-pop sensibility and doesn’t touch a single Red Light venue.
“Both Tom [Beals] and I think the Red Light connection would have been ideal,” Beyer said. “But in this abbreviated timeframe, it’s hard to get something like that to materialize. In future years, though, this is a conversation about how to get all the city’s assets on the same stage.”
Richmond promoter Tom Beals, the festival’s co-founder and booking agent for Groovin’ in the Garden at Maymont, burnt up his cell phone and exhausted some relationship capital to make it happen. Beals also relied the Hill & Wood frontman Sam Bush, who books shows at The Garage and Meade Hall, to negotiate the local landscape and plan acts.
“One of the reasons I was so drawn to doing this event is that people in Charlottesville are serious about their music and I hope this lineup speaks to that,” Beals said.
The details of the opening gala on April 13—which Beyer said will turn the McGuffey Art Center into a multi-level block party featuring live music, art demonstrations, and local food expos—aren’t yet solidified. What’s certain is that the party will be free and that it will reflect the idea of convergence of art, innovation, and music that Beyer communicated in the print flyer he released in February.
“People can expect an absolutely unique event at McGuffey that births this festival at our city’s community art space,” Beyer said.
The structure of the festival is also worth noting. Bookended by the gala and an outdoor celebration at the Ix space that will focus on community acts, the month in between will be full of smaller events planned and hosted by partner organizations—from little guys like Cville Bike Labs to big hitters like the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Pubic Policy at UVA.
“The impulse of this festival in the first year is to start networks across the community in lots of different fields. In innovation those networks have involved everyone from senior people at Darden and Batten to the Secretary of Commerce in the governor’s office,” Beyer said. “And we feel strongly that focusing on those networks and growing them are going to be the grounds for success in the future.”
You can’t have a festival without music, though, and the Friday and Saturday acts, hosted at the Southern, The Haven, Main Street Arena, and Meade Hall, are the event’s primary draw.