By: Graham Moomaw
Published: February 19, 2012
Charlottesville already hosts festivals dedicated to books, films and photos, but is it ready to take center stage as the home of the next big music festival?
Paul Beyer is hoping to take an idea that emerged last year during his City Council campaign and make it a reality by putting on an event this spring that will showcase the city as a “creative hub for music, art and innovation.”
He’s calling it Tom Tom Founders Fest, a whimsical homage to the man who put Charlottesville on the map: Thomas Jefferson.
“All of the emphasis for this first year is about just showing that there’s a critical mass for a festival that has all these creative elements in motion at the same time,” said Beyer, a developer who finished a close fourth in the race for three Democratic council nominations last summer.
From May 11-13, Beyer hopes to transform the Downtown Mall area into a showcase for local entrepreneurship and art, but he says it’s the music that will stir the most excitement.
“The idea is that... there will be music at venues up and down the mall, galleries, restaurants, sanctuaries, clubs,” Beyer said. “The music is aimed to be 50/50: 50 percent local and then 50 percent indie-pop, indie-folk, electronic music... The theme is that these are buzz bands. They’re music you haven’t necessarily heard of yet. But they’re the next big thing.”
Beyer is tight-lipped about naming specific bands or venues, but he plans to release the details on March 13. He’s hoping a total of 50 bands will play the festival in the first year, and he said he’d be happy if it draws 1,500 people.
“We have music. The programming is well underway. We’re just nailing down the details,” Beyer said.
Attendees will have to buy tickets for the first two days of the festival, Beyer said. The final day will be free and open to the public, and feature musical acts of “local and national interest.”
Sam Bush, a local musician who manages the downtown music venue The Garage, is helping to book bands for Tom Tom.
“Charlottesville has such a thriving music and arts scene that I’m surprised a festival like this hasn’t come along sooner,” Bush said in an email. “Our city is full of creative people and one thing that Tom Tom will help do is bring them together and celebrate what they’re already doing. And having a festival like Tom Tom will be a great way for Charlottesville to reach out to the rest of the country and bring them in to share ideas, art and music.”
A kick-off event will be held on April 13, Founder’s Day, at a “downtown civic center,” Beyer said, which will serve as the starting point for a month of concerts and galleries leading up to the festival.
Beyer declined to put a price tag on the festival, but he said more details on financing would be revealed in the near future.
“Right now we’re in the process of garnering sponsorships,” Beyer said. “And we’re going to have some creative fundraising ideas for just how to really let the community take hold of this idea and say ‘Yeah, we want a music festival.’”
A former film and writing student at New York University, Beyer pushed the arts as an “economic engine” in the final days of his council campaign last summer. During the Democratic primary in August, the vote count was so close that Beyer requested a recount, but the tally eventually showed him trailing Dede Smith by 31 votes. Smith and the other two Democratic nominees went on to easy victories in the general election.
Beyer has hosted regular “Talk City” forums in his downtown apartment, prior to which he sends out the topic of discussion to an email list of 700-800 people. In one email, he asked what a music festival in Charlottesville would look like.
“I had all these people write back,” Beyer said. “…And I was like, well why don’t we just do it?”
Beyer said City Hall is aware of his plans, but he hasn’t asked for any official involvement at this point.
Asked for comment on Beyer’s festival idea, city spokesman Ric Barrick replied: “We wish him well with his new venture.”
Tom Tom posters should begin appearing around town en masse within weeks, Beyer said, but he said the door is still open for anyone who wants to get involved and propose their ideas.
“The whole point of this is that it’s a stage for Charlottesville’s creativity,” Beyer said. “But that means Charlottesville has to get on the stage.”
For more information, visit www.tomtom2012.com.