In a very disappointing, but not unexpected move, Moog Music announced yesterday that it’s multi-day electronic music showcase and technology expo, MOOGFEST, will depart from Asheville for the arid confines of Durham, NC – a city that seemingly has no relationship to electronic music, but it’s burgeoning high growth startup scene is a key impetus for the move. The next event is scheduled for May 19th through the 22nd, 2016.
After frequenting Durham during my time living in Chapel Hill from 2010 to 2012, I couldn’t count the number of electronic music events in Durham on one hand – because none existed. Real electronic music DJ events were few and far between. In the last three years, maybe things have changed, but I can’t imagine by much. The way Durham is laid out will make walking to events in smaller venues far more difficult. And, while the Durham Performing Arts Center is hosting American Idol Live!, that is pop rubbish and has zero relation to cutting edge music for a younger generation.
We’ve known for a while that MOOGFEST had been publicly seeking a stronger public/private partnership with Asheville and Buncombe County. However, the city and county government simply refused to come up with a package to keep MOOGFEST here. The decision to leave, while bitter, was expected and leaves the city without its premier electronic music event to drive interest in the region.
This is hugely disappointing for me personally, as I moved here thinking that MOOGFEST would be one of the driver’s in the city’s overall growth. Unique events like MOOGFEST are important to tourism and can be a showcase for any small city hoping to attract young people, entrepreneurs, and technology startups to the area. In a music city like Asheville, the nightlife industry depends on events like MOOGFEST for growth. I personally took a chance on moving to Asheville thinking that if MOOGFEST was here, others might come to live, work, and play as I did. That will seemingly not be the case for the foreseeable future.
Without cutting edge events like MOOGFEST, the city will struggle to attract a certain type of entrepreneurial spirit that the Asheville Chamber of Commerce is hoping to invest in. Last year, the Chamber launched Venture Asheville, a startup advisory organization pulling together a group of high net-worth Asheville angel investors to fund local Asheville startup deals. After a year of building the network, Asheville Angels have committed about $300,000 to Asheville-based startups. And those commitments were predicated on those startups primarily raising outside capital first. Certainly a very conservative, but understandable approach. One that is indicative of Asheville’s struggle to figure out how to attract high growth companies in the technology sector. What you’re seeing is an extremely low-risk approach and without risk, there is no reward.
While some local DJs and electronic music producers have criticized MOOGFEST for not staying completely true to electronic music by booking artists like NAS, who is well known in hip-hop, that style of music is primarily made with software and hardware. It does take all kinds and one can even say that some country music today is electronic, given where we are in the music production process. But, MOOGFEST won’t be around to educate us on what is or what isn’t electronic music, because it’s now going to take a bet on Durham.
While I wish them well, one of the primary issues they are going to face is working with a city and its venues who don’t know this kind of music and who may not be prepared to work with a festival like MOOGFEST. The folks at Moog Music live, work, and play here in Asheville. They are all very well known to the community and that goes for something. They’ll constantly need to make the trek out to Durham on a weekly, if not daily basis, to ensure that the festival kicks off in the right way.
In Asheville, people made room for MOOGFEST, because many of us truly wanted it here. But Durham is another story altogether. Will the American Tobacco campus really embrace an electronic music event? Will the Durham Performing Arts Center provide room on its super conservative schedule of events? Will there even be enough hotel rooms in downtown Durham, which is pretty tight in terms of hotel space, unless you’re 15 to 20 minutes out somewhere along US Route 40?
All this is a big bet for Moog Music’s Mike Adams and it remains to be seen if this bet will pay off in the long run. According to news reports, Moog is committed to Durham until 2021, so Asheville has five to six years to come up with something different to fill the void. I don’t know if I’m going to stick around long enough to find out.
For a festival that lost $1.5M in 2014, this is an even bigger risk, but one that seems worth taking.
MOOGFEST is offering $99 tickets to Asheville residents who plan to trek out to Durham for next year’s event.