The Simple Formula Behind LouFest’s Authentic Local Vibe

To LouFest’s organizers, “bringing in the local community” is more than just a sound bite. From the bands to the food to the comedy stage, St. Louisans’ voices shape the two-day music festival in Forest Park.

Mike Van Hee is part of the team who turns the feedback into reality each year. He’s a managing partner at Listen Live Entertainment—along with Rich Toma, one of the masterminds of the nine-year-old event. During the busy weeks leading up to LouFest, he paused long enough to share the surprisingly simple formula for getting the community involved:

Talent—bands the community knows and loves—plus components of the local culture we all cherish—enter food, beer, cocktails, comedy, merch and more.

That’s it. Two things to focus on.

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18andCounting by Cambria Harkey.

The catch, of course, is that both components have thousands of moving parts. Planning the band lineup alone takes nearly a year and involves an impressive amount of coordination. Yet when festival-goers said they wanted to see performers like Modest Mouse and The Head and The Heart, Van Hee and team made it happen. This year’s lineup is the biggest yet, with more than 40 bands.

When attendees said they wanted more local beer, BrewFest was created. Each of the eight craft breweries brings something unique, from Perennial Artisan Ales’ small batches to Schlafly’s heavy-hitter status as the city’s oldest microbrewery.

Cocktail-centered Fizz and Folly debuted last year to much fanfare, but Van Hee says this year’s version will be even better because it’s curated by some of the city’s top retailers and mixologists. Local voices also shape the Nosh Pit—featuring almost two dozen uniquely St. Louis eateries—and the vendors in Market Square.

Another new collaboration had a direct impact on the music. After realizing how much their passions and missions aligned, LouFest and the Kranzberg Arts Foundation entered into a multiyear agreement in 2017. The Kranzberg Music Artist-in-Residency program now includes appearances on LouFest’s new Jazz and Heritage Stage. For Van Hee, it was a welcome opportunity to diversify the programming. “By adding this partnership with Kranzberg and the stage, it allows us to focus on highlighting great local jazz musicians and bands,” he says.

LouFest’s focus will always be music, but the art of standup comedy is getting a place in the sun on the Last Laugh Stage—where 10 local and three national comedians will crack up the crowd. The partners in this new feature are the St. Louis-based entertainment company We Are Live! and apparel maker By Jack.

Van Hee says the festival attracts more and more out-of-town visitors each year. About a third of attendees come from more than 50 miles away. This translates into a big economic boost—$8 million in 2016. “As the industry nationally evolves, these festivals that focus on consumer experience and set themselves apart will be the ones that succeed,” Van Hee says.

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By offering free admission to kids age 12 and under attending with a paying adult, organizers are cleverly building up their fan base for generations to come. The LouKidz area caters just to the younger set, with live daily sets, a bounce house, bubble bus and more.

“I have a little one now, and I found myself chasing after her in the LouKidz area last year,” Van Hee says. This time around, you’ll find him in the BrewFest section. “Knowing how much time went into it, I’m most excited about seeing that come to life.”

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Learn more about the festival and purchase tickets at LouFest.com.

LouFest Music Festival takes place in Forest Park, Sept. 8 and 9.

All photos by Charles Reagan Hackleman courtesy of LouFest unless otherwise noted. Thank you for supporting the businesses that keep ALIVE and GUIDED growing.

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