Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Festival Thrower's Bible by Tucker Gumber - Book Review

If I were promoting a festival or helping to plan one, I would quickly go out and spend the $59.95 this little book costs in a second, it might be the best $59.95 you ever spent. Or you can purchase it in a digital format for $9,99.  There's plenty not to like about this book if you choose, but every chapter contains helpful ideas nudging you into more diverse ways of thinking that will help you make more money from your festival as well as save money in putting it on. Cautionary Note for my readers: Tucker Gumber attends lots of very large festivals around the country. He considers a festival with an attendance of 3,000 to 10,000 to be a small festival. His ideal festival, worth an entire (short) chapter, is Burning Man, in the desert of Nevada, If you're a festival promoter who reads my blog, this may not sound like your kind of festival. As I looked at festivals Gumber attended in past years, I realized the lineups at many were completely strange to me and the music would likely not be to my taste. Nevertheless, The Festival Thrower's Bible is worth any festival promoter's time and money, whether their festival attracts fewer than 1000 people or, like IBMA can bring out over 170,000 for it's five day run in downtown Raleigh, NC.

In a 7x7 inch glossy format filled with cartoons and photographs suggesting the realizations of what he's writing about, Gumber considers many issues confronting every festival promoter regardless of the size or nature of their event. Often, the ideas and issues raised suggest web sites where readers can go for further, more detailed information. He emphasizes the importance of creating a total experience. He covers significant issues, whether your location is an open field, a campground, a fairground, or hundreds of acres of open desert land. Concerns such as access, provisions made for water, camping, the environment, food, health and safety, publicity and more are dealt with realistically and directly. He doesn't duck from writing about the use of drugs and alcohol at many festivals. His chapters on branding, the use of social media, bringing the arts into festivals, and many more topics are each worth much more than the price of this book, just in terms of providing good ideas and opening eyes to the possibilities.

How to Use this Book: Since the audience of this blog is primarily people who attend bluegrass festivals or love bluegrass music, it may seem to you that much of the material in this book is irrelevant to you. Not So! First, if you're a promoter of a small festival, you might find all this a bit overwhelming. Your worst choice would be to give up on it because it doesn't apply to you. It does! You just don't know that yet.

Here's what I would do with the book. First cut off the back to separate the pages. Then, take each page and have it laminated in 8 1/2 by 11 paper and place the whole new book in a loose leaf folder, perhaps with more note pages between the pages. Then, look at every idea and issue with an open mind, making notes on your lamination paper with an easily erasable pen. Then start looking and writing about how the material in the book would be applicable in your situation. You'll be happily surprised. The more you can open your imagination, the more you'll find ways that Tucker Gumber's experience, as foreign as it might be to your own, can help you build your festival. All you need to do, as you study this book, is make connections. You'll find plenty of ideas to make the book worth reading.

Here's an example: Bluegrass festivals often make rather stringent statements about alcohol use (no alcohol allowed in performance area, no open carry) and hardly ever mention drug usage. In adopting this policy, they seek to cover up and disguise an issue, rather than figure out how to deal with it. Merlefest, for instance, searches every backpack for spirits, to the point of not allowing unsealed bottles of water on the grounds. Since the advent of soft packaged hard liquor, which can be carried in pockets, this has become an impossible stance to maintain. Gumber advocates, at several points in The Festival Thrower's Bible, that festivals adopt a realistic view toward alcohol and drug use, trying to encourage moderation while providing adequate medical care for those overdosing and professional security for misbehavior. In so doing, he argues, the event can manage overuse and benefit from the revenue gained by having beer and wine sales on site. Together, these approaches can moderate behavior, increase attendance by altering the demographics, and improve revenue. It can also replace hypocritical cover-ups with realistic and sensible policies.

Tucker Gumber

Known as "The Festival Guy," Tucker Gumber comes from Colorado, where he went to Colorado State University, majoring in Resort Management and Business. His first festival proved to be a life changing experience, as he began to see ways to improve and rationalize festival management. From 2011 - 2015 he attended 91 festivals, including five trips to Burning Man. He has partnered with Vendini to produce the Festival Thrower's BibleHe serves as a consultant to many festivals on audience development, health and safety issues, and green management. He is the founder and CEO of FestEvo.

Approaching this sensible book with an open mind seeking to solidify branding, increase the accuracy of your sales, and focus your attention how to make your event the best it can possibly be is emphasized in every chapter. The layout is eye catching, the ideas are well-highlighted, the organization is conducive to improving festival planning and providing a workable approach to development. All a promoter needs to do is to turn the concepts and approaches into a blueprint for their own particular event. It would be easy for a promoter to become defensive while reading this book, thinking, "He doesn't understand events like mine," or asking "What has all this to do with my event?" Such an approach would be a great mistake! There is much in The Festival Thrower's Bible to help any promoter think through the issues of building and maintaining a healthy, profitable, and enjoyable event.

The single most glaring flaw in this otherwise extremely useful handbook is the absence of information about finding and assuring that your festival offers great sound. Sound production is a major cost factor for promoters. Particularly with acoustic music, it's difficult to provide good, accurate sound reproduction. In bluegrass, sound companies with wide experience in, for instance, rock music, often are found to be inadequate for lack of understanding the requirements of the instruments involved. In addition, multi-stage events should be counseled in how to set stages to avoid overlapping sound interfering with other stages. These two issues should be given further consideration in future editions of The Festival Thrower's Bible.

The Festival Thrower's Bible by Tucker Gumber (Vendini, 2016, 154 pages, $59,95/9.99) can be ordered from the publisher or from Amazon as a physical book or in e-book format. It is written in a convenient, handbook format designed to assist festival promoters in nearly every aspect of festival promotion. While it seems to emphasize large, multi-purpose festivals catering to a youthful demographic, it would be a mistake to assume that its contents don't apply to every venue wishing to attract strong audiences and build profits in presenting them. Reading and studying this book and the additional resources suggested in it can only help promoters to develop stronger, more responsible, better managed events. The Festival Thrower's Bible was supplied to me by the author on my request. I read it in the print version, and highly recommend it as a resource. The e-book version is significantly less expensive, and would surely suffice. The print edition is available through Amazonwhile the e-book can be ordered from