Today begins a 309-day countdown to a festival that could make Durham known around the globe for technology, innovation, entrepreneurship, creativity and music.
It’s called Moogfest
, and as of today, it’s no longer an Asheville legacy but a Durham one.
Moog Music Inc.
gathered city and startup community leaders together on the American Tobacco Campus (owned by ExitEvent
parent Capitol Broadcasting) Tuesday to make it official after months of speculation and rumors
. The Asheville-based maker of the synthesizer, which took over operations of the namesake festival from promoters in 2014, will move its event to downtown Durham in hopes of wooing major technology companies as sponsors and giving local innovators a global stage for which to talk about their projects, companies and inventions. It all goes down May 19-22, 2016.
The festival will certainly have an economic impact—more than 30,000 people participated in the Asheville event in 2014—but even bigger is the street cred it brings. Moogfest earned 1.5 billion media impressions from 230 press organizations in 2014—100 of those came from outside the United States. World renowned musicians, researchers, futurists, technologists and entrepreneurs also flew to town to share their knowledge and experience Asheville.
“This is not about us recruiting another festival to Durham,” Durham Chamber of Commerce President Casey Steinbacher told me earlier today. “It’s a talent recruitment and retention strategy for Durham. It’s about the next generation and what we have to do to retain the talent we have and to continue to recruit it to feed the innovation of the companies that are here.”
Steinbacher was among the first in Durham to field inquiries from Moog as the company prepared to host its April 2014 event. Moog wanted the Triangle technology community’s support as sponsors, attendees and partners in the festival, and thought it could also lend help to Durham's PARADOXOS innovation festival planned for June of that year. Steinbacher and Research Triangle Park Foundation CEO Bob Geolas participated in a panel discussion on economic development at Moogfest, Red Hat served as a 2014 sponsor and a handful of local startups participated in a North Carolina technology showcase.
A key Moog goal, different from the prior decade of music-oriented Moogfests, was to focus on technology and the role it plays in enhancing creativity, while paying homage to Moog Music creator and synthesizer inventor Bob Moog—that meant expanding the festival to include scientists, technologists, engineers and futurists alongside innovators in music, says Emmy Parker, Moog Music’s brand director. Key partners in 2014 included the MIT Media Lab, Google’s Creative Lab, the New Museum of New York City and the Minneapolis-based Eyeo Festival.
But as conversations progressed after the 2014 event, it became increasingly clear to Moog that the center of gravity around technology and innovation in North Carolina wasn’t in Asheville, but Durham. To truly engage the players here—from major technology companies like SAS, Red Hat and IBM to hubs of startup activity like American Underground, The Startup Factory and Research Triangle Park—Moogfest had to move three hours east on Interstate 40. And that was before the flurry of large tech company exits—more than $1 billion in Durham technology mergers and acquisitions have happened so far this year, a major point in Moog's press announcement today.
“If you’re going to have a discourse on technology using North Carolina as the venue, it’s impossible not to have the people from Durham a part of it,” says Parker. “The conversation in North Carolina is largely being driven right now in a really exciting way by everything that is happening in Durham."
If Moogfest was to showcase one place in North Carolina as the hub of technology and innovation, then Durham was the showpiece.
Steinbacher has spent the last year chairing a local committee to introduce Moog to the local community. Representatives of American Underground, Research Triangle Park, Duke University and The Startup Factory sat alongside city, county and Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau leaders making plans for the 2016 event. So far, no public dollars have been invested to bring the event to town. And Parker doesn’t expect to make that ask. Last year, according to a story in Billboard Magazine, Moog Music put $3 million into the event, collecting just over $180,000 from public entities.
The festival lost $1.5 million, selling just over 7,000 festival passes (many people attended free concerts and events), but Parker says that was expected for the first-time event. This year, the goal is to break even and become sustainable. Major sponsors will make that happen. She expects the first sponsor announcements to come soon.
“You have so many technology-focused companies that can stand on the platform that Moogfest provides and be benefited greatly from it,” Parker says, of the Triangle. “If you have the opportunity to have this be happily sponsored with local partners who see the great value in it, then you have a festival that can grow and be self-sustained by this community.”
The slow, steady and sustainable growth philosophy isn't unlike how Austin's popular South by Southwest Interactive Festival began. Its director Hugh Forrest told me in an interview last year that a big reason for its success today is "due to the fact that we grinded it out so long." So what can you expect at Moogfest? You can read my recap of the 2014 event here. But picture a day spent walking between different downtown Durham venues taking in a mix of panel discussions, short films, interactive presentations (last year included a virtual reality experience around downtown Asheville) and live demonstrations of the newest technologies from around the world.
Each night, top names in electronic music take over those same venues and public spaces for large concerts and light shows. A highlight of last year were two concerts by German electronic music band Kraftwerk. Other musicians included Welsh disc jockey Sasha, rapper M.I.A., the British electronic pop duo Pet Shop Boys, disco band Chic featuring Nile Rodgers and Italian producer and electronic music pioneer Giorgio Moroder.
Programming announcements will begin to come out soon, Parker says. A new festival director, UNC graduate Marisa Brickman, recently moved back to town from Los Angeles to take the helm of the local event.
Also good news for downtown Durham is an economic boon. Reports show that 109 to 147 jobs in Buncombe County were supported last year in the months leading up to the festival. The total economic impact of the 2014 event ranged from $10.2 million to $14 million.
The impact on those who take the stage next year? Not clear, but it could be huge.
"The purpose is to highlight people doing amazing things in technology in this state," Parker says. "It is our goal to put those people working in technology in the Triangle on the stage that Moogfest provides and to tell the rest of the world about them."
Early bird tickets to the 2016 Moogfest went on sale today for a limited time offer of $99.