By Julie Seabaugh
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Sure, everyone has questions about LouFest: What will Zooey Deschanel wear? How green can you really make a music festival — isn't the point to leave a trail of beer cups and discarded wristbands in your wake? Is this thing more Pitchfork, or more Austin City Limits? Which lineup is Broken Social Scene touring with this time?
While St. Louis events cribbed directly from another city are often fraught with the requisite inferiority complex and smaller-town-minded adjustments, this weekend, festivalgoers will find LouFest to be a refreshing break from that tired paradigm. It's unique, it's shiny-in-the-plastic new — and it's by St. Louis, for St. Louis.
"We were very careful not to pick up a festival and drop it in St. Louis," says Brian Cohen, LouFest's organizer. "What we really wanted to do was take what we love about other festivals and create something unique for St. Louis.
"It's easy enough to jump on a plane, but it's more fun to jump on your bike and go to a festival in your own back yard, and that's really what I wanted for St. Louis," he continues. "It seemed like the city was ready to support a festival with national acts, for two days, in a park setting; it seemed like a natural fit with the other events in town. We certainly didn't want to step on any of those events, but rather fill a hole in the St. Louis music scene."
Cohen began conceptualizing the event two years ago. An Austin transplant and music-festival enthusiast, he saw that the city was ripe for the type of multi-day event found in other cities. "Once I made the decision to stay in St. Louis, to make it my home, that's when I started thinking, What kind of things would I like to have in the city that I now call home? And the festival was right on top," he says.
The physical legwork involved in planning LouFest started about a year ago, when Cohen and his team began doing sponsorship development and creating a lineup wish list. The initial idea for the festival was smaller than the result. In fact, Cohen said the vision for the festival grew along with the team of event producers around him.
Cohen and these local collaborators — Nick Barnes from Ironman Sound Industries, Jeff Jarrett from Contemporary Productions, and Mike Van Hee and Natalie Lakeman from experimental marketing firm Quench Inc. to name a few — have the event planned down to the most minute detail. And unlike other festivals that make only the slightest effort to make sure attendees don't, you know, die of heat stroke or ruptured bladders because there aren't enough Johnny on the Spots, LouFest aims to set itself apart by seeing to it that the audience experience is a pleasant one. They've made accommodations for shade, picnic tables for dining, vegan and vegetarian options from vendors such as Local Harvest Café and Catering and the now-ubiquitous, always delicious Pi Pizzeria. Big bonus: They're not going to oversell tickets.
"Our commitment is not to sell too many tickets that it becomes uncomfortable," Cohen says. "It's going to guarantee that people have a chance to spread out, be with their friends and hang out, and they will have the space to do that. But if they want to get mashed up front, they can do that as well, but they're going to have options to find an open space and just enjoy the park and the music happening in the background."
LouFest also encourages attendees to "travel green" to the event — they've partnered with Metro for an added stop on the Forest Park shuttle as well as extended hours of operation.
"It's impossible to produce an event that's 100 percent carbon neutral, but we're trying to get as close to that as possible," Cohen says. "What we're hoping to do is really become a model that events use, not only in St. Louis, but maybe elsewhere in terms of how far can you really take the greening of an event."
Here's how far they're taking it: LouFest has a laundry list of greening cosponsors participating in what it is calling Ecozone. At this event within an event, attendees can learn more about organizations committed to conservation, recycling and clean energy. And through the help of partners, LouFest is buying carbon and electricity offsets that will negate the environmental effects of all the band and audience travel, as well as all the electricity used by the festival.
On top of all this, local vendors will use wholly compostable service products, and there will be a free water station to keep LouFesters hydrated and happy. Festivalgoers can even bring their own bottles — the reusable kind, please — to fill up for free, to reduce plastic bottle waste and keep the festival's imprint as green as can be.
"At this point in time, you can't produce an event of this size and not consider its impact on the environment," said Cohen. "From the very beginning, sustainability was part of every decision we made. How are we going to reduce plastic bottle waste; how are we going to reduce what we send to the landfill? It became a part of everything we did."
Cohen is quick to point out that the first LouFest is by no means a dress rehearsal or trial run — it's game on. "Our first year is our year to deliver an amazing event that people fall in love with," he says. "This isn't a practice run. We've designed it to a degree that we think it's going to be complete in every way. It's been the sweat and toil and hard work of everyone involved. This is obviously an event that's bigger than one person."