Leave LouFest Alone

Here at the RFT, we're not above kicking somebody when they are down (just ask Todd Akin or maybe the ghost of Phyllis Schlafly). It might be mean, but hey, it's in our nature. However, considering the massive social media pile-on in the wake of LouFest's stunning cancellation of this year's festival, we've opted to play against type for a change.

That is to say: Leave LouFest alone.

It is true that the cancellation leaves many local businesses and performers in the lurch — Gioia's Deli, just as an example, is currently sitting on 600 pounds of salami they had intended to sell at the festival. And that's not to mention the tens of thousands of ticketholders now stuck twiddling their thumbs this weekend (though might we suggest attending Pu Fest as an alternative?).

And yet. Some of the information out there is flat-out incorrect. Chiefly, some on social media are blaming "out-of-town organizers" for mishandling of the event. While it's true that LouFest was run by Austin-based production company C3 Presents — responsible for multiple large music festivals, including Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits — from 2013 to 2015, that company has not been involved in the fest since LouFest's founder, Brian Cohen, moved on in 2016.

Since then, LouFest has been operated by Mike Van Hee and Rich Toma, managing partners with Listen Live Entertainment, the company that Cohen founded in 2010 to produce LouFest. Van Hee and Toma are both locally based, and the pair diligently brought St. Louis back as the festival's main focus in 2016 after years of complaints that it had strayed from its roots. That year, they gave seven St. Louis-based acts prime afternoon slots on the roster, added scores of local food vendors and carefully selected the out-of-town artists on the bill with the city's demographics in mind. The 2017 iteration saw more of that same local focus.

This year's event would have placed St. Louis more prominently than ever before. With the largest number of St. Louis acts to date, including a locals-only stage sponsored by the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, a new locally focused craft beer tent and even a comedy showcase spotlighting a host of St. Louis talent, LouFest 2018 was set to be the Lou-iest yet.

But it's not to be. With the level of ambition involved in this year's event, Van Hee's and Toma's major sin may be that they bit off more than they could chew. When news broke that contractors were pulling out, they tried to push through the issues, saying that everything was still going forward as planned. No one wanted this fest to go smoothly more than they did, and they didn't throw in the towel until every possible fix had been explored.

We're going to try to dig into this whole thing more deeply. But for now, until we know more, we can't help but urge all you armchair quarterbacks to take a deep breath, cut them a break, and instead remember the good times. And yes, those times were often really, really good. LouFest brought the legendary OutKast to Forest Park, in addition to the Flaming Lips, Dinosaur Jr., the National, Ms. Lauryn Hill, LCD Soundsystem, Anderson .Paak, Spoon, Weezer and Snoop Dogg. It provided the largest stage many of St. Louis' finest acts have ever performed on. It made an afternoon set by Huey Lewis and the News something fun and memorable. It paid fitting tribute to a St. Louis and rock & roll icon, Chuck Berry, in the year of his death in front of a crowd of thousands.

In short: Let us weep not for the LouFest that wasn't, and instead remember the good times. And while we're at it, let's cross some fingers that those good times return, somehow, next year.

It's going to take more than a little luck.

About The Author

Daniel Hill

Daniel Hill is editor at large for the Riverfront Times and he demands to be taken seriously, despite all evidence to the contrary. Follow him on Twitter at @rftmusic.
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