After years of scheduling conflicts, festival aficionado Katy Miller will finally get to see a music fest in her hometown. Anticipating a lineup that features her favorite band, Umphrey's McGee, along with headlining acts Ludacris and the Avett Brothers, she beams a wide smile as she plans for the weekend.
"Instead of family vacations, my friends and I treat these festivals as our vacation," she says. "One big family enjoying lots of great music together for a weekend — what could be better?"
LouFest returns to Forest Park for its sixth installment this Saturday and Sunday, September 12 and 13. Though the lineup is certainly the main draw, Mike Van Hee of production company Listen Live Entertainment, thinks of the show as an all-encompassing experience.
"It's not just for music lovers," he says. "Some of the folks we work with say it's all about the vibe.... Once you get out there on the field, there's tons of stuff going on — there are things to see and do that are completely separate from the music."
Specifically, Van Hee mentions the Nosh Pit, an area akin to a food court, featuring local restaurants, and LouFest's Market Square, a collection of local vendors, as two of the festival's best offerings. LouKids, an area where children can get hands-on experience with musical instruments or have a rock & roll makeover — complete with funky hair — will also be available. Kids ten and under are admitted free.
Wes Johnson, Miller's co-worker at Felix's Pizza Pub, will be attending LouFest for the second year, and says he knows the vibe Van Hee is talking about.
"The time spent partying with friends, coworkers and neighborhood folk is what has me coming back," Johnson says. "I can't wait to hang out and party with the good people of St. Louis and whoever visits our city."
The weekend's reputation also drew in Jessica Donahoe, who will be attending the festival for the first time. Donahoe says she decided to buy tickets during LouFest's "blind presale" — a period where tickets are sold at a reduced rate before any acts have been announced — thanks to positive reviews from friends. Hoping to have a music-festival experience of her own, she says she isn't too concerned with the lineup, though she is "dying to see Billy Idol. More specifically, dying to see my husband cringing throughout Billy Idol's performance."
Corey Woodruff also cites Billy Idol as a can't-miss act. A local drummer and the official photographer for the festival's first three years, Woodruff will be attending for the first time as a fan. Just like Donahoe, he bought tickets during the blind presale.
"From a fan's perspective, to have a festival this affordable, with this caliber of performers in our own back yard, is huge," he says.
As a local musician, however, Woodruff wishes the festival would include more than just a few local acts (Pokey LaFarge, American Wrestlers and Clockwork are all on the roster), although he understands the pressure producers are under to find bands that will move tickets.
Jacob Videmschek, another St. Louis-based musician, said he sees the inclusion of LaFarge and Clockwork as a sign that "LouFest is slowly but surely hoping to connect with St. Louis as an advocate of local music."
Van Hee confirms that St. Louis bands will always be part of the show's lineup, and notes that this will be Clockwork's second appearance at LouFest. (The group previously participated in a battle of the bands competition on the kids' stage.)
Videmschek attended for the first time in 2014 and says he hopes LouFest will continue to focus on local music and the St. Louis community.
"Forest Park is where we put our best foot forward," he adds, "and LouFest has the opportunity to be our annual coming-out party."
The significance of Forest Park is not lost on Brooke Leal, who works for C3 Presents, the Austin-based co-producer of the event.
"It's one of the most beautiful venues I've ever seen," Leal says, adding that the location is one of the major things that sets LouFest apart from other festivals C3 produces, such as Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza.
For all the enthusiasm attendees have for the experience and location, Videmschek, Woodruff and Donahoe all share some disappointment about this year's lineup. Still, they think LouFest's benefits far outweigh the letdown.
But for frequent attendee Jameson O'Guinn, this year's acts will keep him from attending a fourth time.
"The festival was on a really amazing upward trajectory for the past few years," he says. "Flaming Lips, Wilco, Arctic Monkeys, Future Islands and Outkast. Even the bands farther down the bill were relatively solid. Then the 2015 lineup dropped. Hozier? He has one single and he's headlining? Avett Brothers. Ludacris. Billy Idol. It's a joke."
After obtaining VIP passes last year, O'Guinn said he had such an incredible experience he decided to buy the passes for every year going forward. But when the bands for this year were announced, he says, he "couldn't fathom even buying the cheap tickets."
LouFest's producers understand that disappointing some fans is an inevitable outcome of booking such a large event each year. Leal says C3 takes fan feedback very seriously, and the company pores over the audience surveys when the weekend wraps.
Besides, Van Hee says, the best part about a music festival is discovering new favorites. "You'll stumble upon an act that you did not come there for and then you're walking by a stage, and [it] just pleasantly surprises you. And now you've just found somebody you're a huge fan of."