Gusto and How it Gets That Way


I've never been a fan of summertime until recently. To me, summer means that it's time for Gusto Fest. It's all that's been on my mind lately, so I thought I'd share the history of my favorite thing to do all year. Perhaps I can give a bit of insight into why it's such a big deal to me and maybe inspire someone to get up and make their own favorite show of the year.

It all began in the spring of 2012, some friends had the idea to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary with a big party befitting such a milestone. I was placed in charge of wrangling the evening's entertainment and kept gingerly pushing the limits of how many acts I could get away with booking. Before I knew it, I had a full lineup of music and an increasingly nervous host.

House shows don't normally have 10 acts, but I've never really been one to do things that are considered normal. With some reassuring words and the promise that I would help setup beforehand and clean afterward, the first Gusto Fest was given the green light. I was giddy; I had put together my first multi-genre, miniature music festival.

I spent the next few weeks talking about it to anyone who would listen and as far as house parties go, it was a complete success in spite of all the technical difficulties. We started much later than expected and the party went on well past midnight. It was at this point that I learned live Hip-Hop is perfect for house parties; obviously for the beat-driven nature of the music, but also because the music was barely audible outside even though we had bass booming and people yelling along to the words inside.

My only regret is not raising more money for the one out-of-town band who played, but they did get paid and they seemed to enjoy themselves. By the end of the night, new friendships were formed and fond memories were made. Little did we know, that night was the start of a yearly tradition that has grown into a highly-anticipated event that is showing no signs of getting smaller.

The following year, I had a slightly more refined approach to putting the show together. I learned from the previous year (and another big, mixed genre show I put together later that same year) that no matter how many bands are already on the bill, someone is going to ask if their band can play. I hate when this happens because I don't like telling people they can't play. I know how hard it is to get on a decent bill and I want to be helpful, but sometimes you just have to say “no” even if that means pissing someone off.

Another thing I learned is that someone is going to cancel, probably with just a few days to spare. I'm lucky enough to have friends who are fine with being an “alternate” in case someone cancels and I can't find a replacement fast enough. Knowing these people are there, willing to step in at the last minute, helps me breath a little easier and they're greatly appreciated.

The two weeks before Gusto Fest involve sorting through a lot of messages; walking through my house brainstorming and ranting to myself; turning down at least one band who wants to “jump on” the bill; trying not to lose my head and of course, the final promotional push. This is the most hectic part of organizing the show and I secretly love it even though it often destroys my nerves; simply put, the chaos makes me feel alive.

The second Gusto Fest boasted the biggest lineup yet and in an effort to raise the value of the local scene's music and make sure the out-of-town act at least broke even, I wanted to charge ten dollars. People were outraged at the concept of paying a standard show price at a DIY space (not a house) even though plenty of bars charge more than that for 4 locals and one lower-middle tier touring band on an Indie label. Even though the original cover price added up to less than one dollar per band (the bill boasted 11+ acts) the price was halved to encourage more people to attend. I bring this up not out of bitterness, but to note that all the complaining is pretty funny in hindsight; only about half the people who showed up paid the cover anyway.

There is a small lesson here though: regardless of whether or not you think your band is worth paying a dollar to go see, don't devalue your work by always playing for free; everyone's got to eat and bills don't pay themselves. Being a musician is hard work if you're really trying to go somewhere with it and you shouldn't be expected to work for free.

As I was building hype for “Gusto Fest 2: The Sequel” I started thinking that this show would turn into something much bigger than what was initially intended. I was reminded of that this year by one of the friends who hosted the first Gusto Fest, “It's crazy how you said this was going to be a legit, yearly festival and now it is” he said. The thought really hadn't crossed my mind until that point, but I do remember saying that on at least one episode of the No One Likes Your Band podcast. I told him “I willed it into existence” but only partially believed what I was saying. Now I wonder, is it really possible to will things into existence? I'm starting to think that it really is; before 2012, the traditional logic was “mixed genre shows don't work” and now they are the norm.

Perhaps it's a combination of willpower and the fact that more and more people have diverse music tastes that completely ignore genre classification. Whatever the reason for it's success, the show has exceeded my expectations every year. In the course of two years, Gusto Fest has gone from a house to the best venue in town.

This year, I knew I had to really step up the promotional aspect and not just rely on word-of-mouth and social media. I submitted the information for “Gusto Fest 3: Attack of the Gusto” (yes, they will all have subtitles) to every local website I could find; lo and behold, this year's show is easily found via Google. I can't even begin to express the excitement I felt when I got the email from my city's tourism committee saying that they would list my show on their website.

Seeing it listed on every local news station's event calender was like Christmas morning. To put all this in perspective, this is a show with everything from “Extreme Metal” (I still find that term redundant) to Hip-Hop listed right alongside “high-brow” theater events, in the bible-belt, without any kind of budget. I imagine this is what parents feel like when their kid wins an award of some sort or gets a college scholarship.

I prattle on and on about this show every year not because I'm patting myself on the back or shamelessly self-promoting; not even because I know it's a great show that's worth attending. This show means so much to me because I've seen it change how people think. I've looked around the room and seen people of all races, genders and backgrounds, laughing and dancing with each other. I've seen big, goofy grins plastered across people's faces for hours at a time once they looked around and saw the same thing.

Artists have nervously made their live debuts at Gusto Fest and have had the entire crowd enthralled by the end, exhibiting complete confidence in themselves and their music. I've seen people show up for the Hip-Hop and wind up bobbing their heads to a Hardcore Punk band. People have approached me with wide-eyed excitement, telling me that it was the greatest show they've ever attended. Connections get made, friendships blossom and good times are had by all. Life is full of struggle and uncertainty; sometimes it's hard to go on, but for at least one night we forget all that and live life to the fullest. We do it with gusto.

2 comments:

  1. I cant wait to see Mike Holmes tonight at the Gusto Fest 3 ! CAPOUT

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    1. It's a shame Mike had to leave town for a family emergency, but it was a legendary show nonetheless. Gusto Fest recap episode next Saturday (8/1), but Mike Holmes will be the guest on NOLYB episode 71, August 23rd along with Keiz Ali of Capout management.

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