First Festival organizer reflects on turnout, community discussion

Danielle Vincent remembers looking around at her near-empty festival in disbelief.

“I was blown away,” she says. “Literally devastated.”

Why did so few people show up to the second annual First Festival?

Vincent says 3,000 people attended its smaller, one-day, $20 edition last year at River Walk Park. She expected at least 1,000 people to walk through the festival gates at Southside Park each day last weekend. There were more than 40 local bands, multiple stages, 70 craft beers on tap via Beers in Sac and a bunch of local vendors.

Yet, Vincent estimates only 500 people came over the course of two days.

She was disappointed. She knew she’d have to pay for much of the festival out-of-pocket. She knew vendors were angry that they lost money as well. But when SN&R posted a review pointing out the poor turnout, and people took to Facebook and Twitter to discuss First Festival, things got personal.

Comments stated that Vincent “exploited local artists” and that she should be “ashamed” of herself. Less personal: the lineup needed bigger names; the weekend choice was terrible; the marketing was awful; and most of all, that $35 is way too expensive for a day of local music. 

Vincent was shocked. In the months leading up to the festival, she said she only heard words of support and not a single person suggested she rethink the ticket prices. If someone had, she might have lowered them—beyond the many deals and promotions that she already ran.

Still, it’s expensive to throw an event of this size. Last year, she couldn’t afford to provide stage structures for two stages, so bands were playing in direct sunlight. She wanted to make sure the festival was well-equipped and well-ran, with professional lighting and stages to rival Sacramento’s major music festivals.

Lots of folks blame the lineup more than anything else. Namely, the lack of hip-hop. There was one rapper, but the lineup did skew toward rock bands of various sub-genres. It’s worth noting, though, that the lineup was chosen by a panel of 15 local musicians.

How about the poor choice of weekend? There was a ton going on: Davis Music Fest, Sacramento French Film Festival, Wizard World Comic-Con and, ya know, Father’s Day. But every weekend in the summer is stacked with events. Last year, First Festival was held the same weekend as the Sacramento Music Festival in Old Sacramento.

“I don’t want to believe that Sacramento won’t show up for the local scene, but it sure looks that way,” Vincent says.

Will there be a next year? Vincent hopes so, but it’s too early to say for sure. She has heard the many commenters who suggested booking a couple of bigger names would help.

“I wanted to give a voice to bands who were really good but didn’t have much of a following, and let the music speak for itself,” she says. “I’ll have to be more strategic.”

Despite still reeling from the weekend and the backlash, Vincent speaks remarkably calmly about the whole ordeal. She posted an open letter to the community last night on Facebook, which has been met mostly with support.

“I’m not pointing the finger at people who didn’t show up,” she says. “It was my festival. I take full responsibility. I’m just surprised. And I’m listening.”

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