Pop Rocks: Westobou format a success

Janelle Monáe performed at the Westobou Festival on Thursday to headline the day dedicated to music.

I was wrong.


I thought this year’s Westobou Festival had too much working against it. I thought competing events – Border Bash being the most notable – acts with suspect marketability and a foreshortened schedule and tight budget would prove insurmountable.

I thought the festival might fail. I hoped I was wrong but felt pretty sure I was right.

And so I offer this mea culpa with real enthusiasm.

While it’s true that some events didn’t attract the audiences they should have or perhaps would have on another weekend – college football does, after all, exert a significant pull – the numbers were reasonable and by more significant measures, Westobou proved an impressive success.

Looking back, 2012 may be deemed the year the Westobou Festival grew up.

By reducing the festival from 10 days to five, Westobou has become a more focused endeavor. It’s a format that encourages, perhaps even requires, significant bang for buck.

In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that I did not lead any coverage for the newspaper nor was I directly involved with the staging of the event as I was last year. I was a spectator, able to pick and choose the events I attended.

In the end I chose to check out the art installations at the Old Academy of Richmond County, the big music evening featuring Janelle Monáe and the performance by the L.A. Dance Project.

What each of these very different parts of a collective whole did was engage, enthuse and attract audiences. For years Westobou has been working to establish a sense of patron trust, building on the idea that audiences might take a chance with a Westobou event because it is a Westobou event.

Case in point – Janelle Monáe. Monáe is not, by any means, an unknown quantity. She has enjoyed some success. But hers is still a fairly select audience. Her interesting amalgamation of funk, soul, pop and rock has yet to break into the mainstream in any significant way.

She’s clearly inspired by James Brown, but on a global scale, she hasn’t even begun to attain the sort of significant recognition the Godfather enjoyed. That day may come, but people rarely buy tickets based on future possibilities.

They will, however, buy them when the show is stamped with a Westobou seal of approval. While the Old Academy Parade Grounds were far from full – I estimate 5,000 could easily fit under the oaks – I would feel comfortable with a 1,500 head count. Good numbers. Good numbers and, for the record, a very good show.

The L.A. Dance Project show didn’t attract the numbers Monáe did, nor was it expected to. It was presented in a much smaller venue, the Imperial Theatre, just weeks after its inaugural performance in Los Angeles. What it had going for it was director Benjamin Millepied’s association with the popular film Black Swan. And while there were a few empty seats, the result I would guess of a fairly significant ticket price of $75 and the pull of the Georgia-South Carolina football game, it was a good and mostly enthusiastic house.

Now that the Westobou Festival has found its footing in terms of format and, hopefully, funding, it will be interesting to see how organizers are able to make the garden grow. They do seem to have established that very important element of trust. Now the trick becomes maintaining it.

Shorter schedule works for Westobou Festival, organizers and patrons say