Pop Rocks

Steven Uhles is a guest entertainment columnist

Pop Rocks: Friends With Benefits finding success booking diverse acts

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While I’m not a gambler by nature, I do admire people willing to roll the dice and take a chance on a lofty ambition. There’s real pleasure in seeing What Ifs become What Ares – particularly when endeavors are undertaken for all the right reasons.

Jason Isbell, who will perform Jan. 20 at Sky City, is one of the acts booked by Friends With Benefits Fund.  SPECIAL
SPECIAL
Jason Isbell, who will perform Jan. 20 at Sky City, is one of the acts booked by Friends With Benefits Fund.

That’s why I have so much respect for the Friends With Benefits crew.

This organization began simply enough – booking the odd concert with a charitable aim in mind. Over the past couple of years, however, it has grown into a real commodity for both music fans and the community as a whole.

It’s been an interesting journey to watch. The earliest endeavors had a real speculative feel to them – a sense of testing waters and developing an understanding of how the relationship between rock shows and noble causes might be developed.

Most of the shows were relatively small in scale – local acts, the occasional regional band and obvious friends of Friends.

Today, however, the organization has grown to become one of the bigger – and consistently successful – bookers in the area.

Upcoming shows include this Friday’s Shock G of Digital Underground show at Sky City, the widely anticipated Jason Isbell concert on Jan. 20 – also at Sky City – and a Masters Week (April 7) concert featuring the wildly popular jam/prog act Umphrey’s McGee, a show for which all official pre-sale tickets have already sold out.

What has been amazing about the rise of Friends is the organization’s obvious understanding that booking isn’t always about bringing favorite acts to town, but understanding what a local audience might respond to and has not necessarily been getting.

Yes, there are still the occasional friends of Friends shows – a stroll through past shows unearths an awful lot of Whigs and Moon Taxi concerts. But there is also a real sense of diversity among the bookings, ranging from the hip-hop of Shock G to the Americana of Jason Isbell. And it’s all for a good cause. Amazing. The gamble has certainly paid off.

Learn more about Friends With Benefits at fwbfund.com.

WHERE TO FOR WESTOBOU? I recently heard and confirmed that Molly McDowell is stepping down from her post as executive director of the Westobou Festival. And while she will no longer be part of the day-to-day operation of the annual celebration of the fine and performing arts, rest assured her contributions will remain part of the festival fabric for years to come.

It’s important to remember and understand the state of the festival when she took the reins in early 2011. It was a sprawling and disorganized mishmash of a few excellent marquee events and an awful lot of lesser “filler” presentations.

Under her watch, the festival developed a genre-based system of organization, revamped its booking policy, rebranded and – perhaps most importantly – condensed from 10 days to five. The resulting template offers Westobou a far more realistic model for success – now and in years to come.

A search for a new director is underway. Rest assured whoever fills the position will find a festival primed to continue as an essential component of the Augusta area’s cultural calendar.

For that, this community owes you a debt of thanks, Molly McDowell.

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Wade Teston
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Wade Teston 01/01/14 - 07:14 pm
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Westobou Festival

Maybe Steven Uhles can be persuaded to become the new director.

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