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How the Purple Door Arts and Music Festival survived 15 Years

Considered one of the premiere music events in the Northeast US, the Purple Door Arts and Music Festival is getting ready to celebrate its 15th anniversary on August 13th and 14th.  But these days when new large outdoor concerts come and go, what does it take to keep such a festival going each year?  We spoke with Chris Strayer, Festival Producer, to learn more.

So what does Purple Door do to keep people coming back?  “Well one thing we have going for us is longevity,” Strayer offered.  “We have people coming to the festival who came as a kid except now they are bringing their kids.  We have built a name for ourselves that many people are familiar with. We also offer such a diverse and yet different lineup.  At most festivals you will also not find such diversity of bands/musicians/performers.”

I can attest that the festival has morphed and expanded since its early years, once including only a one-day festival, smaller venues and fewer stages.  This year, with the intent of making the HM Stage line up even bigger and better, Purple Door partnered with Facedown Records for “Facedown Friday,” featuring all bands from the label’s roster with seasoned veteranslike War Of Ages and A Plea For Purging to up and coming bands Onward To Olympas and In The Midst Of Lions.

It may seem quite easy to plan a festival.  Just call a few folks and invite them to perform, right?  Perhaps not!  First off, planning for the following year begins within days after the previous festival.  When asked, “What would be the first thing you would say to someone who was thinking of starting a new festival?” Strayer quipped, “Run!”  He continued, “Doing festivals and concerts is like gambling.  You spend a lot of money, promise many bands and such money and then hope enough people will come to pay the bills.”

So what do you suppose goes in to the decision on which musicians and speakers will be a part of Purple Door each year?  Festival organizers cannot just pick their favorite artists.  In fact, Strayer told us, there are many considerations, including but not limited to, “Who is ‘hot’ at the time.  Who did well at the previous festival… both in performance, in merch sales and crowd.  And who may have a new album before Purple Door.”  He adds, “Honestly it’s hard.  We book many of the bands as much as nine months before the festival and a lot can happen in nine months.  Like a band can explode or implode.” 

Purple Door also includes a variety of activities beyond music, such as an art gallery and a huge skate park.  Last year’s event saw the addition of a forum, featuring speakers and discussions in an intimate setting.  For 2010, the Forum, a new fourth stage, will host speakers tackling relevant contemporary topics, as well as industry-changing artists like Derek Webb, and Family Force 5, performing acoustically. 

Adding to the interest, speakers from the main stage have been part of the lineup each year.  In 2010, Purple Door is hosting Renee Yohe for her first major performance.  Yohe is the inspiration behind the nationally known organization To Write Love On Her Arms.   After touching millions of lives through her motivational speaking and the release of her memoir, “Purpose for the Pain”, the twenty-three year old is now connecting with her audience through the medium of music.           

Festival organizers do take on a huge risk, so what drives the festival staff to continue putting together the event?  Talking about him and his staff, Strayer responded, “Overall, we enjoy putting on the event.  We all know that Purple Door has a place in today’s culture and is much needed.  Most of the folks that come to Purple Door would not go see Michael W. Smith or many of the normal Christian bands.  [However] they will come to Purple Door and when the bands stop between songs and talk about there faith, they listen.”

It’s those non-normal bands that keep me coming to the fest again and again.