Q + A with the Founder of Garfield Park Art & Music Festival

Photos by Grant Thomas

It might come as a surprise to some non-Hoosiers, but Indianapolis has had a strong art and music festival scene for quite a few years now. While we don’t have our own Coachella or Bonnaroo or Governor’s Ball, what we do have are lots of smaller organizations who are dedicated to making sure local artists are getting the attention and exposure that they deserve. For instance, we have the Fountain Square Music Festival, the Independent Music + Art Festival and Black Expo’s Summer Celebration, just to name a few. In the midst of these many celebrations, another emerging Indy festival is coming back for its second year this month. Garfield Park Art and Music Festival enjoyed a successful kickoff last summer and the founder of the event, Brandon Wadley, talks about how the festival got started and how it has grown from its humble beginnings over the course of just a year.

Evelyn Allee: Tell me a bit about yourself and how you got involved with music in the first place?
Brandon Wadley: I have been playing music since I was 12 growing up in east Tennessee, it was a big part of my culture with church, and there was a lot of bluegrass and punk rock in high school. Those are my original influences. I was somewhere in between all those, and still am. I started writing music in high school and didn’t really perform until I was about 18, around that time I started recording and have been recording and writing since then. I knew I wanted to do music forever, but I have been searching for how to apply that love of music. Pursuing my songwriting has been the anchor and focus. I sometimes have to adjust my perception of success. I have been letting go of that and finding joy in creating music and sharing it, like finding joy in playing shows for 10 people. If that changes that’s great, but it really taught me the slow burn of patience. I interpret my life through music and music through my life.

EA: How did the Garfield Park Art and Music Festival get started?
BW: Last spring, I wanted to have a house show at my place with a couple of artists in mind. I thought it should be in the backyard, and I made a Facebook page for the event and called it Garfield Park Music Festival, which I guess was a good idea and a bad idea. It ended up getting a lot of attention and over 1000 people RSVP’d. I was so determined to have it in the backyard, but the neighborhood association said we need bathrooms, permits and other things so they connected me with some resources, and I decided to go ahead and do it big. Kavita Mahoney, who manages the Garfield Park Art Center, said the center had been wanting to do a festival like this. With that idea of having five songwriters I went to Big Car and Jim Walker and they sponsored us with a $500 budget. About 130 people attended, it was very low key, I handpainted a banner and made flyers and signs. It was so gratifying to have made something that people were interested in that really did its own thing and took off.

EA: What is in the works for this year?
BW: Last September we started planning for this year. We built a committee, put a rain plan in place, designed staff shirts. It grew from music festival to art and music festival, so we are going to have 25 to 30 artists, food trucks, a beer garden by Garfield Brewery, six bands and in between sets we are trying to have spoken word poets. Its gonna be a much bigger scale, on Facebook 300 peoples say they are coming, and 8000 say they are interested. So I am guessing 500 to 10000. It will still be free. We are still trying to keep it as diverse as possible as we have a Mexican folk dance group, lots of female representation, a dance group. We really just want to make it a festival for everyone. We are trying to keep it Indianapolis, as local as possible. Soon we are going to have a fundraising page, where people who are interested in donating can support us expanding to have multiple stages and more artists.

EA: What is the mission of the festival?
BW: The idea was to create a festival that is accessible, diverse, showcases quality work, but is also a community place to be and to look forward to every summer. We want to keep it so that anyone of any background can be a part of the community. The musicians and artists we have picked are exemplary in their mission to make their own work, not covers of other artists. It is an exhibition of their work.

EA: What goes into choosing artists and musicians to include in the festival?
BW: Last year I personally reached out to people who I thought would be a good fit since we only had a couple of months to put it together. This year I just posted on social media and gave them a form to fill out. We got about 25 music submissions. As far as artists, we had to reach out to them personally. We had open submissions, but for the most part, it was our circles who we got to be involved. The more we open up the better, but it is definitely still curated.

EA: Does being an up-and-coming artist yourself impact the way that you run the festival?
BW: A thousand percent! From my perspective, the music world is a strangely cliquish and exclusive place. It’s really difficult to get started. I wanted to have a festival or event that includes people based on merit instead of anything else. I have spent so much of my career being my own manager, so I have formed this as the kind of DIY punk rock ethic of building from the ground up, not having huge corporate sponsors, being in a state of learning, instead of knowing exactly what we are doing all the time. In a way, there is an authority we have as a board, but we also want to be open to ideas to make it a community. Right now especially, since it’s new there is a lot we are still figuring out like how to obtain permits or making sure we have a security person. I’m sending out information right now, and I might give too many details because sometimes you show up to a festival and you don’t know where to go or who to check in with. I want this festival to be run from the perspective of someone who’s been in it.

EA: What is the most challenging part of putting together a music and art festival?
BW: It can get away from you really quickly. I still feel like the founder, but when it comes to delegating there are things that get done without me knowing it. There is a really nice hands off thing about that, but I’ve also had to assert myself a little bit. A lot of people have a lot of opinions. It has been a lot of listening and trying to stay true to the heart of it. The greatest challenge but also the greatest reward is working with people. We need people of all different backgrounds. Its a necessary and beautiful thing to include the hands of many people. We haven’t gotten much criticism, its been positive reinforcement which you can’t take for granted. Last year everything was hard, especially sponsorships. This year we’re doing it with $1200. Money has been an issue but it’s been enough to do what we want to do. As it grows we will run into how to be wise with what we have. We also wanted to include more diversity, which is harder than we had expected.

EA: What advice would you give to someone wanting to start their music career in Indy?
BW: The main thing I would say is to focus on making something quality and honest and true to yourself. That will be your best means of reaching people. There are ways of marketing and advertising, but making a good album or set is a lot more fulfilling than making yourself into a product. Go to shows that you aren’t playing. Be continually involved, even if you think you are too good or too experienced. There are people who expect others to support them and come out to their shows but they don’t do the same. Making good music and not being a jerk will take you far. Indy is a tight-knit community, word gets around if you are terrible to work with.

EA: Do you have any other shows coming up? Where can people find you online?
BW: I will be performing with my band at the festival. We are currently writing new music and its kind of suspending everything else right now. I have a few solo things coming up. As far as online presence my website is brandonwadley.com. I am on Instagram, and also on Spotify as Bradon Wadley.

The 2019 Garfield Park Art and Music Festival will take place on Saturday, June 29th from 4 pm to 9 pm behind the Garfield Park Arts Center. RSVP on Facebook here. You can also donate to the festival on Patronicity.

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