Tag Archives: Chris Wiser

Behind the B3: Putting Together A Music Festival (aka, What Was I Thinking??)

Putting a music festival together is a lot of work, a whole lot of work, more work than I could have ever imagined.  I know this because we just hosted the first ever family music festival in Oklahoma, Wiggle Out Loud, on September 1st of this year, and it was a lot of work.  You may have noticed that I haven’t posted in several months, this is because I never realized how all consuming putting together a festival was going to be. Did I mention it was a lot of work?  Okay, just making sure I got that point across.

So why do it? I asked myself that question numerous times over the past year or so, but the plain and simple answer is the time was right, Oklahoma was ready.  For several years we have played at the amazing Jiggle Jam Family Festival in Kansas City, Mo on Memorial Day weekend and have always been so impressed by what a fantastic event it is. It was always in the back of our minds that it would be so great to try putting together something similar in OKC, an idea that was reinforced and encouraged by our good friend Dana Morrow, Director of Outreach for our local Metropolitan Library System (she’s also one of our biggest inspirations and cheerleaders). The market for family music in this area has grown exponentially since our foray into the genre in 2007 to the point that there are now at least three family acts in the OKC metro area.  The time was right.

Okay, that’s great, we thought it would be cool to “one day” do a festival.  For several years that was about the extent of it, until we met our good friend Rob Crissinger.  Rob is a PR man extraordinaire (and all around great guy) for Bumbershoot PR, an awesome community-minded public relations firm here in OKC we work with on the local level.  When we first met I mentioned something to him in passing about doing an OKC family music fest and Rob immediately started connecting the dots with suggestions of amazing people who would love to be involved………and thus the ball started rolling.

This brings us to the folks that helped make it all happen.  It’s just not possible to put together an event like this by yourself, so finding people who know way more about their festival positions than you ever could is paramount.  For instance, you get someone from the art museum and local symphony to chair the art/music activities committee, you get someone from the city’s public school system physical education department to chair the exercise/movement activities committee, and so on and so on.  We were so fortunate to have well respected and accomplished members of high profile community organizations and local businesses involved with the planning.  They all genuinely wanted to see the festival succeed for the good of the community and the event truly benefited from their expertise. In my mind they were, without question, the key to Wiggle Out Loud’s success.

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So if we had all these amazing people on board what was so hard about it?  Well it wasn’t that each thing needing to be done was so difficult on its own, it was that there were just SO MANY decisions to be made and tasks to complete, and they all required careful consideration.  Things that I had never had to do before like renting port-a-potties, booking a sound and stage company, figuring out how many tents/tables we would need, thinking through our parking situation, working on a festival grounds layout, raising money…..oh yeah, that one was kind of important.  I quickly learned that it can be a challenge to attract sponsors for a first year event, especially in the wake of consecutive natural disasters like the tornadoes that hit central Oklahoma around the end of May this year.  Also, please keep in mind that I had, up until this point, only experienced festivals as an attendee and/or performer, never as an organizer, so this side of things was all brand new to me.  It’s an understatement to say I felt overwhelmed on numerous occasions and wished I could just walk away from it all.  People would laugh and think I was just trying to be funny when I would tell them about being curled up in a ball on the floor of my office with my eyes closed while my wife was asking if I was okay and me telling her I just wanted to stay where I was and keep my eyes closed…….yeah, that really happened.  But it was her support and several pep talks from good friends (Rob Crissinger and Tracey Zeeck specifically) that helped me get through times like these to continue moving toward our end goal.

So after all has been said and done (or on it’s way to being done, still in the process of following up on our budget and sponsor packet deliveries) the festival was an enormous success, especially for a first year event.  We had hoped for 2500 attendees and by all estimates we doubled that and then some.  The mayor of OKC was even there and introduced our set!  All the bands were amazing, the activities were a hit, the food trucks/vendors (all providing healthier food options) were delicious, all in all a grand time was had by everyone in attendance.  It was a very trying experience for me at times but I learned so much in a short amount of time and I feel like I’m truly a better person for it.

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 Would I do it again?  Well, planning has already started for next year, so I guess the answer is yes. My question for you is….who’s in for Wiggle Out Loud 2014??

That’s all for now, see you again soon from Behind the B3…….

The awesome Wiggle Out Loud follow up/promo video at the top was put together by the amazing Nathan Poppe

Behind the B3: Expendable Arts

For the last week I had been working on my next blog post which was going to be about Sugar Free Allstars’ recent 10 day tour out West.  That was… until I got home to Oklahoma and learned about OK House Bill 1895.  This bill proposes to cut state funding to the Oklahoma Arts Council by 25% per year for four years, eliminating all funding by 2017.  This is disturbing for numerous reasons. On the grand scale this is sending a message to the nation that the arts aren’t important in my home state. On his blog Representative Cockroft,  who authored the bill, says:

I have nothing against the arts, in fact; quite the contrary. However, I do not support the misuse of taxpayer’s dollars. Every dollar saved from these side projects is a dollar better spent for our education system, state employees, and agencies across Oklahoma.”

Needless to say it’s discouraging when one of your state’s legislators refers to the arts as a “side project”.  In reality, studies have shown time and time again that this “side project” increases students’ intellect and test scores, has a positive impact on local economies, and culturally enriches communities, thereby attracting new businesses and families.

If the motivation behind this bill is purely fiscal responsibility, let’s talk numbers: the Oklahoma Arts Council only receives $4 million per year of the total state budget of $6.8 billion (that’s less than 1/10th of one percent!) and according to a 2010 study by Americans for the Arts, the arts in Oklahoma actually generated $29 million in tax revenue, a $25 million profit.  I’m no financial expert, but I’m not sure it makes much business sense to cut a program that provides a 600% return on its investment.

On the smaller scale this bill would affect me, professionally and personally in my ability to provide for my family.  The first family shows Sugar Free Allstars ever played were for programs funded in part by the Oklahoma Arts Council, so I feel confident in saying we would not be where we are today without them.  More than half of the shows we play in our home state are subsidized by the council in countless libraries, schools and festivals – in many smaller Oklahoma communities it’s the only way kids and families are able to experience live music.  If the arts council isn’t able to help fund these shows they just simply won’t happen, and for SFA that means fewer shows and less family income.  It’s already a full time job finding shows to keep the band busy, and this would greatly reduce our options.  SFA is honored to be included on the Oklahoma Arts Council’s touring roster, which allows schools to apply for a special grant to bring us to their town to play concerts and teach workshops about music theory and history.

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Many of these schools have already lost their arts programs and our visits are an effort to help fulfill their state mandated art education requirement.  Without these grants from OAC, these rural communities wouldn’t be able to have us come visit, decreasing their exposure to the arts.

I’m a lifelong resident of Oklahoma, and I’ll be the first to admit that in the past we haven’t been viewed as the most forward-thinking or culturally-advanced place; but within the last 5 years or so our image has improved. There is a sense of upward momentum and civic pride coupled with support of all things local that is making me increasingly proud of living here.  Then something like this comes along and reminds me that there are still people here and around the country that view the arts (one of the things at the very heart of our cultural renaissance) as expendable.

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The arts are around us everyday, in virtually every aspect of our lives, and yet they are almost always the first thing on the chopping block when it comes to balancing the budget.  The next Oklahoma legislative session begins on February 4th, so it looks like I’ll be contacting my legislator this week to express opposition to this bill.

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I am encouraged to see the outpouring of support for the Oklahoma Arts Council from the community and hopeful that HB 1895 won’t make it past committee.

Sometimes you have to fight for what you believe in from Behind the B3…..

Behind the B3: Who Am I and What Am I Doing In A Kindie Rock Band???

wiserThe Rock Star Dream: name in lights, stadiums packed with screaming fans, partying all night, making millions of dollars…  Awesome, right?!  So how does one end up going from that fantasy to playing shows in libraries and schools for kids and families?  Well I’ll tell you after I introduce myself.  My name is Boom! (I also answer to Wiser, Chris or DaddyDaddyDaddyDaddyDaddy) and I play organ and sing in the funky kindie duo Sugar Free Allstars out of Oklahoma City.  For those of you not familiar with kindie (indie music for kids) it is basically a sub-genre of children’s music that has become a whole movement of creating music that is enjoyable for kids and adults alike.  A phenomenon common to many kindie acts, SFA included, is that they started out playing for “grown ups” (often times in late night establishments) and have somehow found themselves performing kid-friendly music at family events, school assemblies and public libraries instead.

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The first incarnation of Sugar Free Allstars came together in late 2000 and immediately began playing late-night club shows, releasing our first album in 2001.  Many times fans that had kiddos at home would come to shows after buying our albums and tell us how much their little ones liked the music.  It happened often enough that we started tossing around the idea of “one day” releasing a kid’s album.  But not yet, we were too busy living the dream…oh yeah, the Rock Star Dream…only the stadiums packed with screaming fans in reality were more like 10-15 people in a club at the end of the night.  Oh, and the millions of dollars turned out to be maybe $200, but after paying a bar tab and buying gas to get to the next town, more like $100 to split between everyone.  Par-ty!  And so it went, year after year, until late 2006 when Fate intervened. After performing at an all-ages community show, we were approached about playing a tour of Oklahoma City area libraries for their kid’s summer reading program.  We were excited to book the shows and quickly began recording our first kindie album Dos Ninos (released in 2007) in order to have merchandise with subject matter that was appropriate for kids. We were amazed as SFA began to receive attention nationally, seemingly having found our niche playing funky music for families.  Even more encouraging, the first song on the album went to #1 on XM Radio’s Kids Place Live channel. After the surprising success of that first release, the course of our careers was forever altered.

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So there you have it – from bar band to Purveyors of Kindie Rock. The musician life is much more fulfilling now and even slightly more prosperous playing for families rather than in clubs. That being said, it is still a job, and a continuously demanding one at that. I do have an amazing, super supportive wife and incredible 2 year old son who encourage and motivate me to continue pursuing this path. My intent with this column is to provide a behind the scenes look at being a working kindie musician while also figuring out how to be the best PTSAHD (part-time stay at home dad) I can be: sharing the ups and downs, the frustrations and the triumphs, the disappointments and the successes along the way.  This will be your chance to get a glimpse of the reality of this kindie rock business, not just the big fun rock shows.

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 I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences with you from Behind the B3!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3OOwMiiXHo]