Letter to the editor: We critiqued newbo evolve. Now here’s how we fix it.

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An aerial image of the newbo evolve concert venue in Cedar Rapids. — press photo courtesy of newbo evolve

By Chad R. Cooper, Cedar Rapids

Several weeks ago I penned a letter raising concerns about the then-upcoming newbo evolve festival. My primary criticism was that the event’s branding seemed at odds with its elements. How can one truly have an event “celebrating the Bohemian spirit” with $400 passes, a lineup dominated by mainstream pop acts and a lack of community engagement in the planning process?

With recent news that newbo evolve lost $2.3 million and dismissed both the community events director and chief executive of GO Cedar Rapids, I have doubts Cedar Rapids will even get another shot at a festival like this, but in the off-chance that we do, here are a few suggested solutions to implement:

  • Create a community advisory board comprised of local business owners, artists and musicians, civic members, and a few “finger-on-the-pulse” citizens who have traveled the country and attended other music festivals. Don’t succumb to the idea vacuum of a few select people.
  • Diversify your entertainment options by thinking beyond mainstream pop acts and looking at national indie acts that could produce a draw without the massive cost. If you need a mainstream act to generate sales, that’s fine, but balance it with an indie act(s) to save initial booking costs. This in turn would cut the cost of tickets and make the event more accessible — both financially and artistically — for citizens.
  • Utilize the community. Let local bands open for your headline act(s). If you have session presenters, host them in local businesses (space permitting) that relate to the session topic. For instance, a fashion designer could hold a session at a vintage clothing shop and an author could set up in the independent bookstore.

Those are three high-level changes that could immediately improve the creation, execution and attendance of a future event.

This all begs a larger question, of course: Is Cedar Rapids capable of supporting a large-scale annual event in the same vein as 80/35 and Hinterland? I know many people who think it’s an uphill battle, but I hold out hope that it’s possible with the right minds and a spirit of collaboration.

There were people who said newbo evolve was bold. I’d disagree. Let’s not confuse grandiosity for boldness. Bold would have been creating an event that truly reflected the Bohemian spirit this event purported to represent. In the end, newbo evolve should be judged for what it was: an exercise in tone deafness, both culturally and creatively.

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  1. I decided very early on to not attend this event. Newspaper articles were written quoting the people in charge making decisions about locations, traffic, events, etc. before requesting permission from the Cedar Rapids Community. One does not decide that certain roads needed to be closed and then tell community leaders to make it happen. All events were planned by a very small group with little or no input from the majority of citizens. The entire event came off as very elitist.

  2. Well penned, Chad. I completely agree with you. This festival rung resoundingly tone deaf. In a region (and state!) with so much talent and creative energy bursting from the ground, the best newbo evolve organizers could think up was this? Kelly Clarkson and Maroon 5 are barely relevant! And of course they would be exorbitantly expensive… They’re already incredibly successful and wealthy! Those bands have as much to do with the “Bohemian Spirit” (which… ugh…) as inspirational-slogan-slathered barn wood has to do with creative interior design. This was uninformed and lazy imitation of what someone who doesn’t actually attend successful festivals imagines them to be. I truly hope that this serves as a (maddeningly costly) lesson for organizers of future events.

  3. Thanks Chad, you were on point early on and now. Sounds like you need to be on any future community advisory board as the “finger-on-the-pulse” citizen!

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