Letter to the editor: Why we should critique newbo evolve

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Maroon 5, along with Kelly Clarkson, will headline the first newbo evolve festival Aug. 3-5. — artist photo courtesy of newbo evolve

By Chad R. Cooper, Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids entrepreneur Steve Shriver wrote a letter to The Gazette in February chastising those raising concerns and criticisms of the upcoming newbo evolve festival. Shriver asked, “What do you gain by complaining about an upcoming event?”

Shriver’s loaded question reveals his defensive attitude and skewed perception. It’s also emblematic of what is wrong with the current “creative brain trust” in Cedar Rapids.

There are valid criticisms — not just petty complaints — about newbo evolve.

The overarching criticism: it’s been branded as a “celebration of the Bohemian spirit,” yet many aspects of the event — ticket pricing, mainstream pop acts and lack of people of color on the core lineup — are firmly un-Bohemian.

Organizers have also said the festival is inspired by national events like SXSW and Burning Man, which makes one wonder if any of the organizers have actually been to those events.

Perhaps the organizers would be better served looking just 20 minutes south for inspiration on how to create a festival that is creative, culturally vibrant and accessible. Iowa City’s Mission Creek Festival is comprised of indie music acts, progressive artists and timely lectures — all at a reasonable price.

A festival celebrating the creative spirit is a wonderful idea, but when legitimate criticism is derided and dismissed, it creates an idea vacuum and can cripple a well-intentioned mission. The valid critiques should be seen as valuable input, and those with ideas should be brought into the fold to collaborate and craft an event that truly embodies both creativity and community. Now that’s the Bohemian spirit.

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  1. To complain about someone providing an optional event that no matter what will get guests and generate revenue is silly. What do you do to bring in people to spend in the community to complain? The BBQ roundup 3 ribs $8 dollars highly praised and talk about a price gouge. Unless it’s costing you tax dollars or forcing you to attend you’re a complainer. Start your own festival do better show your frustration. I won’t go but fully support a private person’s dollars doing what they want with there money in the community. Is anything in Newbo affordable? Yet it brings in money. Mr. Shriver unless the people complaining are paying your salary or bills please carry on with your event and all the people working it from security to waste pickup Thank you. Thanks for investing in our city.

    1. You’re missing the point: The event is being framed as a celebration of community and Bohemian spirit, and yet few if any of the aspects are reflective of that. At the very least, do a better job of accurately branding the festival. Or, bring in people with valid ideas who can help you achieve the Bohemian, cultural, and progressive feel.

  2. The city already fronted them $500,000 to cover upfront costs for the event including signing acts, paying for the Cedar Screamer zip line (which never came through to fruition). More importantly, it’s significant impact to local businesses in the Newbo area that were not consulted during the planning phases of the event. The streets surrounding many of those local businesses are closed off during the actual event and two days leading up to it. Many of those business owners will see a significant drop in sales during this event. This was not a well executed “community” event. The fact they have already sent desperation flyers to individuals that live in the Newbo area offering $75 off tickets does not elude to confidence in ticket sales. If the event does not succeed, the likelihood of getting sponsors and the city to support another event is small.

    Hinterland Music Festival in Des Moines has individuals traveling from 48 states and multiple countries to their event the same weekend. Many types of their packages are sold out. It doesn’t take much to run an event that can actually have a strong economic impact to an area. Hinterland will have a strong profit margin, newbo evolve will end up having it’s tickets bought up by sponsors last minute to make the numbers look decent.

  3. This is a tad more complicated than you might imagine. Mostly, it’s about not wanting to kick a guy (event organizer) when he’s down. The CR creative braintrust has actually nothing to do with this event. It is a City of CR event. Under some new management , the CR Convention and Visitors bureau decided to do this event, with not much input initially from aforementioned creatives. ( God, I hate that word..) Anyway, Mr. Shriver’s comment was not that of an organizer or even an event stakeholder, but rather as someone who was trying to be positive about something that clearly has had many challenges. The organizers are learning from their mistakes, and are having a really rough go of it. Those of us in New Bo who live and work here were not part of the planning process. But the festival committee has been working very hard to make things right and keep everyone up to date. And for that I give them much credit. I have no doubt that they will be open to listening and learning from this event. Trying something new is hard. So I’m choosing
    to be supportive where I can be, and hope that next time will be different.

    1. Susan,

      You make some valid points, but the trouble is that the organizers might not get a second chance if this flops out of the gate because of the costs and negative attitude towards outside criticism. Also, I put “creative brain trust” in quotations to indicate the skepticism I have with the organizers and those blindly supporting this event. I’m also aware Mr. Shriver isn’t an organizer, but he’s deriding constructive criticism to the detriment of the longevity of this festival. As I mentioned in my letter, I believe in the concept, but it’s fair to say it’s been poorly envisioned and planned. This isn’t a matter of kicking anyone while they’re down. It’s about wanting an event to succeed and the collective cringe of seeing it clearly headed towards the opposite outcome. I’m from CR and live and work in the city. I want this city to celebrate creativity and culture. I want a large, annual event that the community can embrace because it’s a reflection of that community. This festival isn’t it, and that’s the point.

      1. Agreed, but it’s too late to change anything this go around. I do hope there will be ample opportunity for community feedback after the event. I’m going to pick something I can afford, and that interests me and make sure that I present my feedback afterwards. Suffice it to say, I won’t be buying a festival ticket. I would definitely suggest that you put a list together of things that you think could have been done differently. Hopefully there will be a community input meeting at some point. If I hear of one, I will def come back here and post the when and where.

        1. That would be appreciated and constructive. As I said before, I just hope they have another chance to formulate another event. Unfortunately, this could fall victim to the old adage: “You only get one chance to make a first impression.”

          I appreciate the discussion, though. The back and forth on this comment thread shows the value of civil discussion and open forums. This is the sort of spirit that would have benefited newbo evolve.

      2. Very well said. My husband and I bought passes because support and encourage the vibrancy of CR. We considered it a sort of staycation, planning to participate as fully as possible.
        The speaker sessions were marvelous overall. The concerts we thoroughly enjoyed.
        -With the late (June?) pricedrop for a three-day pass, we were taken advantage of- we had no benefit in having purchased at full price.
        -Clearly, given the number of attendees anticipated, a paltry number of passes were purchased. Convention room spaces were embarrassingly more empty than full.
        There should have been many options/levels of participation (& advantages of higher$$) from the beginning. Ridiculous that there weren’t.
        -NO hospitality was provided for pass holders, no casual seating/gathering space, no coffee or tea or soft drinks? Just jugs of water. Inadequate!
        -the distance between speakers location and music & drinking was much too far. We hoofed it, but it wasn’t friendly for many to do so. We ever saw a shuttle in operation.
        -signage was grossly inadequate- a logo on the ground cannot direct movement or clarify food/drink/entertainment options.
        – we patronized established merchants in NewBo- they were badly impacted by the needlessly blocked roads, the relentless promotion touting “tens of thousands expected” that, in fact, stopped people from coming to NewBo at all, and suffered with the invasion of the mobile beer wagons that effectively stole their business.

        We love our city and are greatly perplexed by the seeming lack of prudence in scale and care for the well-being of local businesses in the planning of this event.

        We do hope that this event can be re-envisioned, and planned in concert with the greater NewBo area that is is said to embrace and promote.

  4. Susan,

    Mr. Shriver’s initial article does not insinuate that feedback was welcome. The whole premise of his letter to the editor in The Gazette was that people should support the event and not complain. That attitude is why this event is not going well. The fact that in February when his letter was printed, negative feedback and valid critiques were being brought to the committees attention and were turned away. Everyone wants events, economic activity and tourism in Cedar Rapids—but succeeding in achieving these goals requires a diverse group of individuals with innovative ideas, and a willingness to hear differing opinions. The current group is quite honestly in their own “echo chamber.”

  5. They’re using an out-of-town production company (Pepper Entertainment of Sioux Falls) for the concert stage. That’s a huge chunk of money that might have stayed in town with local production companies. Pepper will be bringing their own crew so no local labor is sought.
    Additionally, they’ve got lots of competition in the central states from festivals that have a proven track record of success; a glance at their ticket and package prices will show how excessive the newbo ticket prices are.

    1. ps. A friend in the know told me today (Wed. July 25) that the stagehands’ union has been approached to provide some additional labor – but no numbers were mentioned.
      It remains to be seen whether or not any will be used.

      1. Once again I must note a change. Although Pepper Productions mentions newbo on their website, I’m told by local workers that the company that’s actually being used is PGP from Nashville, Tenn. I’m not at all surprised that they’re using out-of-towners but I am profoundly disappointed.
        I certainly apologize for any errors and welcome corrections – but newbo is posted on Pepper’s website for all to see.

        1. As of 1200, Aug. 3, I’ve been informed via EMail that Pepper is the buyer and PGP is the staging contractor.
          Profuse apologies for any confusion I’ve created.
          The whole thing seems unnecessarily complex, though – don’t you think?
          A local firm could have done it, you know.
          I leave it to you to deduce who I mean – to avoid any accusations of trying to work in a plug for my employers.
          Thanks, and again, profuse & sincere apologies for any confusion I have inadvertently created.

  6. To be completely fair; The company for which I work is locally owned, & operated and will see thousands of dollars of revenue due directly to the services rendered during the concert(s). I know of two other vendors personally I worked with, both of which are local. I agree with the sentiment however that they should really extend themselves to look for local contractors whenever they can, for as many of the services as they can.

    But I wanted to mention that that was certainly local companies benefiting, and they didn’t look exclusively to outside-of-the-area contractors.

  7. I believe one can offer constructive criticism about an event and still be supportive and hopeful of improvements. It sounds like that’s what happened in this case. The organizers were receptive and made tweaks to their approach, etc. Next time around even more so.

    One of the worst things anyone can do is discourage or malign discussion on a subject. When the Gazette turned off the comments function on their website it was one the largest blows to community discourse and openness in memory. Thank God, we have venues like Little Village to keep the lines of news and reaction to that news open.

    1. Of course, there are those people who will just want to tear down anything and everything they see, and that’s not helpful either.

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