In what appears to be an unfortunately frequent occurrence for Artsquest, the SteelJam festival last weekend rounded out with a deluge of rain. Although official numbers don’t appear to have been released, the numbers don’t seem pretty. With only about two hundred people at the headlining show on Monday and attendees saying previous days were sparse as well, the festival stands to clock in significantly lower than the projected 10,000+ attendees that were expected.
And it’s a shame, because it’s not for a lack of good music. I’m not even a big “jam band” fan but the music presented, at least on Monday, was fantastic. Upon arriving at 3pm the place was nearly completely empty and my first thoughts were, “Aren’t these supposed to be fans of the same type of music that people danced to in the mud in the 60s?” and, “There’s indoor shows too, where is everyone?” I first checked out The Post Junction, who lacked energy and were playing in the Creativity Commons to a few people hanging out at the Mike & Ike Bistro tables.
Next up was The Big Dirty outside who played to a few more people until the rain started up again, and then inside for Truth & Salvage Co. Then it was back outside once more for Tea Leaf Green, who managed to start their set without rain, but ended up with drenching downpours not long after. I then had a chance to hang out with Truth & Salvage Co. with a friend who knows the band. And so I spent some time in their dressing room and on the Sands Deck talking shop about the area and the venue. As I was leaving I saw the (comparably) large crowd for Ozomatli, the headliner.
The only real complaint I heard was about prices. I see both sides of this argument. For non-Artsquest members it was $25 for Friday, $35 for other days, or $85 for a pass to all shows. When I first looked at the prices I thought, “Well, that’s pretty expensive.” But when you boil it down and look at what you’re getting it really doesn’t seem too bad. For instance, Ozomatli is playing inSeattlenext month and it’s $24-$28 for tickets, and that’s just one headlining band. For $35 you got eleven straight hours of music. When you put it in that perspective it doesn’t seem like such a bad deal for a day pass, or even for a whole festival pass.
A Morning Call commenter brought up a great point in that Moe.Down, a huge jam festival in New York featuring the band moe., occurred the same weekend that SteelJam went down. Although significantly more expensive ($145 for a festival pass, $55-$65 for a day pass), it also had more widely known bands like moe., Slightly Stoopid, and TV on the Radio. Moe.Down traditionally brings a larger crowd, around 12,000 people, and has been going on every Labor Day for the past 11 years. There was even overlapping in performers with Railroad Earth and Ozomatli playing both festivals.
How Artsquest might overcome the notion that their festivals are too pricey or compete with a long-standing, larger festival are the big questions to be asked here. I usually have at least one (even if it’s harebrained and uninformed) idea but this time I just don’t know. The only possible suggestion would be to move the weekend of the festival as to not compete with moe.down, even though it’s so far away. With two more festivals coming up it’ll be interesting to see what happens. I have a feeling the Blast Furnace Blues Festival will be similarly attended (with $30-$35 single day passes, $55-$65 event passes, and $250 VIP passes) yet the Oktoberfest will really draw in the crowds with cheaper pricing, family events and diverse music.