It’s been a couple weeks since the inaugural Promowest Fest wrapped up, and we’ve had some time to digest the performances, the setting and the overall experience. As folks would inevitably ask how it was, I had a lot of things to say. Performances I wanted to tell them about (“Brand New killed it!”), how McFerson Park proved to be an excellent setting for a large event, how easy it was to manage and navigate. But as I got a little distance from the weekend, I keep returning to one thought: it felt like a real festival.
When Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds took the stage around 6:30 Friday to a sparsely populated park, I was a little concerned. While that might mean you could easily get a great view of the stage, but it’s not goingto represent our city well to the performers. But as it turns out, it might have just been early on a work day, because by the time the Flaming Lips took the stage later that night with their elaborate stage show, the crowd had filled in, and it began to feel like Promowest Fest had found it’s footing. Here was Wayne Coyne and company, entering to “Race for the Prize” and immediately dumping what felt like a hundred multicolored balloons on the audience. Their lasers and high production, while well worn on the festival circuit, made this event feel like one worthy of the grand scale of such an event. Maybe this could be Columbus’ premier festival after all.
While the weekend saw a host of national and local acts perform across it’s two main stages, and after shows at A&R Bar, Sunday held the most packed schedule of all. From the alt country stylings of Austin Plaine and aggressively Canadian punk sounds of Pup on, there really wasn’t any act you could afford to miss. For my money, Garbage might have done the best festival style set of the weekend, coming out and hitting the crowd with multiple hits in the form of “Stupid Girl” and “#1 Crush” before playing new single “Empty” from their new album Strange Little Birds. They grabbed the audience’s attention quickly with the familiar so they’d have patience for the new stuff and really made the most of their one-hour slot.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day for me, but not for the legions of their fans in attendance, was Brand New. I’m a relative neophyte to the band, having recently spent some quality time with The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, and was well aware of their dedicated following, but my goodness. The area in front of the Pepsi stage swelled to perhaps it’s biggest size since the Flaming Lips set on Friday as fans sang along with the band. And when I say sang along, I mean they sang every last word to every single song. With their lack of radio play, that’s saying something in 2016. Soon enough, local favorites J Roddy Walston and the Business would take the Columbus Makes Art stage by storm with their high energy show and old time rock n roll vibes. But it was during the weekend’s final performance of the weekend by Modest Mouse, when the Pepsi Stage crowd seemed to finally engulf the entire field in McFerson, that it felt like Promowest Fest finally had come into it’s own.
I think it helped that this was a relatively new setting for outdoor music. It wasn’t the parking lot of the LC, er…Express Live, and it was more than another installment of CD1025’s Summerfest. This was it’s own living, breathing entity, right here in our backyard. I had a pretty great time attending Promowest Fest, but what was even more exciting to me was the sheer possibility of what this could mean in the future. What a little bit of success could mean in terms of the line-ups and headliners we’ll see play our city in the future, without the road trips to Chicago, or even Louisville or Cincinnati. That each summer we might sit in the grass of McFerson, cool drinks in our hands and the Columbus skyline nearby and sing along to some of our favorite acts is a thought that warms my heart.