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Making Waves

With Middle Waves, Fort Wayne gets its own massive music festival

By John Hubner

Fort Wayne Reader


The music festival is something the music fan has long loved; from The Newport Jazz Festival to the Monterey Pop Festival to Woodstock to Lollapalooza to Bonnaroo to Coachella, and so many in between over the years. It's been that moment where music freaks of all shapes, sizes, colors, beliefs, lifestyles, and of course musical tastes could gather and celebrate music amongst their own. It's a gathering of the tribes and allowing music, art, ideas and whatever else wash over you for one, two, or three days.

Of course there's plenty of beer and overpriced t-shirts that go along with it as well.

If you're located in Northeast Indiana the Midwest has a few musical spectacles to hit up. Of course Chicago has Lollapalooza, while Michigan has Electric Forest. Louisville, KY is a mere 5 hours away and has Forecastle. Ohio has PromoWest Fest. Indianapolis used to have X Fest but I think that's gone by the wayside. The thing is, all of these music festivals require drive time. Wouldn't it be great if Fort Wayne had its own version of Coachella, Bonnaroo, or Bumbershoot?

Well, it does now.

Middle Waves Festival is coming to Headwaters Park September 16th and 17th, and for its inaugural show none other than The Flaming Lips will be headlining. I sat down and talked with Matt Kelley, one of Middle Waves champions and organizers, about how this amazing even came together.

J. Hubner: How did this come about?

Matt Kelley: At this point, we have dozens of passionate music-, arts- and cultural experience-lovers volunteering their time on various Middle Waves committees. (And we’re recruiting more!) At some point, everyone involved has daydreamt of a destination music festival right here in Fort Wayne. The daydream started becoming a reality about 18 months ago, after some of our community’s leaders visited Des Moines, IA to see what made the “#1 Best City for Young Professionals” (Forbes, 2014) so great. And everywhere these folks went, people replied, “You know, it all started getting better when 80/35 happened…” 80/35 is a destination music festival in Des Moines that is now in its ninth year. Over the last decade, it has featured performers like Weezer, Wilco, The Roots, Cake, The Decemberists, Nas, David Byrne & St. Vincent, The Avett Brothers, Run the Jewels and more.

A few of us got together in March of 2015 to start work on exploring if we could pull off a similar festival in Fort Wayne. That group is now our steering committee, and includes Alison Gerardot (Riverfront Fort Wayne), Alec Johnson (City of Fort Wayne / Parks), Katy Silliman (community volunteer), Corey Rader (The Brass Rail), Dan Ross (Arts United) and me. I co-chair the committee with Alison.
J. Hubner: So then Sweetwater got involved?

Matt Kelley: We pitched the idea to Chuck Surack at Sweetwater, and he offered us his enthusiasm, insight and sponsorship—in fact, Sweetwater is the presenting sponsor. That’s when we knew it was gonna happen, for real.

J. Hubner: So tell me logistically how is an endeavor like a music festival handled? Most people just buy their tickets, go to the show, drink their beers, and enjoy the music. They don't think about all the hard work that goes into the creation of the festival. Where does one begin and end with a festival like Middle Waves?

Matt Kelley: In basketball, they say you should “leave it all on the court.” Well, with Middle Waves, I think we’re all gonna “leave it all on the stage.” It’s a monumental amount of work, but our committees (which now include booking, sponsorships, marketing, logistics and production, finance, volunteers, vibe and more) include members who are passionately committed to doing something amazing, and they are driven and focused and ambitious and have carried this thing on their shoulders. We’re a not-for-profit operating as part of Arts United’s new Cultural Advancement Projects LLC. This is, truly, a labor of love—love for music, love for the community and love for the challenge.

J. Hubner: Let's talk about the artists that will be performing. The folks behind Middle Waves have got both amazing national and regional acts lined up.

Matt Kelley: Booking has been the journey of a lifetime, in many ways. We’ve worked with a dozen or so booking agencies and have probably inquired about around a hundred acts, checking availabilities and fees. We’re not silo’d to any particular genre—as you can tell from even just the first acts we’ve announced, which include the surf-pop-rock of Best Coast, the indie hip-hop of Doomtree and Sidewalk Chalk and the garage rock of JEFF the Brotherhood—but the festival’s identity and feel really needs to make overall sense and so we’ve been very particular as we build out the lineup. The Flaming Lips are the quintessential festival band that deliver an experience unlike any other, for devotees and casual fans alike.

Like 80/35, a big part of this festival is celebrating our own music community—we’ll be featuring quite a few local performers. We wanted to lead off the announcements with Metavari and Heaven’s Gateway Drugs, because both acts have done such an amazing job of getting out on the road and touring and “exporting” the Fort Wayne sound. There will be many more announced.

J. Hubner: Were there any other artists you tried to get to the Fort but it just didn't work out?

Matt Kelley: Well, you and I both know that it’s destiny that Wilco will play in Fort Wayne at some point. It just won’t be at the inaugural Middle Waves (laughs).
J. Hubner: Was Headwaters Park always the location you'd imagined for Middle Waves? Were there other possible locations?

Matt Kelley: Late last summer, we flew 80/35’s executive director, Amedeo Rossi, to Fort Wayne for a weekend of planning and brainstorming. With him, we looked at a half-dozen locations in and around downtown Fort Wayne. Ultimately, Headwaters Park won out for us for many reasons—particularly the way the Saint Mary’s River winds around it, and its incredible views as a downtown anchor. One thing we’ve been saying about Middle Waves is that “momentum has a soundtrack, and it’s loud.” We really do feel like the festival captures the momentum of our downtown, our riverfront and our region.
It’s worth noting that we’re reimagining the use of Headwaters Park’s space, though. The main stage will be on the east side of the park, backed up to the river and Lawton Park. Two more stages will be on the west side of the park, including one in the natural amphitheater that has been so wonderfully rediscovered by Living Fort Wayne’s concert series. The park’s pavilion and its surrounding area will actually be home to our “village” which will feature food trucks, vendors, art installations and experiences, and more.

J. Hubner: So lets talk about tickets? You've got two levels for folks to choose from. There's a standard admission plus a VVIP ticket, or very, very, important person. What's the price range and what does the VVIP ticket entail?

Matt Kelley: We’re in the midst of “early bird pricing” right now—like most festivals, the prices will actually increase in a couple of steps over the summer. The general admission ticket is good for both days; it’s only $65 and we believe the lineup is already worth far more than that. The VVIP tickets, which will likely sell out before July, include a special viewing area, roomier bathrooms, the festival’s only liquor bar, and more perks.
I want to note that we'll also feature musical performances outside the gated/ticketed areas that will be free for the entire community.

J. Hubner: Has the city welcomed this festival with open arms? Has there been any push back towards the idea of Middle Waves?

Matt Kelley: No pushback from anyone! In fact, it’s been really great to be able to meet with and gain great knowledge from Jack Hammer at Three Rivers Festival, who has been a terrific supporter of our effort, as well as Jake and Jamal from Fort Wayne Music Festival, the crew at A Better Fort, the team at the Foellinger Theatre and more. There’s been a real sense of “all ships rise” and it’s been really cool to be able to count on folks for insight and a helping hand. Middle Waves doesn’t really compete with any of those festivals or events—particularly since we happen in the late-late summer / early-early fall. We’re excited to complement the ever-growing music and festival landscape in Northeast Indiana.

J. Hubner: So what's your vision of the future in regards to Middle Waves Festival?

Matt Kelley: Hey, like I said, we’re leaving it all on the stage, like a smashed guitar. If we can put the pieces back together and get it (vaguely) in tune again, then I’m sure we’ll be back.

J. Hubner: So what can we do as a community to support the Middle Waves Festival in order to make sure it's a success?

Matt Kelley: Honestly, the number one thing is to buy tickets, and to buy them early. As a first-year festival, we have limited cashflow. Any funds we have now, we are using on this year’s event—booking more and more bands, investing in the experience, etc. If we all buy tickets on the day of the show, we’re really only making next year’s festival better. Thank you!!

Also, we’re gonna need a ton of volunteers. That doesn’t mean you need to sign up for a committee and work all summer, though that’s cool, too. Even volunteering the weekend of the show will be a big deal. We want The Village to feature unique and interesting vendors that really represent our community. Is that you? We want to hear from you. Finally, if people would like to get their employer or organization involved from a sponsorship standpoint, hit us up. We will accept your check and spend it wisely—promise.


You want to be part of Fort Wayne music history? Then head to http://middlewaves.com/ and buy tickets. You want to volunteer, sponsor Middle Waves, or just lend a helping hand in some way in order to make this inaugural show a success? Then head over to middlewaves.com and find out what you can do.

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