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Matt Fecher would make a great politician. When asked even the most innocuous of questions -- like how the upcoming South Park Music Festival will be different from last year's, for instance -- he pauses, then carefully chooses each word of his response so as not to alienate anyone even vaguely associated with the fest, past or present.
"I don't want to insult anyone who played last year," he finally says, "but the lineup this year is huge. Every day, I look at the lineup and I can't believe how good it is. I think the music's good; the names are bigger. But I think the music has always been really good -- people just may recognize more acts this year. Again, though, I don't want to downplay the importance of the bands that have played before."
Fecher's diplomacy makes sense: He's invested a great deal of his life into putting the festival together over the past few years, and the event is still very reliant on the artists who perform for free and the sponsors who help make it possible. But really, Fecher has nothing to worry about: His mountain jamboree is quickly becoming one of the country's premier independent music gatherings, a perfect fall retreat. "It's my entire life now," he says. "We're just expanding everything, every detail, everything we can nail down and tighten up and make better. There's always room for improvement, and that's something I work on all the time."
Working in concert with Saam Golgoon, who handles production, Fecher has lined up a can't-miss 2006 fest, both in terms of who'll perform -- Slim Cessna, Vaux, the Queers and Margot & the Nuclear So and So's, among others -- and industry participation. In addition to panels featuring erstwhile Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra(enlisted with the help of Stephen Copeland of Bender's Tavern) and legendary concert promoter Barry Fey, major-label A&R reps from Atlantic and Geffen will be on hand, as well as reps from Kill Rock Stars and SpinArt. Still, Fecher stresses that acts shouldn't come to Fairplay expecting to be discovered.
"I think it's more about networking with other bands and learning how to take their career to the next level, and meeting people that can help them do just that," he explains, "versus reaching for some brass ring in the sky, which I think is kind of unrealistic."
Fortunately, Fecher hasn't heeded his own advice. A native of Indianapolis who grew up playing in hardcore bands and promoting shows, he reached for the brass ring when he decided to launch the inaugural South Park Music Festival in 2004. Several years earlier, Fecher's family had relocated to Fairplay from Indiana in hopes of providing his ailing sister with a better quality of life; the higher altitude allowed her to resume a normal lifestyle. When Fecher's mom heard that the town was talking about putting together a festival, she alerted her son, then working as the co-executive director of the Midwest Music Summit and helping oversee IndianapolisMusic.net. Fecher volunteered his services that first year.
"The town handled the back end of everything and let me book all the bands and do some promotions," he recalls, "so it was kind of a joint partnership with the town. Then it was kind of like, ŒHey, this could be for real.' There was a whole new staff of people, a new mayor and a new town clerk. So we put together a proposal for me to put on a festival in the town, and it seemed to work out last year and this year. There's still a major interface with the town, through the town clerk. They're still very, very supportive."
This year's installment will run from Thursday, September 7, through Sunday, September 10, with eleven stages -- five outdoor and six indoor -- featuring staggered performances from 155 artists, all of them handpicked from more than a thousand applicants. But even as the fest continues to grow -- in three years, it's already where Fecher hoped it would be in five -- it stays true to the original intent of spotlighting independent music. "It's DIY taken to the nth degree," Fecher explains. "The whole ethos is there. It's all independent music bringing it together with the independent labels. We're providing all the facilities and opportunities that we can without changing the very fabric of what DIY is all about. It's kind of the embodiment of the festival, a bunch of bands that are playing and donating their time. It's free to the public, and we're not relying on an organization or the government to help us put on this event. We're all just kind of doing it on our own, and it's a joint effort, really, between the bands, the artists and the people versus someone coming in and creating this. It's all grassroots, really. I'm just a guy with an apartment in Capitol Hill."
For Fecher, who moved to the Mile High City last year after he "fell in love with the city and the people" -- the music will always be the focus. "I'm super-stoked about the idea of seeing people discover a band for the first time," he enthuses. "That's the most rewarding thing I get from the festival."