Petal to the Metal // YELLOWHAMMER FEST

Cars drive up intermittently, some of the passengers local but others are from hours away. All are turned away by a boy in a gray shirt standing next to a white mini-van. He explains to them each time that the festival has been canceled. He commiserates with each group, wishes things were different, that the weather had been more forgiving.

Maybe next year, he remembers them saying before they drive away.

“Sitting in the arboretum parking lot,” Trent Carlson, Creative Campus intern on-site that day, said, “I wasn’t sure how many people I was going to have to turn away. Throughout the day, however, I began to realize how many people we had reached and how much excitement we had generated.”

Yellowhammer Festival met a soggy and premature end last year. After months of booking local bands, scouting the expansive land at UA’s Arboretum, and then diligent planning, marketing and preparation, April 19, 2015, came and went with the cancellation of the festival.

The previous day’s showers had waterlogged the field and made the dirt rode into the Arboretum impassable. Alyx Chandler, a second-year Creative Campus intern and Yellowhammer team leader, said it was a difficult decision to cancel the festival the day of, but felt like it was the right call.

“When we went to the Arboretum, there was over a foot of standing water over the entire area–where the bands were supposed to play, near the booth areas, where people were supposed to stand,” Chandler said. “We stood in our Chacos and even then knew there was no way it would be anywhere near a smooth or safe day.”

Yet, the Yellowhammer Festival didn’t die that day. Due to the success of the event’s marketing, the interest in the Tuscaloosa community held strong, and the group of dedicated Creative Campus interns knew that wasn’t the end of the Yellowhammer Festival.

August, when a new year of Creative Campus interns first met, the group pitched Yellowhammer as one of the potential projects for the organization. A strong support fell behind resurrecting the festival.

“During orientation we realized there was a lot of energy for Yellowhammer,” Whit Chambers, a first-year Creative Campus intern and Yellowhammer team member, said. “So we went for it.”

But the interns knew that this year, as Chandler said, they had to go big or go home. On this Sunday, April 3, the Yellowhammer Festival is open to all community members, students and families from 2-8 p.m. at the Tuscaloosa River Market. Local bands listed for the main stage are The Doctors and the Lawyers, Looksy, Shaheed & DJ Supreme and Wray. Sister Hazel will be performing as the national act. Attendees are encouraged to walk, bike or carpool to the event.

Yellowhammer Festival evolved, finding support with UA’s Student Government Association (SGA), University Programs (UP) and the Tuscaloosa River Market. New and returning interns started collaborating with these organizations, staying true to the promised “good vibes” and “sustainable” vision from the previous year.

At the same time, Chandler said they were not afraid to see beyond that. The differences between planning the festival last year and this year were monumental. This year encompassed a much bigger budget, a nationally-known band to end the night, more partners and so much more.

“It was a project we needed to see all the way through,” Tiana Raimist-Carter, a Creative Campus intern and a team leader of the festival, said.

Around 18 organizations have signed up to participate at the festival. Black Warrior Riverkeeper has planned to offer an educational experience on the local watershed, including Lake Tuscaloosa and the city’s drinking water source. Other participants include the Left Hand Soap Co., Yoga Bliss, Homegrown Alabama,  Alabama Birding Trails,  Druid City Dames, and Tide for Tusks. Many will offer games and activities as well as providing information on both health and sustainability.

Second-year Creative Campus intern and Yellowhammer team member Sarah Johns said, “Last year we were really disappointed that Yellowhammer was canceled due to the weather and even though this year’s event will be different from what we had planned last year, we are all excited to see it become a reality.”

A festival of this size involves juggling several intricacies. Location is based on both the vision of the event, but also projected attendance, which then has an affect on the amount of security needed. No choice is random, but must be given a thoughtful consideration, from the location of each vendor booth to the logistics of a rain plan. Every official message sent out by the team must align with the vision of the festival.

“I knew Yellowhammer was what I wanted to spend all of my energy on,” Raimist-Carter said, adding, “Having the basis and mission of Yellowhammer–a sustainability focused music festival, gave us the opportunity to use the past 9 months to focus on shaping the festival. It gave us the opportunity to dig really deeply into every aspect of the festival on the timeline we had.”

The Yellowhammer team locked down a key partnership in their goal of sustainability: Rock the Bike, an Oakland-based company specializing in “Pedal Power.” This idea was originally pitched last year, but never came to fruition.

“Creative Campus interns conceived the idea of a pedal powered festival in 2015, and through brainstorming, idea incubation and forming key partnerships on campus and with Rock the Bike, this idea will soon be a reality,” Rachel Raimist, Co-Director of Creative Campus, said.

Volunteers for biking have been asked to sign up in 15-minute increments, giving these attendees a great view of the stage while also being a vital part of the performance. It’s a creative solution to the usual diesel-powered generators, opening a dialogue about eco-friendly power alternatives and even health and wellness.

“We hope we’ve made a lasting impact,” Raimist-Carter said, “and that the Yellowhammer Festival can bring our community together for the common goal of music, sustainability, and good vibes.”

There is no denying the excitement, with over a 1,000 likes on the Yellowhammer Festival Facebook page alone as of March 29. Former Creative Campus intern and original Yellowhammer team member Ben Tomlin, now a resident of Clearwater, Florida, has been keeping tabs on this year’s progress from afar. He believed this could alter the local music and arts scene for years to come.

“The group involved last year and the group involved this year,” he said, “have put in countless hours to bring it to life and have it be something the City of Tuscaloosa can be proud of.”

An annual festival would attract larger crowds as well as a variety of musical artists. More than anything, it shows the power collaboration, innovation and dedication can have on a community.

Planning a music festival takes time, and Raimist-Carter admitted that nine months “is not the norm.”

“Most music festivals are planned with a minimum of a year and a half in advance,” she said, “but most often it’s much more than that, so we knew we had to be strategic and give it our all the whole nine months. Everything from the lineups to the collaborative art piece to the food vendors and the rebranding, we had the opportunity to plan from the ground up.”

Every detail of this event has been laid out with painstaking precision, from the signage directing attendees to the restrooms to the monitored social media blasts. They have built an entire experience, starting with the anticipation of announcements and culminating in the creation of a local festival culture.

“It’s about getting the University and Tuscaloosa community excited about being sustainable,” Chandler said. “We want to take the energy people feel for a music festival and combine that with easy and fun ways to be more environmentally-friendly.

The main stage entertainment will be supplemented with a kids corner, side stage with smaller acts, a beer garden, food trucks and other local vendors and organizations. The festival will also feature a collaborative art piece with bottle caps collected by the community.

Many Creative Campus projects are taking on a role with exhibitions at the festival as well. A relatively new project, Flux, has hopes to make the music a tangible experience.

“Children can come up, all people can come up,” Brandon Izor, a Creative Campus intern and Yellowhammer member, said. “It’s an interactive performance. Flux came from a desire to have some way to get people interested in experimental music through participation.”

Hours have been devoted to building a gigantic PVC pipe xylophone, measured and cut precisely for the perfect notes. With this hands-on experience, Flux believes they can influence the perception of the experimental genre. Izor said once an individual has participated in the act of making that music, they will begin to understand the mindset of experimental artists.

“We want to foster a sense of community overall, and what better way to do that through good music, good food and sustainability?” Hannah MacInnis, a Creative Campus intern and Yellowhammer leader, said.

From the looks of the Yellowhammer Festival’s plan, there will be no short supply of entertainment or good vibes this Sunday.



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