Starry Nights Music Festival kicks off in Bowling Green, Kentucky this weekend. Curated by hometown heroes Cage the Elephant, the lineup includes acts like Portugal. The Man, Justin Townes Earle, Manchester Orchestra, Mimosa, Sleeper Agent, and more. American Songwriter sat down with Cage lead singer Matt Shultz and Starry Nights founder Bryan Graves to talk about where the festival comes from, and where it’s going.
Bryan, what made you decide to create Starry Nights?
Graves: A few years back, I would tell people to come to the local venue, Tidball’s, and catch the bands. There was no smoking ban a few years back, so it used to be crowded and smoky, and to get somebody to come there, you know… But the music is so good, the talent in this town is so good; I thought it would be nice to move this thing outside and give the local bands a bigger stage to play on. The local scene here, I feel like it’s something special, and anybody involved in it can testify to that. So I thought if we could get it out on a bigger level and people could see it, it would give some recognition to what’s going on here.
To follow up on that: Matt, what made Cage the Elephant interested in working with Starry Nights?
Shultz: Bryan approached us I think the year before we got involved. We were in England that year, but there was a buzz about it, everyone was talking. We came home, and I talked to Bryan again, and things had really started to take off for us here in the states. Bryan expressed to us that he really wanted to take it to the next level, so we got involved. Because in some aspect it is about your local talent, but it’s also about the community. So we wanted to give these local bands a stage to play on, but we also wanted to bring big bands to Bowling Green that the community wouldn’t see otherwise without traveling out-of-town.
You guys have scaled back the lineup a little bit this year. Why is that?
Shultz: Because we want to build this into a festival that’s going to last a long time, and part of that is money. One of the big mistakes a lot of festivals make is to push too soon. We played a festival, and they had 3D projection screens, an immaculate lineup, and they lost 2 million dollars. And that kills a festival. So to keep the costs down, we put most of the national bands on Saturday, and a lot of the local acts Friday night.
You had a local band competition. Can you talk about that?
Shultz: We’re really excited because just as we expected, it’s very diverse. Throughout the whole thing, we knew no matter which bands the community picked to represent them, we knew it was going to be solid, and it is. Canago, Technology vs. Horse, Buffalo Rodeo, The Sex Bombs, and Mahtulu, all five bands couldn’t be more diverse.
You took a year off from the festival in 2011. What did that allow you to do?
Shultz: To plan better. We were really looking for the right partner that understands what we’re trying to do, that would magnify it…
Graves: While still allowing us to do what we wanted to do.
Shultz: We had some really good talks with the guys at Bonnaroo and Hangout, but C3, they’re like the polar opposite to what we are, but they understand people like us. They’re also a management company, so they understand how to deal with people that (laughs) think they’re artists.
What are some of the other festivals that you were looking to for as inspiration?
Shultz: Well, a lot of your massive festivals right now have kind of lost touch with the people, and in doing so have kind of killed the environment and the natural culture happening there. When we were involved in previous years, you could see that culture happened naturally through these people. All we wanted to do was to magnify that.
Graves: To give the patrons an opportunity to be involved on a different level than just coming to a concert and seeing music, which is going to be awesome, it’s a killer lineup. But there’s a lot of other cool things that are going to be going on that people can get involved with. And Matt and Brad (Shultz), and the other bands, they’re going to be involved in these games and activities.
Shultz: We don’t want people to be excluded. Bring whatever you want to bring to be creative with. The whole point is just to come out and have the mindset that you’re going to be a part of something
What are some of the new features you have this year?
Shultz: We’ve opened up the ground to any visual artist to bring in installations. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get the word out until the last minute, so a lot of that I assume will be showing up day of and will be happening during the festival. We’ve put up this massive wall, and we want people to just come up and paint all over it. At the end of the festival we’re going to auction it off and give the money to charity. We also have a campsite decorating contest. We just want people to get creative and make it theirs. Our whole point is this isn’t our festival, we’re simply facilitating it.
You guys mentioned some games as well.
Shultz: Yeah, we’re doing capture the flag. We have hot air balloon rides. We have a rock wall that you can climb. We were just talking about different things we could do, and there’s so many great things from childhood that should carry over into your adult life, but they don’t. Like hide-and-go-seek, that would be kind of creepy as an adult. Well, maybe not in the right circumstances.
And you’re providing the right circumstances.
Shultz: Exactly. The whole thing is to make it fun.
And you guys are going to play too?
Shultz: Yeah. All of our friends are there. Why would we just hang out backstage? We’re all in, we’re all friends, it’s a community. I’m going to be out and about enjoying the festival, just like everyone else. I’ve been looking forward to this as much as everyone who hasn’t been planning it.
Graves: There’s also going to be a nine hole disc golf course. There’s just going to be plenty of things to do.
Shultz: We actually figured out how to extract DNA from mosquitoes that have…
Graves: Wait, that was a movie.
Shultz: We’re going to reveal the dinosaurs at Starry Nights.