The third annual Bluebird Music Festival that was set to to take place on April 18 at Macky Auditorium on the University of Colorado Boulder campus was slated to feature a lineup of big names in music — like Wesley Schultz, of The Lumineers, Colin Meloy, of The Decemberists, and Dave Simonett, of Trampled by Turtles. But, like hundreds of events across the country, it was canceled due to COVID-19.
Revenue from the all-star event, hosted by Future Arts Foundation, was going to support school music and art programs, as well as free art workshops for the children of local teachers, first-responders and military members.
However, the nonprofit came up with new ways to keep fans engaged and to bring revenue back to the creative programs that took a significant financial hit. A multi-day fundraising campaign, touting music-related packages, launched Tuesday. From festival merch to actual tickets to the 2021 festival, folks can peruse the online offerings and fill their carts while giving back to a worthy cause. One of the standout items is a fresh documentary — named after Future Art Foundation’s intimate concert series that took place in Longmont’s Firehouse Art Center — “Strings & Stories.”
The more than two-hour film — crafted out of footage pieced together by editor and producer Ian Glass — features never-before-scene footage of Jim James, of My Morning Jacket, Jade Bird, Daniel Rodriguez, Andy Thorn, of Leftover Salmon, Adam Aijala and Ben Kaufmann, of Yonder Mountain String Band, among others, playing music and sharing stories while quarantined. “Strings & Stories” will not be released to the public, but will be sent via an emailed link on June 28 to all participants who purchase the film. Opting into the fundraising campaign also automatically gives folks a chance to win thousands of dollars in prizes.
We caught up with Travis Albright, founder of FAF, to find out about the organization’s latest venture, what we can expect from the festival’s return in 2021 and what livestreams have been satisfying his concert needs during quarantine.
Daily Camera: I know it was heartbreaking to have to cancel Bluebird Music Festival and lose so much money that was going to fuel art programs. What inspired you to want to offer fans a chance to score some swag, while simultaneously supporting FAF?
Travis Albright: Yeah. It was obviously a difficult year for us, but it was for everyone. Because the cancellation caused us to lose 80% of our annual revenue, we needed to do something to stay afloat. But, we didn’t just want to ask for donations. There are so many folks out there who need assistance and donations more than a music festival/arts foundation. Instead, we thought it was a good idea to ask folks who believe in the festival and the foundation to invest in their future. With this fundraiser, all contributors not only receive festival merchandise/tickets with their contributions, but we’re going to give away $20,000 in gifts as well. These include a $14,000 custom guitar created by Bashkin Guitars from an Odell Brewing beer barrel, round-trip flights and a festival VIP experience. All you have to do is contribute, you become a member of the Future Arts Foundation and will be included in the giveaway on June 28.
However, none of this would receive any recognition if it weren’t for the musicians who participated in the crown jewel of perks, the “Strings & Stories” film. These 15 musicians decided to completely and selflessly perform songs and tell intimate stories for this project. They are all such a part of our family by now and we couldn’t express our gratitude enough.
DC: The anchor of this fundraising event seems to be the “Strings & Stories” film. Were the intimate sets and storytelling by featured artists mostly filmed during quarantine? How did you end up partnering with filmmaker Ian Glass?
TA: Yes. All of the artists performed their “Strings & Stories” sets during quarantine and submitted them for Ian Glass to tastefully place together into this film. The cool thing is that not only do you find out the meaning behind fan-favorite songs like “Flowers in Your Hair” by The Lumineers, but quite a few artists even debuted new songs during their performances. I was introduced to Ian by Andy Mann of National Geographic. They had been on location for a Nat Geo shoot, and Andy thought Ian would be a good fit for the project.
DC: You’ve set the goal pretty high at $30,000. But, I see just in the beginning phases of the campaign, you’ve already received significant support. What’s the feedback been like from the public?
TA: I think the goal would be considered very high if we were asking for donations. But, because folks are actually purchasing tickets, T-shirts, posters, film, etc., we think it’s achievable. Because the Future Arts Foundation lost well over $100,000 in lost revenue, nonrefundable deposits and marketing, it is a goal that we had to set for ourselves to stay healthy and continue our giveback programs. The foundation supplies Colorado public schools with musical instruments they cannot afford and provides free art lessons to the children of local teachers and first responders. After our first day, we’re already over 25% on the way to our goal — (as of Thursday, nearly $5,000) online and a $5,000 check from a Legacy Donor. We are so appreciative of the initial response and hope it can sustain in some way over the 30 days.
DC: As a music fan and event organizer, I bet it has been hard not being able to attend live events. Are there any standout virtual performances you have found particularly moving during this time? Seems like there have been so many livestreams in recent months.
TA: There has been so much creative content virtually over the past couple of months. There are a few aspects of this that I’ve been loving. The most important aspect is that so many musicians are giving back. I’ve really enjoyed the Phish weekly “Dinner and a Movie” series. They accept donations from each archived performance and pass those along to a different nonprofit each week. They’ve donated over $250,000 so far over the past two months. I used to see quite a few Phish concerts back in the ‘90s, so it’s nice to reminisce. I don’t think any band has given back to Colorado more than The Lumineers. They, along with their management company Activist, have not only donated to, but organized some huge original virtual concerts that have raised thousands of dollars for the restaurant and music industries of Colorado. Plus, they are the nicest and most humble folks around.
Another aspect I enjoy is original content. From Langhorne Slim’s living room in Nashville, to Jade Bird’s front yard in London, it’s so nice to hear musicians releasing new songs to their fans. I’ve also been into the new way of recording virtual music videos. Bands such as Yonder Mountain String Band and Trampled by Turtles have zoomed their way into this new frontier and it’s pretty damn cool.
DA: From the packages offered, looks like you are already gearing up for Bluebird Music Festival 2021. Do you have any idea what that lineup will deliver?
TA: We cannot wait to be back in Macky Auditorium with over 4,000 folks on April 17, 2021. We already have the date on hold. It will most likely be a mix of artists we booked for this year, alongside new artists. Let’s just hope and pray that things get safer for concerts and closer to normal by then. I hate to even say this, but if things still aren’t OK for concertgoers by next spring, all contributions made that contain tickets can be used for any future festival date.
DA: Lastly, what would you say you’ve taken away from this bizarre time of social distancing?
TA: The one good thing is getting to spend time with my family. I have a 1 year old that takes up 99% of my time and my wife is working from home. Plus, my mother and stepfather just moved out from Pennsylvania this year. Crazy timing. I hope everyone is staying safe out there. For those of you who have attended the festival over the past two years, we miss you. For those of you who haven’t attended the festival yet, we’d be honored to have you as a part of the Bluebird Music Festival family. Be good to each other.