I recently interviewed Patrick Burtch, co-owner of Square Cat Vinyl Record Shop and co-founder of Virginia Avenue Folk Festival. The Indianapolis-based festival is located on Virginia Avenue in the heart of the artistic district, Fountain Square. More than 100 bands will perform on Saturday May 13th, 2017 at the event.
When I walk into Square Cat Vinyl, the uniqueness of it immediately strikes me. This isn’t a place where I would go to solely buy records, it’s a place where I would go to grow my knowledge of music. It's a place I can take my laptop, grab coffee or a beer, and get some work done. And it’s got an atmosphere of exploration that makes it stand out among other record shops. It's also the epicenter of Folk Fest on the main strip where Folk Fest is held each year.
There’s a raised stage area with couches and record players to my left and behind that, a bar where patrons can be served coffee and, you guessed it, beer and wine. It’s cool. I meet Patrick as he’s working with some records, and soon after begin a conversation about Folk Fest, the aforementioned music festival that Square Cat Vinyl created and organizes.
How would you describe Folk Fest?
It’s a music block party for Fountain Square. A lot of neighborhood people come out for it. It’s like one big music party and it goes about a half mile down Virginia Avenue, with a bunch of stages everywhere.
So who’s concept was this music festival?
Mike Angel and myself founded it a couple years ago. This is our third year. It came out of some conversations we were having about music festivals and eventually it grew into a bigger and bigger thing the more we talked about it.
How do you go about organizing something like this?
Mike and I are really good about staying on top of the work ourselves, so we pretty much do all of the work. We like this because most festivals require having a lot of people which can lead to a situation where there might be too many cooks in the kitchen and it bog things down. With it just being him and I, decision making is a lot easier. And it’s a lot smoother than people from the outside would imagine. Not that it’s easy; it requires a lot of effort. But in reality it goes a lot smoother than a lot of people would think.
How do you select your bands?
Some bands enter submissions in the November/December time of the year, but we also reach out to acts that we’ve seen recently or that have buzz in the scene. We also take recommendations from people we trust in the music world.
How does the actual set-up look the day of the festival?
We’ve got 13 stages, some outside some inside.There’s basically stages all the way from the plaza to across the bridge. There are 4 indoor stages and 9 outdoor stages. The idea is that everywhere you walk on Virginia Avenue, you’re gonna be walking and listening to bands for about half a mile.
What was the inspiration behind Folk Fest?
Mike is in a folk band that initially drove our interest in promoting the folk scene. From the first year to the next couple years, you’ll notice our line up has gotten diverse will a whole range of genres. This year about half of our bands have some kind of folk feel to them but the other half run the gamut of rock, indie rock, psychedelic, experimental, hip hop and other genres. We never wanted it to just be strictly folk, we tend to go more with the definition of folk being storytelling and how it relates to all people. So that shouldn’t have to limit us to Bob Dylan-esque type sounds.
What are your goals in the coming years moving forward?
Going forward, it’s hard to say. We would like to eventually book a few name recognized acts, but with that comes lots of different things. There are decisions we would have to make about ticketing the event because once we start booking bigger names we need to raise a lot more money because bigger acts require more money. I like the idea of having it free though. It’s frustrating at times not getting enough big sponsors on board. We might move to a ticketed event but if that’s the case then we’d still like to keep a free element about it.
In the future, now that we have a record shop down here we like the idea of doing multiple days. It helps the businesses down here and helps people see more bands they wouldn't otherwise see. We want to do a style where we could do Wednesday to Friday all indoor and smaller venues and have it so Friday night and Saturday would have street closures, with more acts playing.
What would you say your influence is on the Indy music scene and where would you like to see it go?
Both Mike and myself are trying to foster an environment where people who don’t get exposure to these awesome local and regional bands get more exposure to them and hopefully start supporting them more from there. The more we offer exposure to people the more they will support them. We want to create cycle where they see an act, like them, support them and in the future be willing to pay to see local bands to support them. We have been thinking about doing smaller music festivals during the year too, through Square Cat. We’ve been thinking about experimental music or world music, that are more outside the box than what people in Indy are used to listening to.
So you are starting a record label? What does that look like?
Basically we want to find one act that we really love and build around that one act. I think the smartest labels do something like that. Sub pop did that when they found Soundgarden and said “Hey, we should start a label so we can record this band and put their stuff out.” That makes a lot of sense because you're not overextending yourself and you're focusing on one act and putting all your time and energy into that one act and if they crack through that will open up a whole bunch of opportunities. We’re waiting for that one artist that we love that no one has already hitched their wagon to, to possibly look into signing. It’s a bit trickier with declining album sales, but it's something we’re looking into. Right now it’s a process of how we can figure out how to finance it.
After concluding my interview with Patrick, it was clear to see how Mike and Patrick’s record shop serve as a metaphor for what they want the music scene to become in Indy: an environment where people get exposure to various and new music.
Folk Fest will run Saturday, May 13 in Fountain Square from 10am to 10pm. Be sure to stop by and check out some of the more than 100 bands playing on Virginia Avenue near downtown Indianapolis.
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