Bjork or Beach House? Grizzly Bear or Foals? These are just two questions Bonnaroo, one of the country’s largest and best-known music festivals, is asking its attendees this year. When music festival attendees are forced to make tough decisions, it raises their Fear of Missing Out to peak levels. Anything less than a perfect show from the band the attendee opts to see could likely take the attendee right out of the show and lower the audience’s total energy level. This obviously isn’t fair to attendees or musicians, and it’s one of several issues with music festivals that Eric Gagne wanted to address when he helped create The Thing in The Spring, a unique music festival in Peterborough, New Hampshire taking place June 6 to 9 that caters to the budget conscious and musically curious.
Gagne started The Thing in the Spring in 2008 because he was tired of music festivals’ slapdash scheduling and quantity-over-quality method of booking acts. Instead of isolating attendees by putting the music and other attractions in a fenced-off field, the festival takes place in the bars and venues of Peterborough. He believes sidestepping the issues that come with big festivals keeps things simple and fun. His main goal in creating the festival? “To get as many of our friends, favorite bands, and artists all to come to Peterborough for the weekend to create an incubator of sorts with great music, art, and interaction.” He’s met his goal every year while continually increasing the scale–this is the second year where some shows are taking place at the 600-person capacity venue Town Hall–and welcoming new people to Peterborough for the weekend.
The thoughtfully curated festival brings local, national and international music to Peterborough, New Hampshire. Its schedule has been designed with musical diversity in mind, but does so without logistically and financially overwhelming attendees: no set times overlap and a weekend pass is only $50 (with individual events costing no more than $20). Gagne stresses the importance of the low price-point, saying, “I definitely come from a D.I.Y. background, playing and setting up tons of underground, all ages, and affordable shows over the past 20 years, so making it affordable was a necessity for me.”
Gagne can keep the prices low partially because he places an emphasis on including local musicians. There are a few nationally known artists, like Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon, duh) and Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth, super duh), but the festival includes some of New England’s best up-and-comers, including Banditas, Bunny’s A Swine and Speedy Ortiz (who recently signed to Carpark Records and seems poised for a breakthrough soon). Gagne believes the inclusion of local music gives the festival character and catalyzes growth:
I know so many amazing musicians and have gotten the chance to become friends with so many of my favorite groups. This is a way for me to present these groups in a larger context to folks. It is also a way to grow the festival organically. We have the best bands from various corners of New England and New York playing, and they are psyched to play with the more widely known groups, so that excitement will be transferred to their fans, who then hopefully will come to Peterborough.
Indeed, the great music selection and low price point should entice fans of any of the artists on the lineup to attend the festival. Here’s a mix TBJ has compiled as a sample of what you can hear there:
Since its humble beginnings, The Thing in the Spring has partnered with another event, called Broke: The Affordable Arts Fair. Broke is a free event taking place Saturday, June 8 that lets people buy art from local vendors, with no piece costing more than $50. Organized partially by Gagne’s wife Mary, the idea behind Broke is simply that great art should be affordable for everyone, not just for people with money to burn. In addition to Broke, Gagne sees the weekend as a way for people to experience everything Peterborough and nearby towns have to offer. “Once again, the bigger festivals kind of cram it all in in a way that is kind of overwhelming, so at The Thing, you can pick what you want and then augment your weekend with whatever restaurant experiences you prefer, hiking, relaxing, shopping, and swimming,” he says, which makes it one of the rare festivals that doesn’t exist in a vacuum: there’s an intention to have festival attendees really explore the surrounding area rather than just temporarily exist in it.
As The Thing in the Spring continues to grow, Gagne continues to wrestle with how to improve it from an accessibility standpoint. For now, The Thing in the Spring is chiefly of local interest. There are few lodging options in Peterborough itself, though there is a large campsite eight miles away and more hotels in bigger towns like Keene, New Hampshire, which is a 30-minute drive away. “We have started a conversation with some folks out there about a shuttle to and from Keene, but it involves money and logistics,” explains Gagne. While this may not be the year shuttles are introduced, Gagne realizes he has to think about how to accommodate increased interest and has already applied for non-profit status in hopes to raise more money for that purpose. “We’ll see how many people come out this year, and then we can use the data from the Thing 2013 along with our non-profit status to hopefully wrangle a bit more help in the lodging department,” he says.
But really, Gagne’s already done a great job creating a well-balanced, worry-free, fun experience. Future accessibility solutions would just be icing on the cake, and his concerted effort to find those solutions speaks volumes about the goal of The Thing in the Spring: creating an alternative to huge, ostensibly thrown-together music festivals. See for yourself next month!