DESPITE BEING the 16th largest city in America, Indianapolis has never managed to host a major music festival with any sort of staying power. As nearby fests such as Forecastle in Louisville and Lollapalooza in Chicago have blossomed over the years, music-lovers in Central Indiana have been forced to travel hours away for a world-class festival experience.
With years of booking concerts in Indy under his belt, MOKB Presents partner Dan Kemer was fully aware of that when he began talks with his longtime friend Denny Young about bringing a music festival here. Young’s Cleveland-based company Elevation Group has had a hand in starting successful festivals in Cleveland (WonderStruck) and Columbus (WonderBus) over the past seven years.
“I told him, ‘Listen, Indianapolis is starved for a real festival. If you guys are interested, MOKB Presents has a really good beat on the city. With my connections, I can help with the booking, but we’ve gotta go big,’” Kemer recalls.
After mutually agreeing last summer that Indianapolis would be a good destination for Elevation Group to start its next event, Kemer and Young quickly got to work on putting together the WonderRoad music festival. They convinced Vampire Weekend and Lord Huron to headline the thing. Then they secured supporting acts such as Bastille, Chvrches, 81355, and others to round out the lineup.
As Kemer and Young got to brainstorming the perfect place to host the festival, Garfield Park quickly rose to the top of the list. MOKB Presents had experience throwing events such as Holler on the Hill there, and it just felt like the right fit. “We started by asking Dan to supply us with some locations that could hold the amount of people we anticipate,” Young says. “We needed somewhere that people knew, and when we did site surveys, we all agreed that Garfield Park was the place to launch.”
From June 11–12, thousands of people will flock to the southside park for a weekend of shows. In keeping with the mood at their other festivals, Elevation Group intends to provide a relaxed, family-friendly event at WonderRoad. “Our goal is to host events with a chill vibe,” Young says. “No crazy anxiety. You just come and hang out.”
The organizers hope it will be a hit, but there’s no expectation of getting rich right away. Elevation Group already has loose plans for year two.
“In Cleveland, we’re entering year seven. In Columbus, we’re entering year four,” Young says. “All of these commitments have to be made with the long view. You’re never going to make money in the first year. It takes a while to build the brand and get people to come. So we’re committed to the Indianapolis market. We want to see it through.”
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WonderRoad cofounder Denny Young highlights a few artists at this year’s festival that he’s particularly looking forward to.
“I’ve never seen them in concert. And the most credible music magazine in Ohio, Cleveland Scene, called their 2019 performance there one of the 50 best concerts in the last 50 years.”
“They make really great global pop songs. They remind me of Duran Duran, which was an international act. With Bastille, I think it works in New Zealand, it works in South Africa, and it works in America.”
“This is a group of high school kids from Ohio who are fronted by this outrageous 17-year-old girl with green hair. They’re getting airplay on Sirius XM’s Faction Punk station. I think they’re going to blow people in Indianapolis away.”