WARMfest Returns With Sunnier Prospects

After a near-washout last year, the festival takes to the stage once again on Aug. 29.

As the first afternoon of the inaugural White River Arts, Recreation & Music Festival (WARMfest) arrived last summer, event founder Dan Ripley faced a difficult decision. Set to host numerous touring music acts, a dozen food trucks, and a vintage marketplace, he gazed into stormy skies above Broad Ripple Park. The dark clouds rolled in, and a hard rain began, making the conclusion inescapable: He had to cancel the opening day of a festival he had been planning for years. “At some point, I said, ‘Look, if we do this right and we don’t put anybody at risk for our own financial gain, we have goodwill to build on, and we can make it great,’” Ripley recalls. His decision paid off. The sun came out the next day, and the remainder of the 2013 event was a huge hit, with thousands of people coming out to see bands such as Big Head Todd and the Monsters and Michael Franti.
Before the final notes had been played, the festival dedicated to restoring and promoting White River (Ripley is a lifelong outdoorsman) seemed destined for an encore. It returns for a second year this month, Aug. 29–Sept. 1. And a few changes are in store. In 2013, mostly national acts played on six stages. Fans complained about missing things they wanted to see and a lack of Indy talent, so Ripley expects fewer bands to play at once this year, and a larger percentage of them will be local (such as Hero Jr. and The Last IV). What’s more, Monday will be a community day (more family-oriented programming) with free admission—the idea being to connect as many different kinds of people as possible with the river.
WARMfest has beaten the odds in returning for a second year, but the real test will be graduating to a third. “There was a festival boom a couple years ago, and a lot of those aren’t around any more,” says Josh Baker, co-owner of MOKB Presents, a major concert promoter in town. “Usually, the third year is when it really starts to snowball, and you build a loyal following. The difference between WARMfest and other festivals is that there’s a lot of community support.”
That backing includes collaborators like Indy Parks & Recreation. “The most important thing I learned from last year had nothing to do with the weather,” Ripley says. “It was: Never underestimate the support that people in your community will give you when they believe you’re doing something for the right reason. Without that, I wouldn’t be doing Year 2.”
This article appeared in the August 2014 issue.