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Interview with KOI Fest Co-Creator Cory Crossman

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Interview with KOI Fest Co-Creator Cory Crossman

For the past five years downtown Kitchener has been the host to KOI Fest, one of Southern Ontario’s largest alternative music festivals. Cory and Curt Crossman saw the opportunity to start a community centred on a cartoon superhero koi fish and the stage lights are the limits for the two brothers. Currently they own and operate Civilian Printing, a screen printing shop in Kitchener as well as working year round to help grow their brand and show their hometown to the world in a new light.

I talked to Cory Crossman about some of the innovations that KOI Fest has brought to the table for this year’s festival.

KOI Fest creators Cory (left) and Curt (right) Crossman

KOI Fest creators Cory (left) and Curt (right) Crossman

Where did the idea for KOI Fest come from?

My brother and business partner Curt and I have been promoting shows for over a decade and we also own a downtown business. At the time that KOI started happening there was a lot of rejuvenation going on downtown with the tech industry in Kitchener really booming and taking off with Blackberry and Google and EA Sports all coming here. There was a new face for downtown, people were looking at it a bit differently and we always wanted to do something like this. So we were like, “You know what? Instead of that music festival we talked about doing in a field out in the middle of nowhere, why don’t we do it downtown and throughout the city? Model it more after a lot of those European festivals that are in the city centres.” That’s how it came to be. Something we talked about for a while but it was we never thought about doing it downtown until we owned our own business down there, we have a screen-printing place called Civilian Printing. We saw how awesome it was down there and thought it was the perfect spot.

What makes Kitchener such a conducive environment for your music festival?

Kitchener has always been a strong music community. In the past couple years it has really grown with all the different festivals we have. With TD Kitchener Bluesfest, which brings a couple hundred thousand people, to all the other cultural events we have here, the music scene has really taken off in the past couple of years. We’re in a really unique situation here where we have this super strong tech community that’s really blowing up, and it’s bringing a lot of young people with fresh ideas and they want to see cool stuff happening in their community. These tech businesses really want awesome events happening downtown so we get a lot of support from the local community because all these businesses want to please their employees and have something cool happening. It’s a win/win, the music industry here supports them and they support us, so it’s a situation that you don’t really see in a lot of places.


Very cool. How is this year’s festival going to be bigger than it was in previous years?

Well right off the top we’ve added an additional day of programming, so we have Friday, Saturday and Sunday taking place now. On top of that we added a whole bunch of new components, additional outdoor stages, we’ve added a massive food truck event, which takes place on Ontario Street. We’ve added KOI Con, which is a music industry conference that we used to do outside of KOI Fest but now it’s running concurrent to the festival. We’ve added a huge charity drive, were working with 16 local charities to bring awareness to these organizations and their causes, that’s going to be going on the whole weekend throughout the festival. We’ve got the cool comic book that we’re doing this year and we’ve also expanded our Sunday shows. We’ve always done these brunch shows and you get to see one of our headliners stripped down doing an acoustic set the day after they do their big show, it’s really small intimate environment, we’re doing two of those this year. Yeah, so there is a ton of new components we added this year. We have our best line up to date, so were expecting it to be the best festival.

Awesome. Tell me about some of the charities that you’re working with.

They are all local charities that are based out of Waterloo region here. They really vary in the different causes whether it’s supporting kids or mental health, there are a wide variety of charities that we’re supporting and none of them overlap which is really exciting.


Setting up for KOI Fest 2014

Right on! Do you have an idea of how many people you expect to see this year?

Yeah I think well see about 10,000 people out to the festival this year.

That would be cool. When you started the festival five years ago, is this where you expected you would be? Are you meeting or surpassing goals?

8Close. A couple smaller logistical things we were hoping to have in place by this time, but getting to that 10,000 number that’s what we were shooting for year five. Things are looking pretty good and I think getting the caliber of artists that we have now, this is where we wanted to be for our fifth year.

What are the smaller logistical things?

Just having a larger team with us. Right now it’s a pretty small team still, so it’s quite a bit of work.

Cool, so where would you want to see it go from here? I guess a larger team.

Yeah, our big thing were trying to do is we want to create awareness and we don’t want it to just be KOI. We want KOI to be something much bigger and that’s the idea with KOI Con, the business music conference. We’re trying to help educate bands and develop more musicians and more of a music industry in Kitchener. That’s what we want to do with the KOI brand we don’t want it to be thought of as just one festival, one weekend, we want it to be something that’s ongoing. That’s what we’re looking at developing as we move on.

Excellent. Why do you guys offer a free show on Friday before the festival?

We get a lot of people asking about that. It’s kind of like a showcase. We wanted to create a showcase as we’re building a name for ourselves. We want people to come out and have a chance to see what all the hype is about. That’s Friday, the idea is people can come, see a big outdoor stage, see some awesome bands play, and then we have a couple after parties too where people can get a feel for what it’s going to be like at the smaller indoor venues. The idea is really to give a teaser of what it’s about. And just to bring music to the community, before KOI there really wasn’t anything sort of for more of a youthful audience. We really want to help develop and grow the music industry here and I think that’s a good way to do it.


Wicked, so you kind of touched on this a bit, but you’ve done a lot of branding with the KOI name and the logo with the superhero fish. How has that added to the success of the festival?

Well I think right off the top it was important for us to choose a name for the festival that had strong branding. We actually have a festival mascot that goes around with us from event to event and it’s been awesome because you see the reception people have. They are so much more open to coming up and getting a picture with the mascot as opposed to just talking to us promo people.


Cory and KOI

What are some of the difficulties of organizing a festival with over 150 bands?

Yeah there are a lot of logistical issues haha. Ha, I think the difficulty is prioritizing things. It seems like at every point in the day there is somebody trying to get a hold of you or there’s some issue that you need to put out. One of the things that we have gotten a lot better at is delegating roles and if ‘this issue’ pops up ‘this person’ deals with it, just so there isn’t so much strain on two or three people. That’s really allowed us to focus more on what each person needs to; it was just a learning curve. I remember the first year we did the festival our walkie-talkies were non-stop, going off like crazy. You couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Ha, now we sit down pre-event and go over everybody’s role, sit down post event and wrap up and see what worked, where the were issues and why. We worked a lot of those kinks out and were expecting a smoother execution this year.

How do you organize what bands play which stages and when?

That’s a good question because we have a lot of people ask, “why is this band playing here, or there?” We look at the size of the band, the frequency that they’re coming through here, for what venue they play at. Then we also look at what other bands are going to be playing at that time. We really try to go out of our way to not match bands of the same genre or the same draw up against one another and we really try to spread it out.

Something else we do at the support venues, we work off a three-band system. So well put a smaller band in front of a bigger band, then a smaller band on the other side. The idea is to help get awareness to those smaller bands and at the same time build a larger audience for the bigger bands.


That’s awesome. Do you run into any difficulties booking the bigger acts closer to the end of the festival season?

Yeah, right off the top it’s tough because we’re in Canada so it’s a little difficult to get some of the American artists to come up. So we have an issue with that always, we have issues with some of these larger festivals that book bands that were trying to get. They obviously have a lot more money and can sway them that way. One of the benefits we do have is September is a heavy touring season, so there is a lot of artists that are looking to get out and play. That works out really good, but another draw back is that we’re in Kitchener and it’s not as well known as Toronto. We’ll bring a band up from the states and it’s expensive to bring them to what people consider a “B market” like Kitchener.

Where does the budget for the festival come from? Is it money earned from the previous year’s festival or do you have outside funding?

Hahaha. Yeah I wish. We rely heavily on public engagement and private support. Ticket sales are a big source of revenue for us. We also get grants and funding from provincial, federal and municipal governments, and then we sell sponsorships. Those three main factors: grants, sponsors, and ticket sales.


PBR is one of this year’s official KOI sponsors

Did you have any issues booking bands for this year? Is there anybody that you wanted to get but you could not?

Yeah, we always have issues, there’s always a band that you want to get but we didn’t. This year is pretty cool because last year, our headliner, we were really shooting for Every Time I Die and USS; we got both those bands this year. Four Year Strong is a band we’ve been trying to get for years. If it doesn’t work this year keep with it and hopefully we get them next year.


KOI 2014 headliners, Four Year Strong

Right on. I have one more for you, how would you say KOI Fest is different than other music festivals?

KOI Fest is different for a couple key areas. KOI Fest is really unique in the sense that it takes place throughout a downtown core, its not some empty field. We’re very communal, there’s a grassroots feel to us. It’s really cool because you’ll see a lot of artists out walking the same streets, eating at the same restaurants, shopping at the same stores that you are, I think you don’t see that at a lot of other festivals. The audience is a lot more engaged with the bands, which is something we pride ourselves on.

Do not miss out on KOI Fest in Kitchener, on now.


Interview by Griffin Elliot

Pictures taken from the web


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