Local MusicFuckin' A
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Anthony Morrow joined the team at Detroit's Majestic Theatre complex earlier this year, following more than two years at the helm of Detour, a local music and pop culture website. Morrow's official title at the Majestic is "talent buyer," although he handles both booking and promotions/marketing — something that should come fairly naturally to him following three different tours of duty at this publication as marketing director during which he worked on eight different Blowout music festivals (between 1999 and 2002, and then again between 2004 and 2007). One of his biggest projects since joining the Majestic — which houses the Majestic Theatre, as well as the Magic Stick, the Garden Bowl and a new, improved Café — is the upcoming Fucking Awesome Music Festival (Aug. 13-17), featuring 80 different bands playing on seven stages throughout the complex, including three in the Magic Stick and two apiece in the Garden Bowl, the Alley Deck and the brand-new Café room. Among the featured bands, which include both international and local indie rock artists, are British rockers Art Brut, Thunderbirds are Now!, Deastro, Juiceboxxx and a shitload of other Detroit favorites. Morrow recently took some time off to discuss the upcoming music shebang with Metro Times.
Metro Times: What was the genesis and concept behind the Fucking Awesome Fest?
Anthony Morrow: The genesis of the festival was really just me staring at a gaping hole in our schedule for August. A couple of my main goals when I came to the Majestic was to connect with the local music scene and to create an event that really shows off the treasures and functionalities that this place has to offer — the different vibes of the rooms, the bowling alley, the pizzeria, etc. So I thought the best way to accomplish all of these goals and connect with a large audience was with a huge festival.
MT: Were you at all concerned about the title of the fest? I mean, it's a great name … but it does slightly limit your mainstream promotion opportunities.
Morrow: The original name of the event was "Pretty Cool" Festival but the test audiences hated it. [laughs] To be honest, though, yes, we knew that we wouldn't get coverage from certain outlets because of the name. Not having the backing of a major radio or TV station forces us to work harder and promote the festival using a very old-school, grassroots, street-level approach that is actually way more in line with what this festival is all about. A handful of blogs and college radio stations came to the table to help promote the fest, which was a godsend. Also, if the event name turns you off, this probably isn't the event for you.
MT: What was the process for booking the bands? How did you choose from such a long list of possible artists to pick the ones you finally did?
Morrow: Doing a festival like this is always tough because you only have so many slots and good bands inevitably get left out. I tried to create some creative bills that I hadn't seen before. I always start with one big artist to build around. In this case, it was Art Brut. And then the rest just fell into place. Next year's event will more than likely feature a lot more national artists. It's difficult with a first-year event to get everyone you want on board because it's still unproven. This year is all about building the base for future festivals.
MT: There seems to be a lot of changes and new developments going on at the Majestic complex since you joined the team over there. Can you tell us about some of these? What's coming up and what might be happening down the line?
Morrow: There are a lot of exciting developments happening over here. We've bolstered the promotions team and have amped up everything in that area — from flier design and distribution to our social networking strategy. After the fest, we will begin work on a new website. And the redesign of the Café is going to be super cool, and I think the creativity of the menu is really going to blow people away. That's the true upside to working here. The Zainea family [Majestic owners] doesn't rest on their laurels. They continually put money back into the business every time they see an opportunity to improve.
MT: Any acts you're particularly excited about that are playing the fest?
Morrow: Is it cheesy to say I'm excited to see them all? I really am. It's rewarding to sketch out the lineup on paper. But when it comes to the night of the show, well, it's better than green-room sex. [laughs] I should add as an aside to the wife that I've never actually had green-room sex. But I've heard that it's thrilling!
MT: You, of course, booked and organized Blowout for several years, as well as the Detour festival two years ago. How is this fest similar or dissimilar to Blowout?
Morrow: Well, it's similar because a lot of these bands have played Blowout. And both events have a strong local flavor. But Blowout is an animal unto itself with a sprawl of the venues at a certain time of year. Part of it revolves around the personalities of all the distinct bar owners. Fucking Awesome all happens under one roof, of course, at the height of summer. So the mayhem is much more contained and combustible.
MT: The local music blogs started a lot of "controversy" two years ago when the Detour music festival was scheduled for the same time as Blowout. The dates were moved to summer soon thereafter but one of the bloggers recently joked "Metro Times is going to be pissed" when Fucking Awesome was announced. In retrospect, do you think that "controversy" was a lot of to-do over nothing?
Morrow: Well, I prefer to concentrate on things that pertain to the here and now at this point. I hope that's OK. I just really don't want to drum up controversy when it's all a dead issue.
MT: That's fair enough. It is all in the past at this point. But speaking of the blogs, how important are they to what you do these days?
Morrow: Detroit's music blogs are a very integral part to what we do. Their flexibility with subject matter and deadlines provides them with a great advantage when it comes to promoting local music. If we needed to get the word out about something right now, we could hit up our blogger network and get the information out there almost instantly. My hope is that more continue to pop up and spread the gospel of live music.
The Fucking Awesome Fest takes place Thursday, Aug. 13, through Sunday, Aug. 16, at the Majestic Theatre, 4140 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700. Tickets are $20 for a four-day pass; $12 for a single-day pass. Saturday will feature an all-day barbecue, with bands performing on the outdoor, newly built Alley Deck, along with a Rock 'n' Roll Garage Sale presented by Reware Vintage. For a full list of bands and schedule, as well as further info, see majesticdetroit.com/awesome.
Bill Holdship is music editor of Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.