Bled Fest – The Art of Running a Festival – Q&A INTERVIEW

Bled Fest is a festival held annually in Michigan. Nate Dorough, is a co-owner of the festival and we had the pleasure of doing an interview with him. The interview can be read after the break.

Bled Fest is a festival held annually in Michigan. Nate Dorough, is a co-owner of the festival and we had the pleasure of doing an interview with him. The interview can be read after the break.

If you read music news websites like,, or, you have probably seen, looked at, or passed over a post about Bled Fest. The annual festival in Michigan has developed a name for itself over the past 6 years for being an awesome music festival that you don’t have the break the bank for! This year nearly 3000 people were in attendance and over 70 bands played across 6 stages. Did I mention that it is a 1 day festival? Well, it is and it is an awesome one. This year alone, attendees got a chance to see Every Time I Die, Norma Jean, and La Dispute. We had a chance to catch up with Nate, the co-owner of the company behind Bled Fest to discuss how the festival has grown over the years and some background info that you may not know.

Digital Tour Bus: Can you please state your name, company name, and position?
Fusion Shows: Nate Dorough, co-owner and talent buyer for Fusion Shows.

DTB: Can you tell us a little about how Bled Fest was started?
FS: Bled Fest started in 2005, when local musician and music fan Ben (“Big Love”) Staub decided to host a basement show/pool party, with a very multi-genre feel to it.  The first year, 30 people came.  The second year, over 200 people flooded his back yard.  From there, it got a lot bigger.

DTB: When you started the annual festival, did you think you would still be doing it after a few years?
FS: It never really seems sustainable.  We ride just on the edge of chaos.  This year, we had 2783 paid attendees, with no barricades.  The more video I see from this year, the more I realized that there were 50-100 people on stage far too many times.  That being said, people take care of each other.  It’s a cool thing to be a part of.

DTB: Can you take us through a day-to-day when planning a festival like Bled Fest?
FS: Man, that’s a tough question.  It’s a six month process.  We start in December each year, asking for initial submissions.  We work on the lineup through January and February, and once the lineup announces throughout February, we promote hard for 3 months.  Towards the end, it’s all about the production.  Making sure we’ve got sound, lights, parking, catering, concessions, sponsorships, and everything else figured out.  It’s a stressful thing, so much so that when June rolls around, I don’t know what to do with all my time.

DTB: How did you use social media to boost attendance this year and in yeas prior?
FS: We love social media.  From Free Ticket February, where we use Facebook and Twitter to do giveaways each day as we announce the lineup, to simply using those mediums to make the whole event interactive, we push hard on social networking.  We were a worldwide trend for about an hour this year on Twitter, and trending all day in the Detroit demographic.  That’s ridiculous to think about.  Of all the things on earth to talk about, we were one of the TEN most talked about things for any amount of time.  In Hartland, Michigan, in an old high school, the one that I graduated from 14 years ago.

DTB: How important are the tour bands you add to the festival to the total draw of the event?
FS: Touring bands add to the legitimacy of the lineup.  You can see local bands all the time.  They’re local.  However, it’s the combination of local and touring that make these shows exciting.  Touring bands are excited to play for the new faces that local acts bring, and locals are stoked to play with the bands they look up to.  It makes everyone work harder.

DTB: Are tour bands more, equally, or less important than the local acts on the festival, in terms of  the amount of people the bands draw?
FS: See above.

DTB: When you are booking the bands for the festival, do you book the tour bands or local bands first? Why?
FS: We always start with touring acts.  Their schedules have to be figured out earlier, they cost more, and depending on what touring acts we get, we then build our local roster around the type of touring acts we confirm.

DTB: Can you explain the stress and what is going through your mind the day of Bled Fest? Are your thoughts going a million miles a minute?
FS: More than you can imagine.  Basically it’s like this:

“Oh my god, there’s no parking spots left, there’s a kid over there with a bloody nose, we ran out of chicken in catering, the Chariot’s about to take the stage and complete anarchy will ensue, as it always does.  Meanwhile, my staff is tired, bands are loading gear in and out, people are constantly asking questions, not only in person but via Facebook, Twitter, text message, and email.  Oh, and my stupid phone just died because the signal inside the building isn’t very good.  Which means no one can get a hold of me.  And when was the last time that I ate anything.  And man, I gotta poop, but there’s no time!  And the fire marshal’s outside writing parking tickets, mostly to bands, because they parked where I told them to, and apparently that’s a fire lane.  Oh, and it’s raining now.  And Eisley just got here.  And shit, who’s the idiot who just parked in the middle of the parking lot?  And we’re still out of chicken!  Man, this place is a mess.  And the school rents out to a church tomorrow, so I need to make sure our cleaning crew is on point.  Oh, and now there’s kids drinking in the parking lot.  That’s great.  And look, the bass player from the Chariot is standing on top of the speakers and throwing his guitar into the crowd.  I hope he doesn’t hurt anyone, or himself.”

That’s my brain.  All day.  From 8am until 2am.

DTB: How much staff does it take to run Bled Fest? What kind of jobs/tasks do staff members do?
FS: There’s about 50-60 people, and they do it all.  We turn an old school into a festival location.  It’s a ridiculous amount of work.  They set the place up, hang posters, set up stages and sound systems and lights and hang signage and move gymnastics equipment and load gear and carry coolers full of food.  Then, when all that’s done, they clean up.  I’m so blessed to have the people around me that I do.  They’re incredible.

DTB: Since Bled Fest only happens once a year, do you work on anything for Bled Fest in the off season?
FS: Like I mentioned earlier, it starts about six months in advance.  And we do post-Fest work for about a month after, finishing up accounting and paying everyone.  And then we think about next year.  It’s a year-round thing!

DTB: Do you use the other concerts you book to help promote Bled Fest and vice versa?
FS: Yes.  At every Fusion show leading up to Bled Fest, we’ve got posters and flyers.  At Bled Fest, we’ve got tons of flyers and posters and banners and video screens.

DTB: How important is guerrilla marketing to your promotion strategy for Bled Fest? Is it more important, equal, or less important than your online promotion strategy?
FS: We do most of our promotion online, but we absolutely love to just swoop into schools, other shows, etc. and just pass out flyers.  It’s the mix that makes all the difference.

DTB: I noticed that your ticket prices are significantly lower than comparable festivals. Is keeping ticket prices low a part of your strategy? If so, how?
FS: Yes!  We’re not greedy people.  The venue is such an alternative space, so we don’t have a lot of the crazy expenses that come along with an outdoor festival (huge stages, roofs, fencing, porta-johns, etc.  But in general, we use our ticket price as the main selling point for the show.  Yeah, you’ve seen Norma Jean before.  And you’ve seen Every Time I Die before.  But I bet you didn’t get a chance to see 70 other bands all for $18?

DTB: Overall, were you happy with how everything went with Bled Fest this year?
FS: Everything was as perfect as something that chaotic can be.  No major issues, nobody got seriously hurt, and the bands and fans all called it one of their favorite shows ever.  When Every Time I Die, Norma Jean, and The Chariot all tweet about how it was one of the best shows of their careers, we can’t complain too much!

DTB: Do you have any final thoughts or comments to add?
FS: Thanks for being interested.  I hope that everyone’s excited for next year!