With all the redevelopment and refurbishment going on throughout downtown, it would be easy to underestimate the significance of Middle Waves.
Middle Waves, which will happen September 16 and 17 at Headwaters Park, is a music festival of a type that Fort Wayne has never before attempted.
Fort Wayne already has popular festivals devoted to specific genres like country and electronic music.
But Middle Waves aspires to be something grander, a music festival that will transcend genre and geography.
Middle Waves is the brainchild of a number of likeminded, local trailblazers: Matt Kelley at One Lucky Guitar, Alison Gerardot at Riverfront Fort Wayne, Sweetwater Sound’s Chuck Surack, Corey Rader at the Brass Rail, Dan Ross at Arts United and Alec Johnson with the City of Fort Wayne.
The template for Middle Waves is so-called “destination festivals” like Bonnaroo and Coachella, music festivals that many people feel compelled to attend every year (some of them traveling quite a distance) regardless of who is performing.
The idea for the festival, Gerardot said, grew out of an “intercommunity visit” that members of Greater Fort Wayne took to Des Moines, Iowa, two years ago.
“What those community leaders in Des Moines were saying at that point in time,” she said, “was ‘We were where you are now’ in terms of momentum. ‘Everybody can feel it. Everybody knows.’”
“‘But we have this one event in our community called the 80/35 Music Festival,’” Gerardot remembered them saying, “’that really turned the tide for everyone sort of working in unison to just continued to really push this community forward.’ They say that’s the event that happened in Des Moines where everybody woke up the next day and finally realized that they were cool.”
Kelley said it has always been an “underground dream” to start, or have someone start, a festival like this in Fort Wayne.
But once sponsors began boarding Middle Waves, the dream quickly became a reality.
Kelly said the name of the festival was meant to evoke Fort Wayne’s rivers (the focal point of so much new excitement), “waves of grain” (the focal point of so much pastoral nostalgia), and “making waves” (the focal point of so much idiomatic bravado).
From an operations perspective, Kelley said, Middle Waves is not-for-profit. All the aforementioned organizers are volunteers.
One of the lynchpins of the whole venture was fastened when festival headliner, the Flaming Lips, was signed.
Fort Wayne had never before lured a band of that stature and hipness to northeast Indiana and it gave the festival instant buzz and cachet, not only among local music fans, but among national talent bookers as well.
“Yeah, well, we’re excited about them,” Kelley said. “Because they are, in some ways, the quintessential festival band. You’ve seen them at Bonnaroo and Glastonbury. There’s an immediate legitimacy to a festival they are a part of.”
Other bands signed thus far include Best Coast, Doomtree and Jeff the Brotherhood. More bands will continue to be signed into September.
Kelley said they have 28 slots to fill on three stages over two days. He said another group of signed acts should be announced around the first week of August.
Fort Wayne has a reputation as a place where folks tend to buy tickets at the last minute, but Kelley wants to encourage people to buy early, because every dollar organizers get now can and will be spent on this year’s festival.
Kelly wants to stress that Middle Waves is not just for youngish people.
“We’ve kind of positioned this as, ‘We want young people to love living here,’” he said. “But they had age diversity (at the 80/35 Music festival) and it was really cool. You’d have hip-hop going with folks in their mid-50s bouncing up and down and it was like, ‘Boy! This is all the diversity we would hope to see.’”
“The diversity at that festival is something that we hope to transport to this festival,” Gerardot said. “It wasn’t just young people. It was all people. Lots of families. I was shocked. 60- and 70-year-olds just hanging out and listening to Nas.”