Bill Donabedian isn’t talking. Not on the record. Not about this. The Bunbury Music Festival’s 2013 headliners will, for now, remain classified.
"I've seen what's being tweeted about it and [said] on Facebook,” he laughed. “Some of it's right, some of it's partially right. Some of it's wrong. But I can't speak to any of the headliners you might bring up. And anyway who characterizes who is a headliner and who is not?”
Tight-lipped though he seeks to remain until Bunbury’s lineup announcement date on February 19th, Donabedian was unequivocally clear about his view of the festival’s future: uptrend.
“Everyone waits to see what a first year is like before committing to something. I think you're going to see a lot more people this year,” he proffered. “We're already past where we were in March  in ticket sales."
He is also unapologetic. The upstart festival will, in its second year, once again be held concurrent with Louisville’s Forecastle Festival – a scenario about which much was speculated in Midwest music circles after the two went head-to-head in 2012. For his part, Donabedian maintained, direct competition was not his original intention.
“When I started this, I’d heard the rumors that Forecastle was not going to return. Then the founder managed to revive it. They did their ‘Halfway to Forecastle’ the week after my kickoff announcement. And if you recall at the kickoff announcement in 2010, we announced our 2011 dates. So it was much later that Forecastle said they were coming on that date. So we were like, ‘Oh well,’ you know? Sawyer Point is booked with a legacy event every weekend – it’s the only weekend available to us and it will remain that way. And I called them. I said, ‘Hey guys, we have to be on this weekend. We’re going to continue to be on this weekend. Maybe consider another date?’ But they want to be on that weekend too,” he asserted.
Donabedian isn’t backing away from the challenge, either.
“I don’t know. To be honest, I really don’t care about it,” he said. “I think we have a unique event. And we’re just gonna keep doing our thing. Are we competing? I don’t know. All I know is, we’re doing really well. I can’t worry about stuff like that. I can’t worry about if the Reds are in town. I know what my dates are, so I’ve just gotta do what I do.”
One thing he will do is keep last year’s pricing on tickets — $46 for a one-day ticket, or $93 for a three-day pass — through Valentine’s Day. After that, the price goes up to $55 / day and $110 / festival, with another price increase, $65 / day and $130 / festival, due on July 1st.
For the money, Donabedian promises continued refinements.
"I said this after last year: I just want to perfect the formula a little. The little problems that we had, we want to get ironed out so that year three growth is easier to manage. One thing I've learned about events: if you grow them too fast, it can cause a lot of problems."
When pressed for details on this year’s planned improvements, he was candid.
"We definitely needed more food options for people,” Donabedian acknowledged. “We had plenty of locations for beverages, but we need to increase some of the options there and provide some other creature comforts for guests. We didn't offer much as far as bar service.”
He also divulged his plan to add a new, luxury experience.
“We didn't have a VIP option, which we're going to do this year. We're putting the finishing touches on that. We're not quite done with it, but there will be, for the Main Stage, a separate viewing area, an air-conditioned area, bathrooms, a bar.”
Donabedian paused: “Just a little less crowded and a little more convenient."
Patrons will notice a revised layout in 2013.
“There's no DJ stage this year,” he announced. “We've moved the acoustic stage right by the statue of Cincinnatus, and that area's becoming an expanded craft beer village. People really wanted more craft beer options, and we love the idea of the acoustic acts being in that atmosphere, with people who are just kind of hanging out and enjoying different kinds of beers.”
Last year, readers will recall, the acoustic stage was located next to the amphitheater on the east end of Sawyer Point, where sound checks from incoming acts on the aliveOne Stage bled over and impacted the listening experience. Moving the acoustic acts to the middle of the park, he said, made more sense.
“I think that's eliminated a couple of problems. That separates the acoustic acts from the other stages,” he said, adding that another, amplified stage will take the former acoustic spot, albeit aimed away from the amphitheater.
“That [new] stage will move slightly and face more northwest,” Donabedian revealed. “That stage will shift almost to the point that the amphitheater stage is behind it. By getting them turned slightly, if [an amplified] band is playing, you're not going to hear a sound check.”
The gates will open later in the day, too. Last year, Bunbury opened at noon; this year, they will push gate time back to 1 pm, with first acts taking the stage at 2 pm.
“There wasn't much demand early in the day,” he explained. “So we're like, OK, we'll just push the day back a little bit and deliver up music when we know people are going to start showing."
The festival will still close at 11:30 pm but, said Donabedian, the elimination of the DJ stage and addition of a sound stage will allow a slight increase in the total number of bands to play over the course of the weekend. And, he guaranteed (recalling last year’s unexpectedly abbreviated Jane’s Addiction set) all closing acts will play up until the festival shuts down for the evening.
"That was a miscommunication, actually. When the fireworks happened [at the Reds game next door, Jane’s Addiction] thought they had to finish. We're not really sure why that happened,” he said. “The fireworks were finishing and they thought for some reason they had to be done at 11:00, and they were just like, 'OK, good night!' And we're all like, 'What? What happened?'"
Donabedian is clearly excited about Bunbury’s 2013 headliners, if not yet willing to reveal them.
"I think people are going to be surprised: quality headliners and current. I they're going to be pleased. But it's consistent," he said.
"What emerged from the headliners we chose [in 2012], was this idea that, let's face it, this is an alternative music festival, and those were the alternative bands that made a statement in the last few decades,” Donabedian offered. “Jane's Addiction was really the first alternative act to go mainstream. Weezer carried [that] on, and obviously, Death Cab for Cutie is current. We liked that. In one fell swoop we identified our target market and what our festival is about. I also liked the idea that Perry Farrell, who was the founder of Lollapalooza, headlined the first night of this festival."
This year, Donabedian affirmed, the major acts are more in line with current radio airplay, but will still target an alternative music demographic. Maybe we can gather some insight by asking how Bunbury chose this year’s marquee acts?
"When you go after bands, a lot of people think, 'Well, why don't they just get this band, or get that band?' Is a band touring? If they are touring, where are they at the time your event is taking place? What are they asking? There are so many variables. Are they under a radius clause and can't play the festival, even though they are going to be in the area? You have to look at your budget and look at what's available."
Nothing doing there. Donabedian is still mum. We dropped a rumored name.
“Hmm, could be!” he laughed. Then silence.
Sigh. Any chance of an eleventh hour surprise closer to festival weekend, then?
“We’re new. We don’t have the leverage and the notoriety. It’s hard to talk with artists at a high level and get them to try and do things or have fun with things. It’s gonna be a few years, I think, until we get to that point,” Donabedian forecast. “And I’m looking forward to that point, because that does create a lot of excitement around a festival, like a big surprise act – it’ll be a little while before we’re there.”
So, for now, it remains for we, the curious, to buy (cheaper-for-now) tickets, and tune in to Fox 19 WXIX on Tuesday, February 19th, at 7:50 am, for Bunbury’s live announcement of its 2013 lineup. Then we will know all.
Hopefully all, Donabedian qualified.
“When we announce, most everything will be booked. There’s always that negotiation that could last a little longer than you hope — we had that happen last year. But really the intent is to announce the whole thing.”
"We know some of the expectations will be higher this year,” he agreed. “Artists are going to be expecting more from us as well, so we want to make sure that we've got our processes and things in place so we manage those expectations and people have a really great experience."