Interview: Josh Terry - Sad Summer Fest co-founder and show producer

We’ve been fortunate enough to talk to some of the amazing bands playing this year’s Sad Summer Fest - hitting the ground running at The Andrew J. Brady Music Center on Wednesday, July 19 - so check out our chats with Taking Back Sunday, Hot Mulligan, and Sincere Engineer if you haven’t already.

To close out our preview coverage, I’m excited to share my discussion with Sad Summer Fest co-founder and show producer Josh Terry. He talks about the catalysts for bringing Sad Summer Fest to life, what fans and fest attendees can expect, what “emo” music is and what it means to him, and much more. Check it out below!

First, I want to talk about what Sad Summer Fest is to you, as someone who's part of the process of putting it together and actually making it happen. What was the catalyst behind its coming into being, and what do you think has been the evolution - on the ground and for you as a producer - since its inception?

The initial conversation started before the last Warped Tour between my partners Mike Marquis, Tim Kirch and myself. Kevin Lyman had built something so vital to the scene in Warped Tour and we knew that without it there would be a void for these fans and these bands. In the summer of 2018, we started having conversations with bands, promoters and agents about, “if we tried this would you want to be part of it.” We’re two managers and an agent; producing a festival was something new for us and it took the trust of a lot of people plus all of us putting our reputations on the line to get this started. Our hope was that we could create something positive of our own that would feel more focused and not as massive while highlighting the emerging bands in this genre and give them a larger platform for their summer play. The first year, the bands and our crew created a community of togetherness and you really saw everyone lend a hand to get this thing off the ground. It was a major financial risk and one of the hardest yet most fulfilling things I’ve ever been part of. I remember after the last show that year I walked up to everyone on the tour and shook their hands and said “thank you, I think we all did a really good thing.”

In the years since we’ve attracted Journeys as our presenting sponsor - this year co-sponsoring the tour with Converse, which has helped not only elevate the look of the festival but given us resources through their many other platforms to get the word out about Sad Summer and the bands participating. They’ve been phenomenal partners and this year they worked alongside us to launch an exclusive Sad Summer Chuck Taylor All Star shoe. We’ve been able to highlight artists like All Time Low, Mayday Parade, The Maine, The Story So Far, Neck Deep, Waterparks, State Champs, and The Wonder Years while also introducing audiences to bands like Pinkshift, Hot Milk, Just Friends, Games We Play and Destroy Boys to name a few.

Operationally from the producer side we’re constantly trying to evolve the look and presentation of Sad Summer Fest. We have built an amazing road crew over the years - most of which look forward to coming back every year almost treating our tour like summer camp and on the staffing side, we’ve added team members who oversee non-profits, press, ticketing and marketing. We are surrounded by not only talented but good humans. The challenge every year is taking our entire show and placing it into new venues and markets and sharing that experience with the fans from that area. There’s always more signage, more photo opps, more merch tents, and we even have a carnival game this year. It’s been amazing to grow the festival alongside such great people who also have the heart to make a safe space and experience for the audience and a show that boosts the profile of all the artists. Mike, Tim and I are friends who have come from different backgrounds and experiences, but we all care deeply about this genre and its future.

For something like SSF you're pulling from across a spectrum of music that falls under the umbrella of "emo." Over the past decade "emo" has become something of a catch-all term - so what does it mean to you? What were/are some of your favorite bands from the Emo spectrum that aren't on the tour?

It certainly has become a catch all of bands that previously would have been labeled emo, pop punk, post hardcore, indie or even alternative. Whatever you call it, to me it’s a wonderful community that gives a place to share the emotions that, yes young people, but really all people go through - joy, sadness, love, loss, heartbreak, anger and to remind both the bands and the audience that we’re in this together and that those feelings are not just yours alone but shared universally. It also makes me proud that this genre is no longer a guilty pleasure but one that people are proud to sing the lyrics at the top of their lungs whether it’s at an emo night party, sold out shows by these bands, Sad Summer Festival, or any host of major events throughout the country that are realizing that these bands have value to a mainstream audience. I've met some of the best people I know from this community.

Some of my favorite bands that we haven’t hosted yet include PIerce The Veil, Jimmy Eat World, A Day To Remember, Turnstile, The Front Bottoms, Pup, and Dashboard Confessional. Hopefully in the future they’ll be able to join us.

So for the bands on the tour, how did they get involved either as headliners or supporting acts, or the special guests? In Cincinnati, we're going to have Motion City Soundtrack, but the bands again sort of run the gamut sound-wise. How did you decide who would be asked to headline, versus support, versus special guest?

Ever since last year ended we had talked about having Taking Back Sunday as this year’s headliner. So we are incredibly honored they are closing each night. They helped define the sound of this era and have not only an incredible body of work but are more relevant today than when they first began. With only one stage each day, it’s hard to fit every band you want on the bill, so this year we decided to bring in special guests for regional legs of the tour. Motion City Soundtrack means a lot to me because early in my career I tour managed them during their Commit This To Memory cycle. They are like family to me and when we were looking for bands that would pair well with TBS, they were the obvious choice. Hot Mulligan and Mom Jeans have both done the tour before and this past year they’ve been blowing up. The reaction to them each day is amazing to see. Also we’re all big fans of PVRIS and they bring something so unique and different to the tour.

To me, the concept of the tour reminds me of the Warped Tours of years past - maybe just a bit more concentrated on what it is and who it's trying to reach with its premise. What were some of the inspirations when it came time to put together the bands, the programming, and the feel of the tour?

I think there’s definitely shades of Warped Tour in what we do. I think any pop punk or emo tour that tries to deny that is lying, but I agree we try to create a more focused presentation. There’s only one stage and 8 or 9 bands per show. The lineups are catered to compliment one another and not contradict. We fill the area with merch villages & our photo opp activations that draw huge lines every day. Aesthetically my partner Tim always comes up with new creative that moves the brand forward and it’s amazing each year to see the mockups of his ideas versus how larger than life they come to be when it’s time for the tour to start.

For those who weren't able to attend SSF last year, what can fans of the bands and festival attendees expect? And let's assume that this will be the first concert a good amount of folks in the crowd will be attending. What are you most excited about them seeing or doing for the first time? Any advice you'd give first time concert-goers?

I’d recommend they get there early. Every morning before doors, The Maine goes out and has a tailgate party with fans, they play games, sing emo karaoke and just make sure people are awake and ready to start the day. After doors open we have bands signing at the Journeys tent for the first hour and then the show kicks off. Every band has a different flavor and brings something special to the stage. And there’s so many selfie and photo activations for you to give all your friends that didn’t come FOMO. My favorite part is it just feels like a safe environment and it’s our job to take care of everyone and I hope we do a good job of that at every date. We think through everything from making sure each venue has free water activations to the type of food they serve the crowd to making sure if they need anything all they need to do is find a Sad Summer staffer and we’re happy to help.

What do you hope fans of the bands and those attending the tour take away from their experience at Sad Summer Fest?

I hope they go to see their favorite band and leave discovering a new band that they can’t stop listening to. Discovery is the best part of music in my opinion.

My thanks to Josh for taking the time to answer my questions, and to Sarah Haberfield for coordinating all of these great discussions leading up to this year’s Sad Summer Fest. Now, let’s have some fun singing along and sweating it all out next week.


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Sad Summer Fest is coming up quick. Taking over The Andrew J. Brady Music Center on Wednesday, July 19, headliners Taking Back Sunday are bringing a wide variety of Emo, Emo Adjacent, and Pop Punk bands to the stage in what I think is going to be one of the best shows of the summer.

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