MUSIC BOX: Upcoming mega music fest is labor of love

By on April 23, 2015
Jeff Stein and Matt Donovan are the inspired minds behind the Contour Music Festival. (Photo: Hannah Hardaway)

Jeff Stein and Matt Donovan are the inspired minds behind the Contour Music Festival. (Photo: Hannah Hardaway)

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – With the inaugural Contour Music Festival just seven weeks away (June 11 to 14), featuring more than 35 national acts – from Thievery Corporation and Deltron 3030 to Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires – and art and cultural offerings, inquisitive minds want to know more. So The Planet dug in with Contour creators/event producers Matt Donovan and Jeff Stein.

PJH: Can you explain the modern layout of this festival and how it differs from the traditional one-stage festivals that we are used to in the region? Is Treefort Music Festival or South by Southwest music festival a comparable model for Contour?

Matt Donovan/Jeff Stein: We want Contour to blend the best parts of an outdoor festival in the daytime and the intimate late nights of festivals with urban models. The goal is to forge a peak experience with the best of both worlds. Contour is a bit different in that we’re creating three areas to foster a complete experience — an artistically inspired main stage at Snow King, the Art Garden at The Center for the Arts, and the downtown area with multiple options for the night people. This layout allows use of the Cache Street corridor in a new light by foot, pedal or public transport. It also allows us to see the town itself as the “venue,” which these other aforementioned festivals have done very well. We’ve taken inspiration and notes from a lot of events that we’ve attended and worked.

PJH: Where did funding source(s) originate for Contour?

MD/JS: Contour has been made a reality through a mix of local, regional and national sponsors, a group of private investors and supporters, and we were happy to receive a 4JH grant from the Travel & Tourism Board. Community support in the way of ticket sales is also critical to our success. The community’s response is going to be one of the determining factors of success in the inaugural installation.

PJH: Is there a longer, multi-year plan in place with respect to sustaining Contour, or will that get revisited after each festival?

MD/JS: Contour is designed to be an annual event, with increasing impact and benefit over the long-term. The event has huge potential for Jackson, for Wyoming, and for the Northwest. Our long-term vision has even greater offerings and components, but for the sake of feasibility and not overstretching ourselves, we scaled it back for the first year. So there’s plenty of room for growth. If Contour gets the kind of support from the community we’re hoping for, amazing things are possible. We’re trying to build a vehicle here, one that allows multiple additions in the future. It’s a labor of love that we’re piecing together slowly with the community. Many other successful festivals have taken a similar approach and had amazing success with it. We cherish the opportunity to do that here by sharing this amazing place and community we all call home. We’re already thinking of things we’d like to add for next year, if all goes well.

PJH: With respect to the types of musical acts, was the idea to strike a fairly equal balance between electronic music and live bands?

MD/JS: Our goal was to create a non-genre specific event, one that would be attractive to a wide audience. Part of that idea is having the chance to come check out different types of music that people may not have heard before. There’s something great about being surprised and excited about new acts, and a festival is a great way to do that. We sought to bring a lot of artists who haven’t ever been to Jackson before, which we’re hoping will be just as exciting for the acts themselves as it is for the audience. It’s hard not to be inspired by this place. In terms of live bands versus electronic, that’s also a good example of some of the musical backgrounds and interests for both of us as co-creators of the festival. We both share a deep love of music and both focus a bit more in particular genres that we wanted to see at Contour.

PJH: You guys have been to more than your share of music festivals over the years. What are Contour’s top priorities for achieving the ultimate fan experience? 

MD/JS: The three words we’re using to describe the Contour experience are: intimate, innovative and elevated. The intimate side is the chance to see incredible acts that normally play to crowds of tens of thousands of people on an outdoor stage with a few thousand, and late night shows with a few hundred. Exposing Jackson to the innovative art, music and culture from other areas is as much the focus as sharing the unique culture of this place with visitors. The elevated part is a nod to giving attendees a means to go explore our incredible landscape and outdoor playground that we are fortunate enough to call “home.”

PJH: You both started out doing events on your own here out of a desire for new and different music options. How does that compare to organizing Contour?

MD/JS: We both took it upon ourselves to begin doing shows and events with the music we loved in Jackson because we had to leave to experience it. The seed of having our own event here was planted many years ago. When we both met, it didn’t take long for our shared desire for the concept of Contour to emerge. In the process of working together, our individual visions of what the event would look like have grown and been enhanced by each other’s unique background and perspective. This evolution is what our first offering of Contour will be. The amount of work it has taken to create it is hard to quantify, and the prior experiences we accrued in helping produce other festivals is essential. Creating something this big has been a massive amount of work and time, on top of being a great learning experince. We see it as investing in the future of the event and all of the benefits it could yield.

About Aaron Davis

Aaron Davis is a decade-long writer of Music Box, a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, member of Screen Door Porch and Boondocks, founder/host of Songwriter’s Alley, and co-founder of The WYOmericana Caravan.

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