A story about open space & a local music festival

Posted by  admin —April 14, 2008
Filed in Being Present, Facilitation, Space

Once upon a time … I was asked to help stage a local music festival called the Aireys Inlet Open Mic Music Festival. Marty Maher (a local businessman who really knows how to contribute to community) asked me to get involved … I love music festivals and I could not refuse! Marty said the essence of this festival is simple … It’s all about the music.

Marty did most of the grunt work behind the scenes and I had the pleasure of performing with long time friend (David Jurianz). I donated my PA system and my time as MC for the outdoor gigs at a local cafe.

Then one day (Friday 11th April 2008) … the musicians arrived, guitars were tuned and music lovers gathered to listen in their favorite spaces.

What followed … The music was local, raw and had an appealing rough-edge that was both refreshing and inspiring! Musicians had to be ready to just turn up … plug in and start playing. No fancy sounds checks and, for the bands, guitarists had to settle for the guitar amps that we supplied. Most acts had 30 minutes to strut their stuff and where gaps existed in the program … walk-up performers were welcome to perform. 

Here’s a short video of just a few of the acoustic acts that performed on the Saturday and Sunday afternoon. 

Until finally … the music stopped playing, bags were packed and spectators & performers were nourished by their shared experience of the music, intimate spaces and conversations.

The Moral of the Story … my learnings from the festival emerged whilst I explored the metaphor of Open Space (Note, my inspiration for drawing this Open Space metaphor came from admiring Nancy White’s Blog)

Open Space …

The Aireys Inlet “Open Space” Music Festival … my learnings through an Open Space lens:

*The power of the Theme – It’s all about music was the theme. That meant no poetry, storytelling or art. No frilly markets or selling of products on the side. The whole festival was about 1 core thing … music. This simple principle was applied to all invitations (to musicians & music lovers). The theme resonated loudly and people came. 

*Passion bounded by Responsibility – Without responsibility … passion is all hot-air. Without passion … well who really cares? From the theme [Its all about music], the passion-meter was running high.

Within a few weeks, our ‘word-of-mouth’ invitation campaign filled 50+ music spaces on our empty festival program. When their time arrived to perform, all the musicians were tuned up and ready-to-go. They took responsibility for being present & making it work! 

Within the small festival organising group, individuals took responsibility for the things they were good at. Their passion + Their Gift = Sense of Purpose. As a result stuff got done and done well! We had one face-face meeting and a few informal emails. That was it! It worked. It rocked!

*Starting with a blank agenda – A month before the festival we had ideas, a theme and a couple venues. When we opened the space and invited musicians, our blank agenda filled quickly with a diverse range of acts. Bands, duos, trios and soloists. Blank spaces were offered for anyone to spontaneously get up and perform. One guy travelling through from Western Australia seized the moment and did his first ever live performance. His guitar playing was basic and he struggled to sing in tune, but the audience just loved him and he was moved to tears.

*The importance of Letting Go – In Improv Theatre, letting go of control and outcomes is a core principle. In Open Space its the same. At the festival, we had to trust ourselves, the musicians and the audience, and let go of preconceived ideas of where it would end up. We also had trust in our theme … Its all about music.

There is also something in here about “Whoever comes are the right people.” We were not worried about the people who didn’t come, or about the numbers. We engaged with those who came and they were the only ones.

*Beware the Space Invaders – “Often in the run-up to an Open Space (or a music festival), these folks try to suggest little “improvements” to the process (eg “to make sure success happens”) which nearly always are ways to remove time from participants and replace openness with predicatability. They claim they are introducing more structure, but really they are preventing the emergence of organic structure. This is usually on the unconscious assumption that they know better than everyone else what should happen. Nancy’s term for these folks is ‘space invaders’.” Johnny Moore’s Blog.

I encountered 2 Space Invaders. Both of them were musicians who had run events like this one before. Both struggled with the small audience at the 12 noon kick-off on both Saturday and Sunday. They suggested ways of getting people to come (eg. putting up more signs) … like there was some sort of “lever” that could be pulled and magically people would arrive. 

I said, “let’s just wait and see what happens when the music starts.” (In other words, I just honored the Theme and allowed stuff to emerge in the space). On both days, the sound of acoustic music rang out in Aireys Inlet at 12 Noon. On both days, a very healthy audience assembled by 12.30pm. On both days people stayed until the final song at 5pm. 

*The 2 daytime Spaces were engaging and supportive – The Cafe attracted the latte-set and the Beer Garden the pub go-ers. On their own, these spaces attract people into conversations anyway. Add some great local music and they take on a life of their own.

As the facilitators, we paid attention to the quality and volume of the music. Musicians had 1 less thing to worry about and were able to focus on their music and story. The audience were treated to a great sound without being too loud. After all, people want more than just musicians and music. The real reason people attend festivals is to spend time with people they love, meet new people and share conversations and stories. 

*Butterflies, Bumblebees & The Law of Two Feet – By design, many of our musicians were bumblebees as they buzzed from the Pub to the Cafe and back again. The music lovers were free to come and go as they pleased. A few travelled between the pub and the cafe … most found a group of people and just sat (like butterflies in Open Space), chatted, drank coffee or beer and soaked up the music .

*The musicians were engaging and the audience were involved – I can only speak for the Cafe venue here … if this music festival was a conference, then our keynote presenters were facilitators. They told stories, they listened and read their audience. It was a 2-way process and everyone was learning. The audience and musicians chatted and hung-out in between acts. No one was ‘the expert’ at this conference. We were all in it together.


6 Blog posts in … I now understand why blogging this stuff helps with your own learning and growth 🙂



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