I am sitting in the after-glow of another (the 6th) memorable Aireys Inlet Open Mic Music Festival. Like in previous years, my role was to organise logistics and an army of local volunteers to drive buses, set-up, pack-down and co-host an event that our whole town is now proud of. It’s a privilege to be involved. This year, acclaimed band Mark Seymour and the Undertow closed the 2013 festival. And as our town’s musical matriarch said in closing, “Aireys Inlet’s biggest day” provided a stunning conclusion to our weekend of music.”
What we’ve learned in 6 years of hosting this music festival
1. “Purpose is the invisible leader” – This quote by Toke Moller has been at the centre of our festival’s strategy.
7 years ago Marty came to me with an idea to start a music festival in Aireys Inlet and he had 2 things to say. First, the festival model had to put the music at the centre of everything. Our core purpose statement became, “It’s all about the music”. This simple little statement has guided our decisions and direction ever since and we have not lost sight of this core.
Second, the idea of an ‘Open Mic’ (whilst not new) is an invitation. It invites musicians from all walks of life and all ages to sign up, show up and perform ion front of a festive audience. And because we design the event to be “All About The Music”, every performer is treated with a great sound system, a sound-tech, a beautiful stage and a listening crowd. In 6 years, our little festival has achieved BIG things by providing a springboard for scores of young singer songwriters and bands. They all come back to Aireys again and again.
Even Mark Seymour recognised this and said during his act:
“Local communities need to develop and grow our young people. Aireys Inlet gives them wonderful opportunities to gain confidence and expression through Music.” Mark Seymour
2. Ownership and a Sense of Belonging is Everything!
Aireys Inlet resembles village life. People look out for each other and many live here for this very reason. With this in mind, Marty has always invited contributions and has gone out of his way to thank people publicly. I am one of many who have been swept up by Marty’s vision and together, we have fostered a sense of ownership across the community in the festival. Initially, I used to hear people saying “it’s Marty’s festival”. But now I hear the same people saying “this is our festival”.
This sense of belonging and ownership makes volunteer recruitment easy. Our job is ensure that people don’t over commit and have fun doing it. Our operating principle is “many hands make light work”.
Today, Marty and I had lunch to capture what we learned about the weekend events. This year we experimented with some new stages and new configurations. These changes (together with a dose of cold weather) conspired to create more intimacy and a closer connection between performer and audience. Next year, we have decided to use the “intimacy” principle and redesign some other spaces. We were joined at lunch by one Aireys’ favourite performers Sarah Carnegie, who regularly travels down from Melbourne to perform here. She agreed that Intimacy is a crucial ingredient.
Each year we stub our toe a few times and get some things right. Each learn we learn something new by watching and listening to the feedback from others. Each year the festival gets better and our job get easier.
A final thank you Marty Maher
I am not sure who wrote these words of thanks on the festival home page … but they nailed it:
“A final thank to Marty Maher, who kindly thanks everyone a the festival close, without noting his own efforts. Seven years ago the festival was Marty’s vision to postively influence our young people and community. Singled-handedly he has grown the festival beyond our wildest expectations. Marty organises and schedules the entire event, and gives all 168 acts his close personal attention. His dedication, drive and enthusiasm sweeps the whole community along for the ride and gives artists and young people significant opportunity. We are proud and truly fortunate to have Marty Maher as a guiding patriarch of our community. Ask Marty what you can do to help next year, and critically with costs going up, donate or become a sponsor to secure the festival’s future.”