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The Rise of Northside


“I’m a huge fan of Kishi Bashi,” said Beck, “but he’s pretty expensive, and Scott’s not too into the price he was asking.”

Diaz cracked open his MacBook Pro and brought up a spreadsheet of ticket sales and attendance from the past year.

“I mean, Bleached is tried and true,” he said. “We’ve had them here twice, and they move lots of tickets, and they’re always great live.”

“Kishi Bashi sold out the Bowery in advance,” Beck pointed out.

“Yeah, they get the business, but again, Bleached is tried and true,” Diaz said. “I think it’s a no-brainer.”

“Cool,” Beck said, businesslike. “Second issue has to do with film crews.”

Like nearly every venue at Northside, the Knit would have a major sponsor presence, with branding from Vitaminwater and Steve Madden. But the sponsor waltz is a delicate one. Year-round, the Stedmans work on attracting new sponsors and cultivating relationships with established ones (this year, there will be 35), while working equally hard not to trigger the bullshit detectors of thousands who might get a little squeamish about attending a festival backed by Con Edison (apparently also hunting for hipster cred).

Partially, they manage that by packing the festival with so much good music that attendees are willing to overlook the conspicuous branding. And partially it’s a by-product of the fact that sponsorships in 2013 do not mean just canvas banners or free stickers. Instead, they mean “activations”—industry shorthand for the kind of multidimensional, interactive branding event that should (in a best-case scenario) merge seamlessly with the non-branded programming—the Red Bull Creation competition, a Jameson lounge of green-shirted bartenders pouring icy tumblers of whiskey, a Bing “hacker challenge” at the Wythe Hotel and 3rd Ward. Happily for Northside, it almost feels like the sponsors are more interested in basking in the cool of the festivalgoers than in actually selling them anything.

Of course, even this kind of branding requires some fairly careful stage-­managing. Both Vitaminwater and Steve Madden wanted their own film crews on hand for the concerts, Beck explained, and she was concerned about traffic control.

“We need to find out about the size of the camera crews,” Scott said. “In terms of shooting, though, Steve Madden’s not going to be concerned if Vitaminwater gets picked up in their footage. Why would they care?”

“The Vitaminwater branding is going to be moderate,” Smith said.

“And no onstage signage,” Beck reminded him.

“Right. They’re cool with that,” Smith said. “They want to keep the music totally sacred. They don’t want to get in the way.”

The offices of Northside Media Group are located in a tall office complex on Main Street in Dumbo. After the last of the meetings, I rode the ferry back across the river with Beck, Smith, and the Stedmans. On the way to the terminal, Daniel recalled the seed of the festival in a live supplement to an “8 Bands You Need to Hear” issue of The L magazine. (Among those eight bands was the little-known Columbia University four-piece Vampire Weekend.) This year, the main draw will be three free open-air concerts, one by Solange—sister to Beyoncé, Houston native, and recent Brooklyn transplant.

As the ferry roared past the stanchions of the Williamsburg Bridge, Scott fished his phone out of his pocket and steadied himself against the railing. “Holy shit,” he said, and the whole team—Daniel, Smith, and Beck—crowded around the four-inch display. Just a few hours earlier, an RSVP form for the Solange show had gone up online. Already, all 6,500 tickets were taken.


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