By Steve Graham
Colorado has no shortage of music festivals, but there are few gatherings quite like the Fort Collins Music Experience, or FoCoMX, as it is widely known and loved. With nearly 400 artists at dozens of venues, it’s one of the largest festivals in the state that focuses exclusively on homegrown talent, and certainly one of the biggest without a marquee draw.
“There is no headliner. There is no band that everybody goes to see at a certain time,”
said Matthew Fritz, executive director of the Fort Collins Music Association and first-time organizer of FoCoMX.
Fritz said running a festival with so many moving parts is a daunting task, particularly for a rookie, but he is grateful for all his staff and volunteer support.
The biggest task so far has been selecting artists. At least 300 more acts applied for this year’s event than for last year’s record-setting festival. Even with 370 artists chosen, many had to be turned away.
Fritz said he chose to keep an arm’s length from the selection process. As FoCoMA director, his main job is to help artists, and he would have felt awkward turning down some artists for the festival while helping others.
Also, it takes way more than one person to check out all the bands that want to play the festival.
“They listen to absolutely everything that gets submitted,” Fritz said of the selection committee.
Matthew said they also have the tricky task of matching bands to the atmosphere of the venue and working around age restrictions and other issues. And even bands that have played all 10 previous festivals still need to submit their music, just like a rookie act.
“We encourage bands to sign up every year and update us on what they’ve been doing,” Fritz said. “We want to make sure that those bands are still active and continuing their own growth outside of the festival.”
Fritz hopes the resulting lineup is diverse and exciting.
“The idea is that there’s something for everybody,” Fritz said. “As a fan, you can find stuff that’s comfortable and find stuff that’s new to you.”
You can even find a music video festival as a visual subset of a weekend overstuffed with music.
Back by popular demand after last year, the 53:14 festival randomly pairs 10 filmmakers with 10 bands. They are given 53 hours and 14 minutes (thus the name) and $500 to create a music video, and the videos are shown on Saturday afternoon.
The Sound Off Silent Disco is also returning after a successful first year. Passersby only see silent DJs and dancers, but those dancers are blissing out to one of a pair of local EDM DJs simultaneously broadcasting their beats through the headphones.
Another unusual aspect of the festival is the pay structure for artists.
“It’s important that we treat and pay the artists fairly,” Fritz said.
The organizers collect all ticket and sponsorship revenue, then subtract expenses. Of the remainder, 20 percent goes to the non-profit Fort Collins Musicians Association and 80 percent is split between all the artists.
Those artists appreciate the support of the festival.
“I wanted to be a part of this year’s FoCoMX because I really love the fact that it’s a festival by musicians, for musicians, and involving musicians,” Skyler Heck, a DJ who performs as f-ether.“The way that the organizers are so inviting to the local community is really important to me, and I love being a part of anything that supports a local community, especially creative ones.”
Fritz also is looking forward to seeing Hyzenborg in full effect. He met the artist as a mild-mannered young man in a grant writing session but soon learned he transforms on stage into a futuristic metal step DJ shooting lasers from his eyes and shoulder pads.
Tickets cost $40 to access all venues both nights. Free tickets are available for up to 200 volunteers, who help check wristbands at each venue, work in artist green rooms, prepare artist envelopes, check in festival attendees and more.
Fans are almost guaranteed to find a new local favorite and come back out for their headlining shows and other gigs.
“Come out and find a new band and become a fan of that band throughout the entire year,” Fritz said. “That has big dividends for all the artists.”