Q&A: All Things Go Founders On Their Sold-Out Indie, Female-Driven Festival

This weekend (September 30 and October 1) a slew of artists, including Lana Del Rey, Maggie Rogers, MUNA, Carly Rae Jepsen, Tegan and Sara, Lizzy McAlpine, Jensen McRae, Hemlocke Springs, Mt. Joy, Suki Waterhouse, and many more, will hit the nation’s capital of Washington, DC for the annual All Things Go Festival.

One thing that stands out in the festival poster is, unlike many other festivals, the strong number of female artists on the bill. For the All Things Go promoters that has been a conscious decision in recent years that has rewarded them with two sold-out days this year and a number of artists excited to play with their friends and peers.

All Things Go, which started as a blog before growing into a true independent festival both musically and business wise, is also continuing to expand their reach into social activism with the Creator’s Summit, where this year aspiring industry-ites will be given a backstage look at how a festival is put together.

I spoke with festival promoters Will Suter and Stephen Vallimarescu on booking this year’s lineup, how COVID gave them time to re-imagine the festival a bit, the importance of activism in the All Things Go community and much more.

Steve Baltin: When you had this opportunity during COVID to look back and reflect for a second, talk about the things that you’ve been excited to bring to All Things Go and how you guys have had that opportunity to change things.

Stephen Vallimarescu: That’s a great question. And I think, looking at it, during COVID we really had a lot of time to reflect on the history of the festival, the community that we’ve built, and started to think about what the future had in store. And I think what we started to see was when you look at lineups that have a diverse array of different genres that span, hundreds of artists in certain circumstances, seem to be I think falling out of favor in some capacity with the way that fans were developing, specifically the next generation of fans. I think what we started to think about is how can we really build a community that is cohesive and that allows us to grow as a business. And I think what that meant was, previously we’d hosted festivals that have been three different days. We did three different genres one per day. And I think creating an identity as a festival at the size we’re at was very challenging for the first couple of years. And since COVID, since we’ve moved to Merriweather Post Pavilion, we’ve really started to create an identity around what the festival means. Not only to us and to the artists that we book, but also to the community of fans that we built. So a lot of where this all started was in it was actually pre COVID. We actually partnered with Maggie Rogers and Billie Eilish and, this was earlier in their career, this was in 2018. And they kind of came to us and they were like, it kind of sucks how few women are at the top of festival bills and even down through the lineup. And when you look at the festival ecosystem, it’s the majority men. So we partnered with Maggie that year and curated an all-female lineup. The festival ended up selling out.I think it was Maggie and Billie’s first headline. And then from there we’ve carried the torch of trying to be a little bit different focus on new and emerging artists, but also with a little bit more intention around what we book. And when we went on sale this year, it was our biggest ever two days. The festival sold out in 30 minutes. We have 40,000 people on the wait list and we went viral across like every channel people calling this Coachella for people on antidepressants [laughter]. And I think we really lean into that was the fact that there is a very specific identity around this festival. And I think we don’t take ourselves too seriously. The festival community doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it’s about music. And I think the thing that’s special and that we pride ourselves in is the fans come to All Things Go, they show up at noon and they stay until doors close and they’re there for the music. Like these are fans who go to 20-30 shows a year. They’re not there for the Ferris wheel, they’re not there to be like influencers or take selfies. They’re really there for the music. And I think that has allowed us to really double down on curation. And a lot of our curation is basically us listening to what our community wants and trying to act on that the best we can.

Will Suter: Yeah, and I think off of that and what you said earlier, like for us, technically I guess we’re starting the 2024 process even before the 2023 festival is applying, but kind of that day after the festival mentality is also true for our community. The survey that we do, essentially the exit survey that we do of ticket buyers and the community that day after the festival, as far as, what went well in 2023, what didn’t go well, what artists do you want to see? We really listen to them. And we’ve found that the more that we listen to the people who are coming the more impactful and the better that the festival does. So they’ve really become a part of the journey and like our creative committee to a degree.

Baltin: What’s cool is that it is a mixed festival, but it’s led by women. So how much have you seen the response from artists who want to be part of this?

Suter: I think we’ve heard it really from managers, from agents, from industry. I think over the past two years it’s really started to kind of creep down to the artists. Arlo Parks, who’s one of the artists this year, had an interview, one with Variety and one with Billboard where both of the questions were similar, “What are you looking forward to around this next album cycle?” And she’s like, “I’m excited to play All Things Go. I want to play with all my friends. I want to see my friends, who are on the bill. The diversity from a genre perspective, from an equality perspective and kind of equity perspective from a gender perspective. So that was really cool to see from her and we’ve heard it in the background but it’s becoming really cool and more prevalent I think just to see artists also telling their teams, “Hey, this is the festival that I want to play next year.” Like being very careful and very cautious as they’re taking a hold of their career and saying these are things that I want to do. These are things that I have to do around the next album cycle. So we’ve definitely started to hear that a lot more reverberate in the artists community.

Vallimaresca: Yeah. And I think that what is most impactful and meaningful for us is when we hear artists specifically want to play All Things Go. I think there are only a handful of festivals that artists circle on their calendar when they’re thinking about their upcoming touring plans. And just to be a part of that conversation is really special and meaningful.

Baltin: I’m very good friends with Emily Lazar who does Lodge and all that and we’ve talked so much about the lack of opportunities there are for women behind the scenes and how it then becomes so important to inspire others. So when people get to see that women headlining a festival on stage when they get to understand it it’s very inspiring. So are there things that you’ve heard from people over the years where you can feel that difference?

Vallimarescu: Yeah, I think we really see it come to life backstage when you have all of the artists hanging out with one another, coming together and it almost feels like you’re at some sort of indie rock summer camp. And there isn’t necessarily one thing that we’ve heard, but I think it’s more the overall vibe that exists amongst the artists who think they’re amongst their peers. But I also think they all feel like they are gaining new fans. Again, the fan is coming to see all of the artists versus like 20 percent of the artists, which I think is a problem with the festival ecosystem right now. You’re asking fans to pay sometimes 300, 400, 500 dollars to see 20 percent of the artists. And I think that fans are much more savvy with how they want to experience music and they want to experience I think a cohesive lineup that is like aligned with their values. And I think that’s a lot of what we’ve created.

Baltin: Who’s the dream artist to get on there?

Suter: We go where the talent takes us is a big part of kind of our mission as well. And the talent has taken us to majority female artists and exclusively female headliners for the past few years. I’ll say, for me, coming out of COVID and being able to get HAIM as one of our headliners that was an artist that we had been trying to work on. We had put offers in for years it felt like, so when we were able to f knock that one off that was a big bucket list artist for me. And then we had Maggie Rogers, as we mentioned, in 2018 when we were a much smaller festival and then having grown now to be 20,000 people per day and being able to put Maggie as a headliner for that day [this year] it was really important for us and felt really good for us. So HAIM in 2021 was a big bucket list one for me. And then being able to bring Maggie back as a larger festival headliner this year is something I’m specifically really excited about.

Vallimarescu: Yeah, I definitely agree with those two. And I also think Boygenius. For me it’s one of my favorite albums of the year or favorite albums in a really long time. And I think having them on the festival after having Lucy Dacus play last year, but unfortunately Julien Baker had to drop off last year. So I think that artist really represents our community in a lot of different ways and seeing what they mean[in] popular culture has been really cool.

Baltin: And so is there a dream artist still? I know who I want on there.

Vallimarescu: I think looking towards the future, bringing Billie back would be really important and special for us. She played 2018, it was a 5000 cap festival. Having her come back for the 10-year anniversary a month before the presidential election in Washington DC would be definitely a dream. And then I think another left field one is Sufjan Stevens. All Things Go, the name is from a Sufjan song. So having them be part of the festival for the 10-year would be really cool.

Suter: Who’s your dream artist?

Baltin: Patti Smith. To see a bunch of people who have never experienced the power of Patti Smith have their faces just melted away would be an amazing thing.

Vallimarescu: Actually has been brought up recently, So that’s one that would be an absolute dream. That would be a strong one.

Suter: Let’s make it happen.

Baltin: Let’s talk about the Creator Summit, because that’s a very important thing. And it’s funny, you just mentioned something very interesting too. Next year it’s going to be in DC before the presidential election. Talk about the importance of being able to bring social activism to the festival and the community and what that means.

Suter: Yeah, we definitely want to give people information that’s out there and let them know how they can become a part of a conversation and/or a dominant voice in a conversation. I think two specific organizations that we’re working with this year, the Ally Coalition and then Amplify Her Voice are two really important partnerships for us. And from the Amplify Her voice perspective, it’s a majority younger female audience and community that they have. And a lot of it is future aspiring industry. So a big thing that we’re doing with them this year is getting, basically backstage tours and early before the gates open tour of what it means to put on a music festival, what that looks like backstage. It’ll be a Q&A. So we’ll walk through as the founders of the festival, with what we think are the future generation of the industry. They’re going to be our bosses one day. So that’s been really important for us. And then the Ally Coalition,is another one that we’re super stoked to have at the festival this year. And a few local organizations they’re going to bring on site in addition to having Jeffrey from the Ally Coalition on a panel, around social activism with US Congressman Maxwell Frost, who we think is really a leader. He’s a Gen Z congressman. And just seeing him pop up at Paramore shows on stage and the 1975 and all of that, he’s able to mobilize young people in a way that very few other political leaders are. So we’re really excited to have him and be able to give him a platform to speak as well.

Vallimarescu: Yeah, and just echoing that sentiment, with the Creator Summit, one of the coolest things that I’ve seen over the years is a lot of college students and maybe like post-college, young professionals coming out, and having a real interest in getting into the music industry, but not necessarily understanding the different routes there might be. And I think a lot of those folks have come out and had direct conversations with panelists who are leading folks in the industry around tangibly what you should do next, how you can get in contact with the right people, how you can make steps towards getting into the industry. And I think that’s something that’s really difficult. As we all know there’s no clear path and I think the more opportunities fans or people can have to connect with like-minded folks who have done it, the better. And this year we’re very excited also to partner with Spotify EQUAL for the summit. They’ve been a really amazing partner to work with so far.

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