“Doing our first event and trying to survive.”
Those were Hugo Rampen’s words when I asked him what he was most excited about his new Axis Mundi festival, which starts in a little more than three weeks.
“But don’t write that down,” he added.
I sat down with Rampen and Scott Crocker, the festival’s head of marketing, last week to find out how things were going leading up to the inaugural edition the weekend of September 18. We met in their rather sparse office at 204 Campbell Avenue — the former home of the Chamber of Commerce.
With four weeks until kick off, they had completed the lineup and put together the schedule. Now it was time for the nitty gritty — things like a big marketing push, organizing volunteers, and making sure there’s enough porta potties.
“It’s balls to the wall,” said Crocker. “There’s lots to do, for sure.”
Crocker and Rampen have both come to Revelstoke from the long-running Salmon Arm Roots & Blues festival. Rampen was the creative director for seven years and Crocker handled marketing.
Axis Mundi has been in the works for a year, since Rampen was contracted to create two shoulder-season festivals in Revelstoke — a solstice festival in June and a harvest festival in September.
The ability to work from a blank slate has given them lots of freedom, but also sparked some nerves.
“With Roots & Blues, every time you change something, you’re being criticized by former patrons because it was new or different,” said Rampen. “Here, we have license to do as we wish. The difficult thing is we don’t have a built in audience that buys 50 per cent of your tickets without even knowing what the lineup is.
“Earning ticket buyers is a different process. It’s something were both learning.”
In folklore, axis mundi is a mythical place at the centre of the world, where the four compass points join. For the festival organizers, the four points are music & culture, environment, community and sports. Those are the tenets the festival is built around.
The name Axis Mundi was chosen to be deliberately vague, allowing the organizers more freedom to book different acts. “I didn’t want anything with a geographic name or a style or a genre,” said Rampen.
The Axis Mundi team have been slowly rolling out their festival lineup over the summer months. It started with the announcement of the first group of performers, with Canadian fiddling star Ashley MacIsaac the big draw. Later, they announced up-and-coming indie group Walk Off the Earth as the second main headliner.
In the midst of that they unveiled the speaker lineup, which includes Revelstoke’s Greg Hill, former Olympic cross-country skier Chandra Crawford, environmental activist Severn Cullis-Suzuki, and mountaineer Jamie Andrew, who’s scaled numerous peaks despite not having hands or feet.
Rounding out the festival is a day-time adventure market, a 100 mile harvest market, music workshops, kids activities and more.
With the lineup and schedule set, the big challenge is building the audience and getting people to show up.
“We’re building everything from scratch,” said Crocker. “I love it. It feels really exciting.”
Rampen and Crocker have modest ambitions for the first festival. They’ve budgeted for 1,500 tickets sold and are capping attendance at 3,000 in order to avoid a bottleneck at the RMR gondola, which is being used to access the main stage. It’s a modest goal compared to Roots & Blues, which attracts more than 20,000 people.
“I would love it if we got there,” said Crocker. “I’m not sure we’ll get there this year.”
The organizers waited until most of the summer’s major festivals were over to make their big marketing push. Over the next three weeks, they’ll be doing media campaigns throughout the Southern Interior.
“This is when we’ll really know,” said Crocker. “The inundation is about to happen.”
The festival begins Friday, Sept. 18, with what organizers are dubbing the crawl. Various bands will be playing at venues throughout downtown, and festival goers can either stick at one spot, or venue hop.
Saturday begins with the adventure market in Grizzly Plaza. There will be performances, speakers and workshops throughout the day downtown.
“We left the daytime fairly open so people can take advantage of the natural aspects of the community,” said Rampen.
Saturday night, the action shifts to Revelstoke Mountain Resort, for the main concert at the gondola mid-station headlined by Walk Off the Earth.
Sunday features a similar routine, with the 100 mile food market in the morning and Ashley MacIsaac headlining at RMR.
Organizers are still looking for volunteers. They have about 30 so far and are looking for 100. Volunteers get a free festival pass and a t-shirt.
“I want Revelstoke to come out,” said Crocker. “It’s the first time. Come and check it out and I think they will love it.”