Interview with Cory Crossman, founder of KOI Fest!

How long was KOI Fest in the making before the official launch in 2010?
The idea of a festival had been in Curt (brother / biz partner) and my mind for years. It wasn’t until we opened our screen printing business in downtown Kitchener that we thought about doing the festival in the city core. Once we saw the energy that was already in place in downtown Kitchener it clicked that this would be the perfect place for a indie music festival.

Have you and your brother ever come to blows over the planning or do you have less violent ways to solve your disagreements? ;)
We get asked this quite often and the answer is no. We disagree like anyone but coming to blows ended in our teens haha. We’re pretty much on the same wave length when it comes to booking talent and festival decisions. There’s a clear vision of what we want and expect the festival to be so that allows us to focus our energy on producing a top notch festival.

What does Kitchener/Waterloo have to offer to the music community the rest of the year?
KW is becoming a hotbed for live music. Many people think of Kitchener and Oktoberfest immediately comes to mind. If you haven’t been to Oktoberfest you should check it out but there are some many other music and cultural festivals. Some that come to mind are Blues Fest which draws well over 100,000 people each year, Latin Fest, Jazz Fest, BIG Music Fest which brought Aerosmith, Styx and Bryan Adams a huge Canada Day celebration in downtown Kitchener each year with fireworks off the top of city hall. There really is too many to name them all. Downtown Kitchener has live music on street corners through the summer and in downtown parks. It really does have a broad selection of musical performances.

Last year was the test year for KOI Con, what were some of the ways you altered / improved it for this year?
2013 was a pilot year for KOI Con. We were very happy with the result and integrated it into the festival. We didn’t change a great deal as it was an enormous success. I think integrating the conference into the festival and bringing in even larger names like Steven Page (Former Bare Naked Ladies frontman) will heighten the events profile and draw in more folks looking to gain some perspective on the music industry.

How’d you come up with the idea of a speed dating session between panelists and artists/participants? 
It’s kind of a funny story. One of our friends was telling us how he had done an elevator pitch to someone in passing and said how great it would be to get 5 minutes of that individuals attention. Then another friend mentioned having a lounge at KOI Con for this and the idea grew from there.

What's the criteria for picking the local artists who will play the festival each year?
There are two things that are most important. 1 – Is  the band willing to work. 2 – is the band good. From there we look at the artist and see if they are a good fit within the festival, will they draw a crowd and will playing KOI help the band grow.

What are some of the big “do’s” and “don’ts” for bands applying to play the festival?
This may sound stupid to some but upload your music and fill out an application in full. So many bands don’t bother with this and it’s the fastest way to get cut immediately. I like seeing plans. When a band says playing KOI will allow us to do X, Y and Z  we’re more willing to help that band out and get them on the festival. If a band applies from across the continent and has no plan it makes it difficult for us to take that band seriously. Every year we have bands apply from other countries. The ones that reach out to us with a plan we are able to accommodate them.

How do you go about choosing the bigger bands as the Festival expands? Is it just based on the size of your budget and who you can afford or do you have somebody big in mind that you bargain for specifically?
Budget is a big component of this. We look at the size of an artist and what the potential return will be. It needs to make sense. We have ideas of who we would like to headline each year and then work from there. Book our largest artists first then work out to support artists after.

How do you decide the schedule? Is it like one big puzzle to fit everyone in to a time slot that works for them and the Festival at the same time? That’s such a good way of phrasing it. It really is like putting a puzzle together. We have the skeleton of the festival in place when negotiating with agents on headliners then fill in the pieces with the support artists. It’s time consuming and many things needs to be taken into consideration.

What can we expect to eat during the acoustic brunch!? Mmm food. 
We have a brunch buffet set up with some tasty eggs, meat, fruits. Should be a nice little spread!

Who illustrated the comic about the mascot? And how did that come about?
We have been working with the same designer who has tackled our artwork for the festival the past two years. Branko is his name and he’s incredible. He will actually be doing a workshop on Sat Sept 20th and walking the audience through the process of making a the comic book. We partnered with Word On The Street (a nationwide literature festival) that occurs at the same time as KOI Fest. We created the comic as a way to involve our audience with the WOTS.

I’m really happy about the charity aspect you’ve added this year, can you talk about some of the charities involved and how that will work?
We’re really excited about this opportunity to do some good in the community. The charities are all focused within the community. We are working with Meals on Wheels, Big Brother / Sister, Women’s Crisis Services, The Working Centre, Strong Start, Sustainable Waterloo Regional, Corus Feeds Kids, St. Mary’s Hospital, KW Community Foundation, Clarky’s Kids, Nutrition For Learning, and Hope Spring. We’re hoping to help raise awareness and funding for these organizations. We operate a free outdoor concert on Friday night to kick the festival off each year. This show costs a great deal of money to put on for the community. We are asking for donations to help the community and keep Friday’s kick off show free. With each donation given the donator will be given a ticket. They will take this ticket to our charity tent. At the tent there are writes about each charity and ballot boxes. They person donating will have a chance to read about the charities and decide who they wish to donate to. 50% of their donation will go to the charity and the other 50% will go towards the cost of the running the free show.

Do you actually get a chance to relax during the festival and watch the bands that are playing or will you be working your ass off the whole time?
Not really aside from 4 hour we sleep at night haha. I make a point of checking out each venue throughout the festival to see how things are going in each space. I will take time for 2 songs from one artists each year to get a sense of what it is like to attend the festival from the average festival goers perspective.

Is there any down time between clean up from this year and next year’s planning?  Hoping to have a couple days to decompress and hangout with my wife. 2015 preparations have already begun so it is an on-going process.

What’s the percentage between local attendee’s vs people traveling in from out of town, any idea?
We have a large local attendance but this year we have sold tickets far and wide. Not sure what our numbers are looking like this year but we have sold tickets in parts of Asia, Europe and all throughout Canada and the US.

I see you guys have been promoting concerts in KW area since 15/17 years old. I put on my first concert at 15 as well in my small hometown. What advice would you give to kids that age who are thinking of doing the same thing?
Do it while you’re in high school. It’s the best time to gamble on something like this and it will likely be a success if you are willing to work to make the event special. Grab a couple solid local bands from your community and bring 1 or two in from outside the community. Maybe off those bands a trade. This is how Curt and I both got started. We played in bands and offered out of town bands a show in KW for a show in their community. It helps make shows sustainable doing this.

What I like the most about what I’ve learned of you guys so far is that you seem to care a lot more than most festival promoters about the bands themselves and helping them get somewhere through what you’re doing, as opposed to just making money and booking more well-known acts while leaving the smaller ones behind. Another good example of this is the charity aspect and the panels where bands can learn more. This isn’t really a question, I just think it’s fucking rad and needs to be stated. Thanks man, it’s important to develop and help build up the local music community. When we started our promotions company ARC Cloathing (yes clothing with an A) our founding principals were based on Advance, Renew and Co-exist. Every project we take on we want to advance ourselves and those we work with while renewing where we take from and co-existing with one another. We’re a very grassroots organization that believes in building those around us to make something bigger.

Have you received a lot of submissions for the #openkoifest14 ? How many will you be choosing to play on Sunday? 
What does the final round entail? This contest was a huge success. It really showed us who is willing to work. The finals was comprised of 5 bands. The two bands with the most likes for their band moved to the finals and the 3 bands we liked the most moved onto the final round. The winner of this contest was Toronto based St. Andrews.

How big is the #koipromoteam and how would somebody join in next year?
We’re always looking for more help so visit our website to get engaged. The core team is 3 people but we have awesome volunteers that come on from event to event. We’re really lucky to have all these awesome folks helping us out.
You can volunteer HERE

Last but not least, will the KOI mascot be anywhere near the KOI Panels? Because, I’m terrified of mascots… this has nothing to do with the interview I’m just asking for my own sanity. You may see me run faster than you’ve ever seen a human run before.
I think we’re planning to keep the KOI mascot around the festival. So you should be safe!