Jul. 10, 2009
Relaxing on a comfy brown couch at the Hub Incubator, a launching pad for tech and creative businesses set up in the Rosemary District, it’s hard to fathom all the activity that’s taken place within the space in the past month. What started as, “Let’s have a DJ at Barrel 87,” and then became, “Let’s have a few here at the Hub,” has now morphed into the Vinyl Music Festival: 30 DJs, some the world’s biggest, playing every style of electronic music at a dozen Sarasota venues over the course of four days.
The funny thing is, for Hub founders Matt Orr and Rich Swier, most of that activity involved just that — sitting on the couch, with their laptops of course.
It began when Swier mentioned the idea to his friend DJ Drager, an internationally known electro-house DJ. Drager then talked to DJ Diamond, electro funky house blonde bombshell, and Paul Mendez, tribal-house-progressive superstar and world-class producer. Mendez in turn contacted Master Jay, founder of Global DJs and undisputed top dog of the house music movement in the Middle East., who then called the Hub to book the fest.Master Jay’s agent emailed the agent of DeeJay Barry, the world-class Hypeman for DJ Skribble (of MTV fame), who then also called to sign on.Both agreed to come play the Vinyl Music Festival with Drager, who then called Swier at the Hub to book the artists. Drager’s next step was to contact DeeJay Barry, the world-class hypeman for DJ Skribble (of MTV fame), who then also agreed to sign on. [Ed. note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly detailed the process by which two artists agreed to perform at the Vinyl Music Festival.]
Through emails, phone calls, Facebook and Twitter, word continued to spread.
And in a matter of weeks the Hub had created, through little more than social media and mutual relationships, one of the most star-studded DJ festivals in the world, right here in Sarasota. It could have been twice the size had they not run out of time and resources. “We had to turn down big headliners … at least 20 DJs,” says Swier. “We had no more venues. We ran out of speakers and turntables. It just happened so fast.”
It’s no surprise – many of these artists regularly sell out stadiums all over the globe. “You could have put Paul Mendez at Robarts,” says Swier, “but the whole point is to make it intimate. You get to see these DJs up close instead of in a concert setting. … You go to Miami for a club. You come here for DJs on the beach and on rooftops and at intimate venues. You’ll know you’re in Sarasota.”
Because the proceeds go to benefit Autism Speaks, many of the artists are performing for little more than room and board. And over 70 local businesses and organizations have contributed to the event in one form or another. G-Wizis holding a special program with DJ Sinna-G to teach kids the science of sound on Saturday, and the Sarasota Convention & Visitor’s Bureau is paying for Logo, MTV’s gay and lesbian channel, to come down and film a series about Vinyl Music, which the network will air before next year’s festival. “People call every day wanting to participate,” says Orr. “They understand the impact the exposure will bring to the city.”
And that’s really what this whole thing is about.
One of the Hub’s missions is to attract young professionals to the area. Vinyl Music Festival is Swier and Orr’s first attempt to show the community that if Sarasota wants to bring in the sustainable businesses of the future they need to think outside the box. “Music always attracts people,” says Swier. “We want to build on the assets we have. People don’t use music as much as they should in our area. It’s shocking because it’s such a culture-heavy city. Maybe it’s the noise ordinance or politics. Everybody agrees we need to diversify the economy, but they have to bend a little bit. Nobody wants to live in a town where you don’t have the social activities that you want to have.”
The Hub is trying to show that just a handful of young tech entrepreneurs coming to Sarasota to start businesses would bring a ton of capital and growth to the community. “We are setup and primed for this industry,” says Orr. “We have the right make-up: natural amenities, year-round good weather, a downtown that is conducive to a coffee-culture executive. We have a little creative factory up at Ringling that is creating students that people all over the world will want to use because they will help their economy wherever they go. And we’re watching those kids leave every year. [This] is probably the most successful young professional out there right now, and this person enjoys a certain lifestyle. This person works from a laptop. It’s not like we choose a job that dictates where we live. We’re a culture that chooses where we want to live.”
An example is 24-year-old Noah Everett, creator of the website TwitPic.com, which he built as an easy application to upload pictures to Twitter. It started to become popular because of the easy-to-remember name. So when Janis Krums, a young Sarasota entrepreneur on a trip to New York, snapped the first picture of US Airways flight 1549 with his cell phone after it had crashed into the Hudson River, he used TwitPic to upload it. Within an hour, the server hosting TwitPic crashed, Everett hit the jackpot, and for the first time in history the mainstream media realized that citizen reporters could relay information faster than the news.
Why is this relevant? Because after Krums’ picture made Everett’s site famous, the two became friends, and Krums invited Everett to the Vinyl Music Festival to check out Sarasota as a possible location for his new TwitPic biz headquarters. Hey, Google started with two young tech entrepreneurs. Now the company employs over 20,000 people.
Swier feels that if the city understands what the prize is and how obtainable it is, they will realize that providing an attractive nightlife far outweighs the complaints of a few. “If we take it out of the context of ‘Esca wants to play loud music’ and put it in that context of ‘Retain the talent we have and be an outreach to young professionals,’ then people will understand the benefits and hopefully lighten up. I want to maintain the city, but we need to recognize that small positive changes will not hurt, but help.”
“It’s an age thing,” adds Orr. “Young people like to go out at night, weather it’s to Pastry Art for coffee or throwing down at a bar. If you’ve got a choice between Ashville, where you have 15 coffee shops within five blocks offering live music and desserts at 10 o’clock on a Wednesday night, versus Sarasota that might have one, maybe, you start weighting out lifestyle choices. It’s kind of like Footloose: Just let us dance.”
For one weekend at least, Sarasota will do just that.