In an exclusive interview with the EDM Assassins, Jarid Dietrich, the founder of Phoenix Lights Festival, speaks with me about topics ranging from the inspiration behind the theme of Phoenix Lights, the art installations planned, and even the future of music festivals in the U.S. Phoenix Lights will take place on March 22nd in downtown Phoenix at Civic Space Park. Get your tickets now at phoenixlightsfest.com before they are gone!
It’s pretty exciting that this is the first year of the event, what are you excited about given that this is the inaugural year? What makes this first time unique?
Every first time festival is unique, and there are so many things that go into it, Phoenix Lights especially. The location, and bringing the level of talent we are, with Hardwell being the number 1 DJ in the world, Robin Schulz, Lane 8, Route 94. The lineup so far is pretty, pretty awesome. And I think a lineup like that is fantastic, combined with the space that we are doing the festival, is pretty unique. The space is Civic Center Park, and it’s a new park in downtown phoenix, and it’s, I don’t know, 10 feet from the downtown ASU campus, right in the heart of Phoenix, near the light rail station. So, it should be pretty accessible for guests to get to. That’s always something we try to keep in mind, the accessibility of the event. We want guests to have an easy time getting there, so there isn’t confusion, traffic issues, that usually come with a festival of this magnitude. It’s exciting to be able to do a festival in this park, as it is the first electronic event to happen in this space. And we are expecting this to be the largest electronic event in downtown Phoenix this year.
I certainly understand the accessibility options, I mean some festivals are way out of the way on purpose, and some, like you were saying, are purposely in the middle of downtown, so that it’s easier for everyone to get there. I’m sure many people will appreciate that. I wanted to ask you then, why Phoenix, you sort of mentioned it, in terms of the park where its at, but why Phoenix? There are other cities around the country you could potentially host this in, but what make Phoenix the go to place?
When the concept was originated, the concept comes from the 1997 mass UFO sightings over Phoenix. I’m not sure if you’re familiar, but uh, a quick Google search will reveal that the largest documented UFO sighting in history and its, pretty interesting. And as I was walking through the park downtown, they have an existing art installation that floats above the park, changing colors, very fluorescent. We knew we were looking for a space to do an electronic event to bring Phoenix that really marquee electronic event. As I was walking through the park it kind of hit me that doing an event in this space with the theme of the lights over Phoenix, the Phoenix Lights, already gave us the existing connotation of an electronic sort of feel. Take what was existing and go in and provide a lot of the elements that we are doing. It is a very art forward event, we are using local artists to create light themed installations, so you’ll see a lot of street art, iridescent paint, glow-in-the-dark, chalk art, all different kinds of live art that will be created during the event to play into the theme of light. Obviously the large UFO sightings that were there, the large installation over the park, the site of the festival will be spectacular. It will be very very unique, especially in an urban setting, where you will see the Phoenix skyline while you are there. And it’s pretty impressive.
I mean it certainly sounds like it, especially since you’re going to tap the local artists, which I think is something, as a fan myself, I think in general the culture appreciates, seeing that art created on site. I have the name of the artist you’re looking to do a bigger installation, his name is Isaac Caruso, and he is doing an oversized light-themed installation. Is there any information you can tell us about that? I know its probably a little secret, which is important, but, given that he is a local artist, it will be important for Phoenix, and the fans themselves to see something done by one of their own.
Yes, exactly, and that is really the concept behind what we do in general. Often times Phoenix is overlooked as an art hub, and there are a lot of artists in this city, and giving them the national stage and the national spotlight to show what they can do, and provide them with a canvas and let them go and get creative. And say “this is kind of what we are thinking, but we really want to leave it up to you to go and create something” obviously knowing that an artist is an artist and giving them some basic parameters, but allowing them to go and get as creative as possible, is the best way to do it. We really know that our role is to provide the artists, whether it’s a musician, or a performer, the ability to go and produce what their vision is. That’s pretty cool. And letting them go and do things without the typical restrictions at other events, saying “this is what we want you to go and create and it has to be this, that or the other, we really would like to give them the freedom to go and create something special. When that happens their creative minds really can wrap their heads around a bunch of different elements, its something to see. When you can give an artist like Isaac Caruso the ability to go and create something without the restrictions he typically faces, his eyes light up. We are definitely excited, he is a super super talented artist, he is actually in the Smithsonian at 19 years old, and does all the murals around Phoenix, on the side of buildings and all around town. He is very well known and supremely talented. And allowing him the ability to have that freedom, to go and create inside of a festival, is exciting.
I mean it certainly sounds like it, and what I’m getting from you in terms of the music you’re bringing as well, that this festival is as much about art, and freedom of expression, as it is about the music which generally go hand-in-hand, especially in the electronic music scene. Art is another extension of someone expressing themselves, like music is. Is that what kind of atmosphere you’re trying to create then? In terms of artists and the art?
Exactly, I think that as electronic music festivals have expanded and grown, I feel that too many times, a festival will push a theme down the guest’s throats. Like this is how we want you to act, this is how we want you to dress, this is how it is going to be. We want the fans to take this on their own and be able to create that environment themselves, and be able to go and express themselves any way that they want to, inside an event that was created for that specific reason. We are smart enough to know what we don’t know, and to give people the opportunity to do what they like, is absolute. It is paramount to us that we aren’t pushing in a certain direction, that we are simply providing them the vessel to enjoy themselves and express themselves however they like.
I think that will be represented by the fans and the artists with the music that they play. You’ve given us four names at the moment and they all have varying styles that they keep to for the most part. Are you excited for anyone in particular, I know Hardwell, being the number 1 DJ in the world is a pretty big deal, not to take away from anyone else. How do you feel about getting Hardwell?
I think adding Hardwell to the lineup is incredible, and having an artist that has headlined some of the largest festivals in the world, along with some others. Like Robin Schulz who is incredible, he is dynamic; he is able to crossover into a lot of different realms. You have Lane 8 and Route 94 that are such great up and comers and their future is so bright, that we wanted to provide the attendee a day obviously packed with music that is fantastic. But also to look back on the experience and say, “wow I can’t believe all of these guys were together, what an incredible day, wow, wow, wow.” That’s the idea, the take away from it, is that it was something that was really great. Regardless of the different genres, even though they are all under the same umbrella, everyone has a unique style, but can provide enough energy, enough for every fan to enjoy themselves all day.
Definitely, I think that as more artists are announced, we’re only going to see the breadth of musical interest grow that appeals to fans in general, given the whole festival of art and music. This is something I think that fans are really going to enjoy and flock too. I know that it was exciting to read about Phoenix Lights in general even though there weren’t many artists announced yet.
The concept itself is something that we wanted to lead the charge, and we wanted people to know especially with our partnership with True Music and Relentless Beats that obviously with our track records, you can expect top of the line artists, and the event will be executed flawlessly, providing attendees an experience they don’t often get. Phoenix is overlooked in that realm in not having that marquee event, and we are looking to provide that.
Do you think that this kind of event then, given the names, is going to bring some attention to Phoenix that it certainly deserves, and that it will be able to bring Phoenix Lights back next year in an even bigger way?
Absolutely. That’s the mind-set in general and with our other events, that’s exactly what we try and do. Phoenix Lights is the same mentality; we want to draw attention to the market. It is the fifth largest city in the country and to kind of be overlooked in some cases because LA is so close, Vegas is so close, we wanted to be able to provide the fans in this market the ability to stand behind something and be proud, without having to travel to other markets. What better way than to put it inside of the city and allow them to rally behind it and take real ownership of it. Something they can be proud of.
Yeah definitely, it is one of the first festivals I’ve heard of in Phoenix, given that EDC and plenty of events , in LA, in Texas, are the bright spots of the south west. Another story I have, that doesn’t pertain particularly to you, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. One of the founders of the TomorrowLand music festival, Duncan Stutterheim, he mentioned booking prices for DJ’s and how it is kind of ruining the business. What would you have to say in terms of the way the scene is going, in regards to some DJ’s being incredibly high-priced to book at clubs or festivals, not that all are expensive. We have seen the top artists stay on top, and the up and coming artists, like you said, Lane 8 and Route 94, they are getting their chance at the scene because some people would rather not pay for the biggest artists. Its more in terms of where the scene is going, and especially with respect to artists that don’t really get a chance at any other festival.
It is incredibly difficult as a festival organizer to balance the ability to produce a festival that is marquee, that is wanted to be attended, and obviously recognized, balancing the ability with allowing the fans to attend at a reasonable price. It is definitely shown recently that artists are charging and exceptional amount of money and it is definitely difficult from a financial side to provide the fans what they want sometimes. It is a reflection of how the industry is going and as the industry grows, artists command more for their performances and what that means, is that price is passed along to the fans in order for the event to continue, or there wouldn’t be events. And that is something the fans control. They don’t quite realize their power sometimes. Their ability to say we don’t want to go because we’ve been priced out. And if you look at the pricing of Phoenix Lights, that’s not something we are willing to sacrifice on. Currently the presale tickets are in the $50’s and the highest we’ll go is just a few dollars above that. That is by far the cheapest festival price you’ll see out there and that is intentional. We do that intentionally and we sacrifice our bottom line for the fans because we know the only way they are going to be able to come and enjoy is if our model changes. And what that means sometimes is that you are able to do things as long as the fans support you. And that is the real key. Knowing that we can provide them pricing that is uncompromised is important. And that is something that is important to us as an initiative and a pillar of our organization. Other times they’d have to pay 3,4,5 times that much where with Phoenix Lights it is the exact opposite. We want the inclusive, we want you to come and enjoy and see things. We are music fans of art and we know what that means. With the acquisitions of these larger companies and the public traded entities, you are seeing the inflation of prices, and as long as fans keep going, it is probably not going to change in the end. The artists are able to command those prices. The artists themselves are getting those dollars. And you know what, rightfully so as the electronic industry is growing, however that has to reach a point where there has to be a ceiling on it where the artists are going to end up charging so much that they will price out their own fans. It’s a balancing act and with every market you’ll see corrections and fortunately for out fans, we’re not budging. We are giving them something at a price that is extremely affordable compared to other national festivals.
Yeah, I mean it certainly is. It wasn’t so much a surprise, as it being an inaugural festival sometimes you expect really low prices and a disappointing lineup, but I think you have provided accessibility and that recognition with artists we know, but affordability for people out of state to come and enjoy Phoenix and everything it has to offer. I think that is something you’ll see with people wanting to come back and their showing of support of what you’re doing. And I feel like the music industry in general, and at least the scene is like “yeah we want to see Calvin Harris, but we just can’t afford it”, but I think the fans, especially around Phoenix, will appreciate that Phoenix Lights won’t compromise on that, but you’re still able to bring in the big names that will draw the crowds and the smaller DJ’s that are going to get people more excited about coming back next year.
In terms of the whole festival, and this may be something that is difficult to choose, but what are you looking forward to most? Is it the art installations, the music, or the general overall feel of the people walking through the gates?
My favorite thing about our festivals is the first reaction of guests walking through the event is “wow, wow, I wasn’t expecting this. I can’t believe this is actually happening here in Phoenix.” Often times due to the locations and the distances that they have to travel, they aren’t expecting pretty things in that city, but to go and provide them with that national production elements that major festivals have inside of their city as they walk in, is awesome. It’s something I look forward to every time, is watching the fans walk in and be blown away and say “wow, this is really something we can get behind, I’m so happy to be here and I’m so happy its here in our town.”
I think that this is something that as a fan myself, and I’m sure you can agree, this is one of first impressions you get as you walk in and you’re either wowed, or its just bland. We can all tell by your enthusiasm that we’ll easily be in the realm of the “wow what am I doing, this is incredible, I can’t believe I’m in the middle of the city” kind of thing. That’s important, especially for returning to a market such as Phoenix that hasn’t had as much recognition as other places around the Southwest.
That’s definitely the most exciting thing for me, as far as what I look forward to, because there is nothing more gratifying from the people you do it for, than to be impressed and enjoying themselves as soon as they walk in. That’s a pretty great feeling.
I know it’s a great feeling as a fan too, to see the production and everything you’ve put work into, come to life and come to fruition in the ways we all expected and hoped for. I think that’s something we are definitely going to see with Phoenix Lights and hopefully for years to come.
I wanted to thank you for your time, I know you’re probably a busy guy, but I really enjoyed talking to you and getting some insight into what brings Phoenix this incredible festival with huge names and the importance of art in relation to all of it.
Yeah, it’s been a pleasure. I love discussing it, it’s definitely a passion of mine. When there is passion involved in a project and you get the right people at the right time, incredible things can happen. Definitely just excited to be able to be part of this and help organize something that I think has the ability to be one of the staple events of the southwest for many many years to come.
I hope that we are able to see that with the way Phoenix Lights turns out, and its not too far away, so hopefully we’ll hear about a few more headliners announced here in the next month or so. And we’ll look forward to the festival here in March.
I want to thank Jarid for his time and all of the wonderful things he had to say about Phoenix Lights. Hearing it from him makes this inaugural festival all the better as the countdown to the Lights begins. Get your tickets now and expect an incredible festival when you arrive.