Before This Weekend's Unsilent Night Fest, Organizer Mike Ziemer Tells Us What To Expect.
This weekend at Fair Park's Centennial Hall, Mike Ziemer's Third String Productions will once again flex its muscle and exercise its death grip over North Texas' younger music fan demographic with its fifth annual Unsilent Night affair, which this year features over 50 bands performing across three stages in the venue.
But make no mistake: This year's offering isn't intended to be the same old teeny-bopper offering you might be expecting from the concert promotion upstart.
With the addition of heavy bands such as Glassjaw and Every Time I Die to a bill that at one time also included Steve Aoki (who has since been removed from the bill because of concerns from the city, which owns the Fair Park venue wherein this event will be held), Third String Productions is trying to appeal to a wider, and perhaps older, demographic with this year's affair.
But will that intent work out for Ziemer and his crew? Time, of course, will tell. But, in the meantime, in advance of Saturday's all-day event, we caught up with Ziemer to gauge his own expectations, hopes and concerns about Unsilent Night 2012.
So this is your fifth Unsilent Night? Aside from skipping it in 2010, it's been an annual event. What have you learned in throwing this affair over the years?
We started doing the festival in 2007 when Buzz Oven was no longer around and we wanted to continue doing Christmas concerts in Plano. We did 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, and now 2012. Unsilent Night was our most successful festival when it was in Plano and it's now been going through adjustment phases between Frisco and now Dallas. I have definitely learned that mixing in very well-known bands with up-and_comers as well as mixing genres is crucial to our festival. This year's is lacking a heavy presence of pop and pop-punk bands because every band was already scheduled for tours.
With bands like Glassjaw and Every Time I Die on this bill, it would appear that you're trying to appeal — at least somewhat — to an older demographic with this one. Would you agree with that? Is that part of a greater goal with Third String Productions overall?
Glassjaw and Every Time I Die are bands I love and grew up on. When we were discussing the potential line up internally, we wanted to stretch our demographic from all ages to more of the 18- and 21-and-up age group. To have bands like Glassjaw and ETID on a bill is seriously like a dream come true. Our overall goal is to create an event that is appealing to all ages and multiple demographics, like a Fun Fun Fun Fest.
How difficult is it to try to appeal to different audiences like that with an event like this? Is it even possible?
There are definitely obstacles to overcome. There is this stigma that comes with our shows that we are just teeny-bopper shows and underage kids, and the truth is, if you look at who actually buys tickets and attends our events, it's heavily 18- to 25-year-olds more so than younger teens. As I have grown up, my taste in music has, and I've made it my goal to work with bands that I love mixed with bands that our overall demo loves as well. It's a challenge to try to appeal to so many different demographics, but we are hoping we did a good job of it. We've done a lot of cool marketing efforts to appeal to everyone.
This is the second time the fest's been held in Fair Park. As one of the few entities that seems to really embrace this underutilized spot, what draws you to it? What are the advantages of using Fair Park? Parking and the sheer size of it have to factor in, I imagine. Anything else?
Honestly, this is the second time in a row that we have been really excited about using the venue and have been let down by “surprises” or “changes” in our planning that came up in the last two to three weeks. We booked Fair Park for this event in April and assumed that by doing so we would avoid any issues that we dealt with last year. The truth is, the politics of working with a city-owned and -operated venue are not always worth it. We learned this first in Plano and now in Dallas. But more on that to come at a later time. In a perfect world, Centennial Hall at Fair Park is literally the perfect venue for us. The venue has large loading docks, dressing rooms, the perfect set up for multiple stages, great locations, a DART station right there, ample parking, etc. It's a great venue when looking at it from that point of view.
I've noticed that Steve Aoki is no longer listed on the bill. What happened there? Was Lights All Night a factor?
To put it simply, due to circumstances beyond our control, he is no longer playing. There have been recent incidents both at Fair Park and at Steve Aoki events that seem to have created a negative stigma within the City of Dallas about electronic events. Lights All Night was actually going to be setting up at our event and we had planned some cross-promotional opportunities. The people running Lights All Night are awesome and have a great event. I have a feeling they are battling some of the obstacles we are at this time and I guess we will see if they choose to return next year.
How would you compare Unsilent Night to your other annual events, such as South by So What? By that same token, is SBSW happening again this year? Anything you can tell us about that?
Unsilent Night actually started a few months before South By So What?!, but SBSW, as what it is supposed to be, has been around since 2004. Our first concert ever was a group of bands headed to SXSW in Austin that needed a show in Dallas, so we booked them. Since then, we've always done a show either the weekend before or weekend of SXSW with a large amount of bands that are on their way to the festival and want to play a large event in Dallas. Both concerts have an emphasis on combining well-known acts with emerging talent, but for whatever reason, South By So What?! is much more popular. For example, Unsilent Night last year did 3,600 people and South By So What?! 2012 did 5,200. It just seems to always be the best time to catch all the hot talent we can, combine it on one big show, put a low ticket price on it and pack out a venue. South By So What?! 2013 will be on March 16th this year and it will feature four different stages featuring a wide variety of genres and artists. We have already begun selling tickets to the festival without announcing any artists and it's selling faster than it ever has before already. We are very excited about 2013, 2014 and the long-term future of what that event is to us.
Obviously, USN is a holiday-themed affair. How does that factor into your preparations? Will you design the space to reflect it?
Aside from the colors of our art, we really don't mix a lot of holiday or Christmas themes with our festival. We sort of leave that up to the artists and the sponsors and vendors to be creative. We've had a Santa photo booth before and many bands, like Oh Sleeper and Winds of Plague, have done some pretty crazy holiday-themed on stage shows at this festival. Due to other events going on, our event has been pushed away from it's original time-frame (the weekend after Christmas) and so it's become less themed by us and more up to the artists to see what they want to add to the festival. I can assure you that there will be some great surprises on Saturday, though.
You've been doing this for a while, but can you explain to the rest of us what it's like to deal with the sheer volume of bands you're dealing with at an event such as this? Can't be easy.
There's an episode of Family Guy where Peter references accountants crunching adding machines inside of his head to attempt to explain how bad of a headache he has. I would say events like this are something like that at times. It's very fun, but a very stressful job to have. The first thing I ever learned about bands is that the majority of them do not read directions, advances, instructions, etc. They will ask the most obvious questions that you have already answered and all you can do is politely answer again. Another thing that causes headaches is the mix of labels, agents and managers that all want their bands to be playing later, earlier, not against “this band,” etc. Balancing everything and trying to make everyone happy and satisfied is near impossible, but with the help of my always-growing team, it's more manageable these days.
How would you describe USN to someone who's never been to one before? What can people expect out of it? What's it like? Any surprises you can hip us to?
Unsilent Night is a mix of bands you know and don't know split between three stages in one all-day event with one low ticket price. Our ticket price is always less than a dollar per band and I guarantee there will always be a band you've never heard of that you fall in love with. This year, I suggest you don't miss All Get Out and Fever Dreamer. As far as expectations, if you're going to set expectations, expect that you are going to have a good time, see a wide variety of people that enjoy a wide variety of bands across many genres. You're going to hear new bands that you will enjoy and bands you are familiar with that you will be excited about. And you will have a good time. I mean, why not give it a chance? As for surprises, well, I wouldn't say it's really a surprise, but this year our event shirts are way better designed and on way better material, our VIP Lounge has been ramped up by Fox Racing and Red Bull to offer much more, our VIP platforms are brand new and offer our VIP ticket holders and opportunity to have the best view in the house, and, from a little insider information, a few artists have some fun things planned for their sets that you won't see anywhere else!
Personally, what are you most excited about with this event? Which bands are you most excited about seeing?
It's a dream to have Glassjaw and Every Time I Die on a show. The fact that it all came together with The Chariot, Oh Sleeper, LetLive and my current indie-rock obsession All Get Out alll being on the bill makes it beyond worth it for me as a music fan. Big Chocolate is someone I am excited to catch. Same with a band I manage, Fever Dreamer, that has a brand new set lined up for the festival. Oh, and of course Dallas' best hardcore act, Power Trip!
Unsilent Night goes down this Saturday, December 1, at Fair park's Centennial Hall. You can purchase tickets here.