On the Beat

Moogfest music festival coming to Durham

The Triangle’s music-festival landscape just got bigger – and also cooler – with the addition of Moogfest. The acclaimed biennial festival, which was previously based in Asheville, announced Tuesday that it’s moving to Durham starting in May 2016.

“Coming here was a no-brainer,” said Moogfest creative director Emmy Parker. “The vision behind the programming will be the same, with the same character and focus. What will change is the community it’s based in. For a festival like ours to be successful, it really needs a community that’s fully engaged in making the event a success.”

Moogfest originated in New York in 2004 as a tribute concert to Robert Moog, inventor of the analog synthesizer bearing his name. It has since grown into a multi-day festival that also encompasses art and technology, with the music program featuring established electronic “heritage” acts like German electronic pioneers Kraftwerk alongside rising acts such as Dan Deacon.

In 2010, the festival moved to Moog Music’s hometown of Asheville, where it was put on by Moog and AC Entertainment (the Tennessee-based company that also co-produces the wildly successful Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival). But Moogfest had its troubles in Asheville.

After Moog and AC parted ways in 2012, AC created a competing festival, the Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit, which only lasted one year. After a one-year hiatus, Moogfest returned in 2014 with Giorgio Moroder, Chic, M.I.A. and Laurie Anderson in addition to Kraftwerk, plus programs of art exhibits and speakers.

Moogfest 2014 drew media acclaim and good crowds, selling 7,000 festival festival passes (and drawing an estimated 25,000 people to its free events). But it still finished $1.5 million in the red.

“For us at Moog Music, we don’t look at that as a loss so much as an investment in the festival, which we retooled and expanded pretty majorly,” said Parker. “With all the startups and tech companies and amazing research and major universities in Durham, this is an opportunity to have more entities come to the table to support the event.”

In Durham, Moogfest will have a city with a population base multiples higher than Asheville’s (87,000), in an area where festivals are a booming business. Moogfest joins an ecosystem of music-centered festivals that includes Hopscotch and World of Bluegrass in Raleigh each fall, and Art of Cool in Durham in the spring.

“The goal with this is to increase the size of the pie, not worry about who gets what slice,” said Durham Chamber of Commerce president Casey Steinbacher, who is co-chair of Moogfest’s local organizing committee. “The better we are at creating community engagement and support of music, art and technology, the better it is for everyone. We’re all in this together.”

Next year’s Moogfest is scheduled for May 19-22. While the lineup of acts and venues won’t be announced for a while, a limited number of early-bird tickets are already on sale for $99 at moogfest.com (full-price passes for the 2014 festival were $299).

“I think Durham is a really wise choice,” said Chapel Hill’s Alex Maiolo, a recording engineer who attended all the Asheville editions of Moogfest. “It’s a town that has shown it can support festivals like Full Frame and (American Dance Festival), and it also has a lot of excitement in the air. Asheville’s a beautiful town, but I wouldn’t say it has great young energy. Durham has that. Great middle-aged energy, too.”