Anna Wilson and Monty Powell are definitely true believers.
A year after putting on the best little music festival that almost no one attended, the singing-songwriting married couple from Huntsville-via-Nashville are back for Round 2 of their nascent festival — a little poorer, a lot wiser, but every bit as enthusiastic about their mission to create a music festival that’s all about the songs, not the stars.
Indeed, as the festival’s tagline proudly points out: “Where the Songs are the Stars.”
A completely revamped TrouBeliever Fest returns for its sophomore year this July 12-13. Last year’s festival was held at Snowbasin Resort, featured big names like Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell and Shawn Colvin, and cost $50 a ticket. This year’s festival will be held at the Ogden Amphitheater, will feature homegrown talent like Royal Bliss, Troubadour 77 and Sammy Brue, and is completely free.
Those last two words may be the best part in all this, unless of course you actually LIKE paying money for an entire day’s worth of great music. In which case, TrouBeliever Fest 2019 still has you covered. A limited number of VIP tickets will go on sale Wednesday, May 1, for $100 apiece, at troubelieverfest.com.
The VIP treatment provides a seat in the first five rows of the amphitheater and includes free parking, a festival swag bag and admission to the VIP/sponsor Welcome Reception, T-Fest Acoustic Cafe and songwriting workshops.
But for the rest of us, general admission is free — just add chairs and blankets.
Headliner for this year’s festival is Royal Bliss, the Salt Lake City rock band that first signed with Capitol Records in 2009. Also performing will be the Wilson/Powell-fronted Troubadour 77, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Billy Dean, Ogden blues prodigy Sammy Brue, 3hattrio, Cheyenne Medders, Rebekah Powell, the Tim Daniels Band, and more.
Looking back at last year’s inaugural event, it was a bit of a good news/bad news vibe.
First, the good news about last year’s TrouBeliever Fest: The performances were epic. Wilson said they thought the festival would resonate with fans, and it did.
“Man, we actually accomplished our mission and our vision,” she said. “We looked at each other and thought it did exactly what we hoped it would do from a mission, vision and execution standpoint. The festival was very validating for us.”
And the bad news?
Well, not nobody, but certainly next to nobody. Although the festival featured a number of big-name artists, the $50 ticket scared a lot of people away. What’s more, Wilson says a lot of people showed up at Snowbasin assuming it was like the free Blues, Brews & BBQ concerts the resort hosts on summer Sundays. When they found out it actually cost money, many potential fans left.
“We would have liked to have had more attendance and more people, but that’s the product of a first-year event,” Wilson said. “You’re educating people, and trying to build a brand.”
In the end, Wilson estimates they had maybe 1,000 people check out the festival throughout the weekend. Which wasn’t nearly enough to cover the expenses of the big names appearing at that first TrouBeliever Fest.
“We were not able to break even, and we lost a lot of money,” Wilson concedes.
Taking such a financial bath would sound the death knell for many a young festival. But remember, Wilson and Powell are true believers.
And Wilson believes they know not only what went wrong, but just how to fix it. One of the biggest downfalls of last year’s festival, according to Wilson, was that she and Powell partnered with the music promoter Live Nation.
“We’re grateful for Live Nation, they do some great things, but they’re in a different business,” Wilson said. “I have no regrets, but we probably would have broken even if we hadn’t booked Emmylou, Shawn and Rodney.”
Whereas Wilson and Powell were trying to sell an experience — the TrouBeliever Fest — she says Live Nation is in the business of selling big-name artists.
“When people go to Telluride (Bluegrass Festival), they book their tickets every year, even before the lineup is announced,” Wilson said. “We want people to buy a ticket because they’re fans of the festival. The marquee on ours is ‘Troubeliever Fest’ — not Emmylou, not Royal Bliss, not Keith Urban, if that were ever to happen.”
Wilson believes going small this year, and focusing on Utah-centric bands, will help grow the festival organically.
“We’re trying to keep the festival going, but we can’t from a financial standpoint until we can bring the audience along,” she said. “I think it was great for that first year to bring in those big names to set the tone and establish credibility — we accomplished that in spades — but now we have to cut back on execution and talent costs and shine a light on our own backyard.”
Wilson said she and Powell don’t want to give up on the audience or the artists because they know the concept works. Besides, she says, don’t underestimate the popularity of Royal Bliss here in the Beehive State.
“I honestly think Royal Bliss will bring more butts in seats than Emmylou Harris,” she said. So we said, ‘Let’s win with local people.’”
The festival will probably be free the first few years, but as it grows in popularity and size they may add a small admission fee, according to Wilson.
Wilson just doesn’t want to see the same confusion this year that there was with the Snowbasin free concerts last year. So she wants folks to understand the July 12-13 festival isn’t part of the Ogden Twilight concert series.
“One of the biggest things I’d love to accentuate is that this is not an Ogden Twilight concert,” she said. “It’s different, because Twilights happen in the evening and they’re a paid ticket. TrouBeliever is an all-day music festival, and it’s free. We want bodies there during the day as well as at night.”
Wilson says that in 2018 they had to make some compromises with the TrouBeliever Fest. In 2019, it’s going to be the way she and Powell pictured it all along.
“We’re running this year’s festival, Monty and I, how we always envisioned it,” she said. “And I don’t think we’re wrong.
“Our goal is to get to that sweet spot,” she continued. “We don’t want to be a huge festival — we don’t want to be Coachella or Bonnaroo or BottleRock — but 5,000 fans would be a nice boutique festival that caters to a local and regional audience. That’s where we’re trying to get to.”
And considering Wilson and Powell’s determination, you can believe it.