Bill Donabedian on Bunbury and Buckle Up

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Bill Donabedian started as a drummer but has made his biggest mark back of the stage. He cofounded MidPoint Music Festival, then programmed entertainment events on Fountain Square for 3CDC. Now, his Bunbury Festival happens July 11–13, and a week later Donabedian launches Buckle Up, a new country music festival. It’s a busy summer.

Is it a leap for you to do Buckle Up right on the heels of Bunbury? In the long run it probably will be bigger than Bunbury. Country music is becoming pop music and this is a huge market for it. Buckle Up is selling twice as many tickets as the first year of Bunbury. Once you set up a festival it doesn’t cost that much to keep it up for another week.

If Cincinnati is such a great city for music, how come so many bands play Cleveland or Columbus and then jump over to Lexington or Indy? Why are we a flyover city? I think we lack the right venues. Some are a little outdated or not quite the right capacity. I also think that, in general, tours have become more expensive. We just suddenly fell off the radar. This is a tough business.

You’ve been pretty vocal about how hard it is to raise money from foundations and corporations in town that have historically been happy to support, say, the ballet or the museum. Why is that? It’s just a mindset here. There has been a general disconnect from the city. It’s taken a long time to get them to see a festival is good for their brand and for the city. These festivals are something young professionals look for and music is important to them. I think it’s changing as they start to understand what we’re doing, but you have to prove yourself over and over again.

Do you want to spread to other markets in the region? We are definitely going to branch out. There will never be another Bunbury or Buckle Up, but we will take our festivals six or ten hours away from Cincinnati or even further. At MidPoint we made it without having a bar revenue, and at Fountain Square without ticket revenue. So I’ve always been very frugal and we’ve learned to do these events for a lot less than other producers and promoters. We know how to be ruthlessly frugal. We want to grow this.

Originally published in the June 2014 Issue

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