March 27, 2020

Laurie Kirby - FestForums

Laurie Kirby - FestForums

Laurie Kirby Co-Founder FestForums joins host Lawrence Peryer to share her thoughts and insight on the New Normal.

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Laurie Kirby Co-Founder FestForums joins host Lawrence Peryer to share her thoughts and insight on the New Normal.

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Lawrence Peryer:  Lme start by asking how are you and how are, you know, your loved ones.  That's the most important thing right now.


Laurie Kirby:        Well, thank you so much for asking, and I hope you and your loved ones are safe.  That is the most important thing.  I have three grown children, and they're great.  My daughter is interestingly one of the top influencers in the country, so, you know, her work continues.  She has a little baby.  I have my first granddaughter, [Moran].  She's adorable.  So she's doing great.


James – My two boys live in San Francisco, James and Tucker.  And yeah, they're OK.  They're hold up together.  They're keeping each other company.  They're both very funny, so it's just comedy routine.  And I said to James this morning – He does engineering for Lift and Light – not Light.  For – Oh, my God, Cruise.  Thank you.  Cruise, Lift, Light – Cruise, and Tucker's a landscape architect.  So, they both are gainfully employed, but I said to James, is a professional musician – He's been home making music.  I said, "So you've been forced to go back to be a musician, what a time."  And he's obviously in his music, so … And then Tuck's my Italian greyhound.  He's just sleeping through the whole thing, so everybody's –


LP:                        Yeah, that's –


LK:                        – [unintelligible 00:02:59] –


LP:                        – what my [unintelligible 00:03:00] niece is doing as well.  He just seems to be happy to have his people around him more often, so he's not asking a lot of questions about why [laughs].


Well, do me a favor.  To set the context a little bit, will you just tell our listeners a little bit about your business, and then we'll dive into some of the specifics of how your business is [unintelligible 00:03:24].


LK:                        Sure.  Well, by way of background, I was an attorney most of my career.  And once an attorney, it's always in a journey.  But I then shifted to –


LP:                        I don't hold it against you.


LK:                        Yeah [laughs].  Please don't, although some people do, particularly the ones I went against.  The background of that was that I was always interested in the arts and nonprofits, and I worked as a general counsel for the Senior LPGA and general counsel for the Audubon Society, and I was on the board of the New Parks Film Festival.  And so that's how I got started in really shifting my career over to the arts, and I just stayed with it.  It was my passion, and I felt, you know, that's my life's purpose.


So, several years ago, my business partner and I, Stu [McNott], decided that festivals really needed to be educated better, and they needed help financial and on so many different levels.  And so that's where Festival Arms was born of it, and we just had a successful run of it.  We've worked very, very hard to put ourselves on the map.  We love what we do.  To be honest, this year we're struggling like everybody else, but we want to be here as a resource.  And to that end, that's how we created our live stream series, strictly as a public service.


LP:                        Yes, tell me more about that.  I think that that's one of the things I'm most interested right now, is how not only as individuals, but as sort of, you know, community members in our business, what we're doing for each other and how we support each other, and not necessarily with a commercial outcome.


LK:                        No, look, health first, and by that, I mean having been the daughter of two psychologists.  Mental health is just as important as physical health.  And what we saw was this need, because we are a community, to be everyone to together to try to figure out ways to help each other even if it's just a way to vent, for other professionals to say what they're seeing and what they're feeling.  And so it's strictly a form because we're in uncharted territory, and no one really knows how this is all going to end, and it will end, but in the meantime, how do we keep our sanity, and how do we keep our health, and how do we keep our livelihood?  Because they're all interconnected and so we bring disciplines in to talk about the challenges and the rewards.  It's a wakeup call for the planet.


You know, it's so interesting has – I was a history major also and so had studied [laughs], for better or worse, pandemics and epidemics throughout history, and this is nothing unusual.  The fact that we're all surprised, or many of us are surprised, it should come as no surprise.  Nature marches on regardless of whether you have computers and all the gadgets in the world.  So, you know, how we deal with things is really a function of who we are.  And I don't know where I'm going with this, but I do think that people react, to some extent, the way that they're hardwired.  And that's what I'm seeing.


LP:                        Yeah, for better and worse, right, we sort of revert to form, although I would say I think a lot of people can be surprising as well.  I think you see, you know, the good and bad come out, but it's really inspiring to see people that you don't expect to.  Maybe you hear from them, or you receive something from them that they're – you know.  I think – Something I've experienced in the last week or 10 days, I've seen a lot more good.  And I think I've experienced a lot more optimism than I frankly expected. There's been so much hysteria.  But at the individual level, I'm also seeing a lot of – Just there's a lot of good-natured spirit happening right now.  I think people are really trying to step outside the news cycle, to step outside what this means even for them personally.


You know, here in Seattle, it's been – you know, it got dark here early, and you know, everything is on lockdown, as in a lot of other places.  But you know, I've gone to the grocery store, or I go take out – you know, get a takeout order, and people are smiling, and they're not – it's not all doom and gloom right now.  It's early.  Who knows how people are gonna feel three or four weeks from now?  But I think people are trying to meet this with some sense of spirit [unintelligible 00:08:07] on – I don't want to say joy, but certainly it's not all doom and gloom.


LK:                        And I bet you never washed your hands so much, did ya?


LP:                        [Laughs] I [unintelligible 00:08:19] it's hygienically sound.  I've never [laughs] –


LK:                        Right.  I come home from the grocery store and take a shower.  Yeah, I think to that end you're right.  The human spirit is a very enduring thing.  And it's so interesting to see the byproduct of it with, you know, China's air being cleaner than ever.  You know, nature has a funny way of showing up, and the same with people.  And it's sort of like the study that revealed after someone lost a limb or someone won the lottery, and in their essence, they would sort of eventually revert back to what their inner core was.  And so this is a moment in time when we can really re-examine what our true values are.  And I think that is the kernel of beauty that's come out of this I suppose.


LP:                        Yeah.  I'd like to come back to that topic in a second, but I'd like to ask a little bit more about how is this impacting your business.  Are you a virtual organization anyway, or did you have an office you were going to?  How's your day-to-day change?


LK:                        You're looking at my office, which isn't so bad because there's the Santa Barbara sun right outside.  I live across the street from the beach.  So for me, my day-to-day is similar except that what I'm trying to achieve has completely shifted obvious because nobody's sponsoring – nobody's talking about speaking engagements.  Just by way of information, Stu handles much of the sponsorship side of things.  I do business develop, marketing and the content, but we work in tandem on everything together.  So it's where one begins, the other one finishes the sentence.  So we're very much a one mind in all of our business, but we always worked virtually – We work on a very skeleton team to put this conference together.  We're very lean and mean.  Having run so many nonprofits, I know how to do things, you know, with Scotch tape.


We've been told it looks like a million-dollar show, which I pride myself on.  You've been to it, so you know.


LP:                        Yeah, yeah.


LK:                        But, you know, we have to run mean as a conference, just like [unintelligible 00:10:44] organizers do.  It's very met out.  What we do is not that unlike what festivals – except that we're business facing and they're consumer facing.  So, other than, you know, working with so many interns and when, you know, we do ramp up for the events, we probably have 30, 40 staff members.  But of those, there are probably, you know, four or five paid producers that work with us show time.


LP:                        Yeah.  So I would imagine to certain extent the trickle down there is on the short to mid-term, you're not gonna need as many contractors.


LK:                        Yeah.  If we don't have a conference, we had to [laughs] cancel San Francisco.  I mean, it would have been illegal under Gavin Newsom's rules of gatherings of more than 250 people and nor would I want to put people at risk right now.  That's not important.  What's important is to maintain our community, whether it has to be virtually and digitally versus, you know, hand-to-hand, which is – You know, one of the strengths of our event – again, you've been there – is that it's really about people connecting with people on a true level.  We really always emphasize put your ego down, be here to learn and share because you care about this industry.  We lift all boats.  We provide one of the most wonderful experiences for humanity.


People, when they ask – when you ask them about what their memories are, a lot of times it's at a live music event or – Film events were so impactful.  So really that was our little slice of how we could help them plan it.


LP:                        Yeah.  And to that point, we had a very successful outcome from the Santa Barbara event, this past one, so I can speak firsthand to just the importance of that event and the role it plays bringing the festival community together and just providing sort of a more it's businesslike, but casual form to get things done.  And I think that that's exactly the right vibe for this industry, right.  Nobody wants to go to sort of a trade show, per se, but they do want to go to a place where there could be information-sharing and war stories and all that.  You know, we're in the business of [unintelligible 00:13:06], and that's ultimately what it comes down to.


Can you tell me a little bit about the live streams?  Like, what are you doing?  What's the content?  Is it a broadcast, or is it an interactive thing?  I'd like to sort of bring that news to the world.


LK:                        So what we do, and we were surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response to it, we decided to go live stream.  And we had a streaming partner who has done all of the production us gratis.  And we do it through what's called Blue Jeans, not unlike Zoom.  And we bring together thought leaders from all different disciplines.  So we talk about what they're seeing in the industry and how they're reacting and responding.  Again, everything is minute by minute, so the responses are, you know, really sort of spontaneous.  But, for instance, this week we're talking to Ray Waddell who, as you know, produces Pollstar and News Now, about what he's seeing in the live concert business.  So it's taking the temperature from various disciplines and giving them an opportunity to talk a little bit about, you know, how they're dealing with health crisis's, communication.


You know, unintended consequences of this are all of a sudden, we need new bandwidth.  Certainly, you know, there's all kinds of health issues that are byproducts of this, and so each one of them has an insight into their particular slice of this.  And we're seeing, for instance, more and more concerts going virtual.  And now people are asking for donations, you know.  So, it's really kind of interesting to see how people evolve and adapt, because that is the nature of the human spirit.


LP:                        Yeah, yeah.  If you had to – In the course of your conversations as you're lining up guests or speaking to colleagues in the space, how would you either summarize or in a couple of different points describe the tone of what you're hearing?  What's people's mindset on the business side right now?


LK:                        People have been devastated by this, I mean, honestly, in every discipline.  When I call my friends at the airlines, you know, they've all lost their jobs.  When I talk to our hotel partners, they've all lost their jobs.  When I talk to music agents and so forth, the ripple effect is devastating.  And you know, hospitality and what we do in the restaurant business and the entertainment, as like everybody, has been the hardest hit because, you know, we're sort of the first thing to go, right.


But people are also I think optimistic that when we get to the other side of this, they will be a resurgence and a renewal that will bring its together.  It's the tribal experience.  Festivals have been going on since, you know, the dawn of man.  That's not gonna go away.  It may look different.  It may be more sanitary. There may be other things that come out of this that we don't even know what they are, but the industry will look different; for that I am sure, and there will be a lot of devastation because a lot of people – I'm lucky enough to have a – Well, I had a retirement account until two weeks ago – to have something to fall back on, a nest egg to fall back on.  There are so many people out there that don't, and we really worry about those people.


And so the industry is rallying around.  And I know that there's gonna be so many fundraisers, and even virtual fundraisers will probably come up.  You know, you get the people like Bruce Springstein and the Willie Nelson's of Farm Aid and you know, all the different people who always think about other people first.  They'll be coming to the forefront I'm sure to create ways to build a – to help those in need during this crisis.


LP:                        Yeah, for sure.  I think we're seeing that already across social media.  And as you said, it's some of the live streams.  Whether there's a tip jar component or what have you, people got to the business of helping pretty quickly.


I'm wondering – You spoke a minute about how –


LK:                        People, but not the government [laughs].


LP:                        Yeah, well, that – we can come back to that in a second too, because – Actually, let's go there for a second.  So, you know, there's all this activity now around bailouts or helping hands for industry and for business, however you want to frame it or categorize it, government stepping in to help support industries during this time.  And I wonder have you been having any of those conversations with our colleagues around – What would that look like for the entertainment industry?  And what are the repercussions of that, not just for, you know, our corporate partners or our incorporated partners who are actually truly businesses?  But what's this gonna mean for all the independent contractors who really are the ones that are hanging the lights and sweeping the floors and supporting the artists?  And I wonder if you have any sauce as to how a concerted government effort trickles down to people like that.  Are there analogues or [prestits] for how it goes from, you know, a government check down to an independent contract?


LK:                        Well, I think one of the reasons this country is struggling more than others is we think that any kind of quote unquote handout to anybody who has less than us is a handout.  You know, in countries where there's socialism, which is supposedly a bad word, but is really just shared resources, it means that we treat everyone the same when it comes to their health care, their education, and their well-being.  This is not a country that was built on that.  We're built on capitalism.  And there are some wonderful benefits.  You see all kinds of ingenuity and things that come from that.  The problem is that there are so many people that get left behind, and we don't value who they are because somehow, we blame them for not being in the same economic bracket perhaps that we're in.  And I worry terribly, as I always have, about the poor because they don't have a lobbying organization.  They don't have, you know, packs that are on Washington talking about how we take care of our homeless.  The homeless epidemic is worse than ever, and I think this will displace even more people.


So, I'd like to think that this will create a better economic safety net.  In looking at these stimulus packages, I'm still concerned because we are a Republican-controlled country from top down that is really going to bail out corporations who really – Yes, to some extent they have to keep functioning, but it's not gonna trickle down to those who are truly in need, but will create corporate buybacks, corporate parachutes.  We've already seen that with senators who've decided, having known in advance, that they should unload their portfolios.  So, I don't want to put too negative a spin on this, but I do personally worry about those who have less.  And that's one of the things I could really admire about my daughter, because she has the wherewithal – She's been doing gift cards, you know, for food banks and for teachers and for the medical industry.  And she's, you know, really put her money where her mouth is, and I really applaud her for her efforts in doing that.  And I hope more people are doing the same who can afford to do so.


LP:                        Yeah, it was interesting to me how that simple notion was one of those very first things.  About two weeks ago I heard people talk about it, you know, a simple action you can take.  It was not only go to the local restaurants and the local businesses and buy some gift cards, but hold onto those gift cards because two months from now we're all gonna know people who are so short on cash that the easiest thing to do would be say "here's a $50 gift card for some takeouts.  Spoil yourself."  You know, it's such a simple but elegant community eco system thing to do, and it – and you're not helpless then.  And I think that that's – That's something that I'm hoping to achieve through these conversations as well, is to help people maybe recognize things that their colleagues and that their peers are doing to combat a sense of helplessness.


You know, I've had people give me example like yours of buying gift cards, other people who have talked about, you know, writing letters and lobbying politicians, whatever it is, that we don't kind of sit now in our home offices and doing it and let the social isolation turn into sort of alienation.  That to me would be the biggest tragedy.  The good news is I'm not really seeing that so far.  There are certainly people, myself included, that we have day parts where we can get a little down, but there's a lot to do, you know.  And I know for myself, about a week ago, I was feeling – It was before I had clarity as to what I needed to do, for my business and for my family, and early last week.  And I just reached out on LinkedIn and said, you know, if I get a phone call –if I get a Zoom call going, anybody want to be on it, and wound up with enough people to do it twice.  And it was super helpful, talked colleagues I hadn't talked to in a long time, met some new people that I was just connected to on LinkedIn but didn't really know.  And it turned my head around; it turned my week around, and it made all the difference in the world.


And I keep telling people, like, just check in, just check in.  It's a simple thing to do.  For a lot of people it doesn't come natural.  Some people don't pick up the phone or write an email or send a text.  It's easy not to.  But once you do it once or twice, it becomes very nature.  And that might be all you need to do, is just talk to somebody.  And there's lots of interesting things going on.  There is different opportunities to help, to grow a business, to figure out how to make your business survive.   Everybody's in the same boat [unintelligible 00:23:55] point.  And –


LK:                        Well, we're all connected.  We're all human beings.  And hopefully that is – reinforce that lesson.  You know, as you see people like Prince Charles and Jackson Brown and Tom Hanks getting this, it makes you realize that we're all connected.  We're all human beings.


And you know, my girlfriend organized a Zoom chat with all of us, and we do a cocktail hour.  So everybody sits – You know, we drink our glass of wine and talk, and we also have instituted on our Facebook page a place where you can share resources, and I've been doing that.  I've been signing petitions.  I started a Slack chat for people to talk.  We just have to stay connected, and you know, we have to tighten the belt and do those things that, you know, will get us through this.  But people have survived catastrophes before.  And I'd be lying if I said I don't throw a pity party a little bit once a day, and then I just pick myself back up because it doesn't help anyone for me to do that.  What helps is for me to be a resource in the best way that I know how, which I've always felt was my calling, to try to be there to help other people and to be of service.  And I appreciate what you're doing and your colleagues are doing.  You keep that message alive.


LP:                        I know we're running towards the end of our time here.  I wanted to ask you is there anything that you're seeing or experiencing that's coming out of this situation that you hope might lead to sort – Yeah, what's happening now that would be a wonderful outcome if it were to carry to forward as we sort of think a month or two months out and get back to sort of normal?  You know, I think of this notion of staying connected and being more proactive in our interpersonal relationships.  But what are some things you're seeing that you might like to see carry forward and maybe become values for us that we don't lose from this experience?


LK:                        Well, again, it goes back to we are all one.  I've always believed that.  That's truly my religion, is that we're all connected and that what happens to you impacts and what happens to me impacts you.  And you know, I've used this time to continue to work on my practice, my meditation practice.  I now exercise at home.  So, you know, I have a lot of friends that I'm not judging who, because they're not used to working at home I guess like I do, you know, are self-medicating with alcohol and Xanax I think because they're anxious and they don't know what to do.  I think creating structure is really important.  I think are saying – Because they're so thrown out of their scheduled, they don't even know where to start.  So I would suggest that you sort of map out your day almost and so that you feel that same sense of roadmap security.


I always say, you know, to people when they're planning a business you wouldn't drive from California to Rhode Island without mapping your way of getting there, your journey.  I kind of feel you have to do that in life.  Even if it changes and you have to adapt, at least you have some sense of structure.  And when I work with businesses the other thing I say is – And I guess this is my legal training: What's your budget?  You know, take a look at your budget and look at where you're spending your money.


And my girlfriends who are now lamenting that they can't get their nails done, well, lucky me I never did, or unlucky me.  But those kinds of luxuries – not that I want to take away work from nail techs, but maybe we should look a little closer at what our value system is and maybe spend some more time volunteering, meditating, reading.  I've always read books, but I've been reading more than ever.  And I walked into our communal library and I saw a lot of books were off the shelves, I'm a big believer in reading is the best way to stay educated.


And anyway, so, I don't know.  They're all little things, but my wish is that people stay happy and healthy and don’t' abuse drugs and alcohol during this time to self-medicate, but use it as a time to reflect and learn and grow and appreciate the specialness of being here on this planet.


LP:                        It's a finite trip.  It's a finite trip.  Thank you for sharing some time with me.  And I really appreciate your perspective and your openness to go beyond just a business.  And so thank you.


LK:                        Well, thank you for having me, Lawrence.  I hope I can be of service, and it was really lovely talking with you.  Safety to you and your family.

Laurie KirbyProfile Photo

Laurie Kirby

President & Owner of FestForums

Laurie B. Kirby, Esq. produces FestForums Santa Barbara NYC, and San Francisco and Best of the Fests, a B2B conference and awards event for music, film, food and wine festival organizers. The conference addresses how to improve the fan/attendee/talent experience at festivals.Laurie was an attorney for over twenty years and established The Legends of the LPGA, the senior division of the LPGA. She has represented professional athletes, newscasters, musicians, golf properties and nonprofits. Laurie is a frequent speaker, interviewer and moderator at dozens of festivals and corporate conferences, including IFEA, SXSW, Pollstar, BizBash, TourLink, San Francisco Music Tech Conference, Maui Music Tech Conference, Sponsor Secrets, Canadian Music Week, IEG, Event Expo, The Mill Valley Film Festival, The Catalina Island Film Festival, Film Festival Flix, The Napa Valley Film Festival and The Lady’s Filmmaker Festival on all aspects of the industry. Additionally, she is often quoted as an industry thought leader in publications such as Variety, Indiewire, Forbes, The Street, AMP and Music Festival Business. She has also been a contributor to Indiewire, Eventbrite & Sonic Bids.