Solstice Festival brings community together through music and tech —
August 12, 2020

Solstice Festival brings community together through music and tech

By Lesly Reynaga

Once a year the earth grants us the miracle of viewing the sun—the star of light we are closest to—at its highest point in the sky. It is the longest day of the year, and a phenomenon we call summer solstice.

Months later the winter solstice occurs. It is the shortest day of the year with the least amount of daylight between sunrise and sunset. But the winter solstice does not occur without a promise of the return of the sun, after a prolonged period of darkness.

Every year, nature reminds us that there is hope. The sun always returns and all of us—at least in Texas—bask in its glory.

I personally define hope as being able to see light despite all the darkness. The summer solstice provides an opportunity for us to absorb the light and choose to become one with unity, mother earth and each other. What better way to honor that than by celebrating through the gift of music and art at Solstice Festival on June 17-18.

This year, Solstice Festival will be taking over Pan Am Park (located at East 3rd and Chicon St.) and multiple other venues all around the city for two days of a variety of music, local art and family activities.

The festival kicks off Friday, June 17 with parties at Empire Control Room, The Mohawk, Scoot Inn, Stay Gold, Sidewinder, The Blackheart, Sahara Lounge, The Gatsby and Spiderhouse Ballroom. Featured artists include Night Drive, Big Bill, Holiday Mountain, Ruby Jane and The Reckless, Tele Novella, Mama K and The Shades and Bamako Airlines.

The main event starts at 12 p.m. on Saturday, June 18 at Pan Am Park, featuring performances by The Octopus Project, Golden Dawn Arkestra, Mother Falcon, Ume, The Black and White Years, Megafauna, Zeale Rapz, RIDERS AGAINST the STORM (RAS), Hard Proof, Henry + The Invisibles, Young Tongue, BLUE HEALER, Heye Minds and The Bishops.

Finally, artists such as SIP SIP, Wrestlers, Leach, KING NOTHING, Common Velvet, Lou Rebecca, Gui Dance and George West will offer after-party performances at Empire Control Room and The Parish, among other venues.

Daniel Villasana, a local festival supporter,  reminded me that the word “festival” comes from the Latin word festal, defined as a period of unrestrained joy. “I enjoy seeing my fellow human beings fully self-expressed in their creativity,” Villasana stated.

The story of Solstice Festival and its birth is an ode to the fact that music unites and technology is the ultimate connector. So here it goes.

Solstice Festival’s inspiration didn’t begin in Austin. In fact, it didn’t even begin in our nation. The idea came from a festival called Fête de la Musique—commonly referred to as Make Music Day—in the beautiful country of France.

The origins of the festival date back to October 1981, when local composer and long-time supporter of the arts Maurice Fleuret became Director of Music and Dance at Ministry of Culture Jack Lang’s request. He applied a unique approach on music idealism: ‘the music everywhere and the concert nowhere.’

Learning through a 1982 study on cultural habits that five million French people, one child out of two, played a musical instrument, inspired Lang’s dream of a way to bring people out on the streets. This was how the Fête de la Musique was launched on June 21, 1982, on the day of summer solstice.

According to the official event site, “the Festival brings people out of their homes and into the celebration. It’s a public feast for the ears that showcases the local talent of the community members you see every day, or the music you’ve never heard before.” It’s also intriguing that this musical celebration comes about through the theme of science, celebrating the rotation of the earth and the evolution of the music within it. The festival provides a cultural day that deserves to be celebrated so we can enjoy the melodies and rhythms mankind has created in emotional response to our lives here.

Just three decades later, the festival is now celebrated in more than 700 cities around 120 different countries.

In 2006, New Yorker Aaron Friedman’s fascination with Fête de la Musique inspired him to create a comparable event in the U.S. The festival was called Make Music New York and was first celebrated in 2007. The festival first spread to six other cities in the U.S., one of those being Madison, Wisconsin, where Friedman met developers and entrepreneurs Michael Fenchel and Mike Schuette.

Based on a conversation with Fenchel, himself and Schuette headed the creation of a technology for the festival and called it Solstice. The technology was built to help festivals power a web platform that allows festival organizers and its participating venues and artists to schedule and manage thousands of performances happening all over the festival cities. It was a huge success and now has over 40 clients in the U.S. and abroad.

But the Solstice team didn’t want to stop there. Fenchel then connected with business entrepreneur Matt Ford and developer Adrian Taveres, who brought the technology and the festival to Austin, Texas. During their first year in Austin, Ford and Taveres met long-time Austenite and Special Events Live Chief Executive Officer Luis Zapata. With Zapata’s collaboration, Solstice Festival came to life in Austin on June 21, 2014. On the inaugural event, 145 artists played at 35 venues and off-the-wall spaces all around the city, all of them entirely booked through the Solstice technology.

I first performed at the festival in 2014. It’s evident that artists—myself included—have responded in an extremely positive and receptive way to the festival and technology. The whole concept was so appealing to me that I decided to reach out to Matt Ford and asked to meet with him to talk more about where solstice and the festival was headed next.

Now, let’s get real for a second.

The reality of the music industry right now in Austin and beyond is somewhat of a culture shock. We’ve gone from being an industry run entirely by record sales to a culture of one-million-plays-earns-a-songwriter-$16.89 (based on San Antonio native songwriter and musician David Lowery’s experience with Pandora in 2013). Major labels that used to be a huge support system for artists are now nickel and diming artists. An example is Sony, who recently submitted claims stating they “overpaid an artist $2 million dollars.” The entire ecosystem of the music industry now exists on a screen. Kids these days value their iPhone more than any beautiful vinyl record out there.

There are two ways you can look at where we stand now. But I personally think the optimistic way is the best. Here is why. Never before in the history of the music industry have we been able to connect with so many people like we can now! And it’s all because of technology. We have the opportunity to take control of every level of our craft and it’s just a click away. We are the creators.

Back to the story, my conversation with Matt Ford was filled with inspiration and reality. We talked about some of the major problems in the local music booking industry, mainly communication and organization, and ways we can aid in fixing those problems. We also talked about the amount of local talent and local venues that Austin has and the need for increased connection between the two. And, of course, we talked about the need for locally focused festivals.

Local artists are voicing the benefits of small local events. “I enjoy smaller festivals in Austin like Euphoria, Levitation, and Solstice because they tap into the real sound of Austinites who work and create here,” Solstice Festival 2016 hip hop and indie artist Zeale states. “I don’t oppose larger festivals that do offer native artists to be billed with national headliners, but those events are more about the mass sound versus our city’s voices.”

The conversation with Ford hit me hard and made me think about all the hundreds of local bands that just want a chance to be heard and an opportunity to succeed. It became clear to me in that moment that I wanted to join the Solstice team.

It was not too long after Solstice Festival that the last part of the technology, Solstice Live, was born. So many artists responded in such a positive way to the festival booking technology that it was evident a local booking technology was needed.

Solstice Live was built to connect artists directly with events and opportunities and help ease the process of booking for the talent buyer or venue. Almost 900 local artists are currently on the platform and over 1,500 shows have been booked in the last year.

The development of Solstice Live has played a crucial part in the success of Solstice Festival, now in its third year. Through Solstice Live, artists build a following throughout the year, then they are booked for the festival and gain an even bigger following, as well as the opportunity to play with bigger local Austin artists.

In the words of Rodney Connell from local band Night Drive, “we’re very lucky to live in a city with so much focus on music. We have more than our fair share of festivals here and that’s particularly great if you’re a musician.”

Our city holds great talent and motivated musicians who, just like the summer solstice, remind us there’s hope in truly owning our city’s title as The Live Music Capital of the World for generations to come.

For the complete Solstice Festival 2016 lineup and ticket purchases, visit