When it launched in the 1990s, Chicago radio station Q101's Jamboree played host to some of the most thrilling acts to emerge on the post-Seattle alternative scene. In its early years, acts ranging from Beck, Cypress Hill, Echo & the Bunnymen, No Doubt, Garbage, the Flaming Lips, Veruca Salt and Duran Duran.
Fast forward to 2011, when the alternative music station was turned into an all-news radio format, and the Jamboree lineup -- headlined by 30 Seconds To Mars and Papa Roach -- had somewhat of a different vibe.
But in celebration of the station's twentieth anniversary, Matt Dubiel, who got his first paycheck from Q101, and fellow "rock jock" Mike Noonan have launched a crusade to revamp the event this Labor Day weekend. The two purchased Q101 from its longtime owners, Emmis Communications, last July when Merlin Media replaced the alternative format with news on 101.1. They are hoping to raise $299,000 through Kickstarter in just more than a month to pull it off.
HuffPost Chicago spoke with Dubiel and Noonan about their new, lofty venture -- by far the most ambitious Kickstarter featured thus far in our "Can They Kick It?" series.
First off, what inspired you to take this plunge into really reviving the Q101 Jamboree? This is a huge fundraising push.
Matt Dubiel: Jamboree has been around since 1995 and it got a reputation here, along with Q101. Since 1992, Q101 and Jamboree have represented a lot here in Chicago, and during that time Jamboree has been a great event while Lollapalooza has basically taken over the entire city. With that, its prices have gone up. Our goal here is create an event that is more intimate, more Chicago and more fan-based, delivering the kind of high-quality event that Lolla, Coachella and SXSW do on a musical and entertainment front. But we also want to keep it intimate, fun and affordable.
We want to deliver with a home run entertainment-wise and the best way to do that is to gauge the interest, the commitment and support that is out there. Crowdfunding is a great way to see before you actually go do it if you're barking up the wrong tree and helps us cater the event to the people who are into it the most.
Mike Noonan: And our background is in radio. Q101 built its brand in the radio space and we feel it's really important to tie in our costumers, our fans into everything we do. This is not coming from any sort of dictatorship from the corporate mothership that is dictating to Chicago music fans what they'll see this summer. We want an interactive environment. All together, let's put our heads together and put together the best festival we can going forward. No, it's not a total democracy -- it's a representative republic -- but we're going to try and take everyone's word into account.
(Scroll down to watch the Q101 Jamboree Kickstarter video.)
Looking at past lineups for the Jamboree, there is a bit of a disconnect between the artists who played the festival in its early days versus those featured in recent years. Any hints as to the direction you're seeing the lineup taking?
MD: We'd really like to put together a Jamboree representative of the best of the last 20 years of our lives as members of Gen X and Gen Y, millennials and the folks on the younger end of the baby boom. The last 20 years have been an amazing 20 years for all rock music. I mentioned my pick, Foo Fighters, in there, but they are literally going to be a band that's closer to six or seven figures to book, so that's a real gamble. Mike is a huge Pumpkins fan so he'd love to see them there. But these bands will never be attainable if we don't get Kickstarter backing. It's why we need listeners and fans of Jamboree and Chicago small business movements to get behind this, even if it's just by donating a dollar.
MN: In order to get Foo Fighters or some giant, worldwide headliners, we have to overshoot our Kickstarter goal of $300,000. But we decided to go big or go home and say, hey, it was not up to you last summer when someone else decided that rock is dead in Chicago and decided to pull the plug. I hope people will stand up with us and help us put on one hell of a show over Labor Day weekend.
Past Jamborees have been held earlier in the summer, but you guys are aiming for Labor Day weekend. Tell me about that decision.
MN: In order to put on the best spectacle we can, we needed time. You can't do it in 60 days. For the sake of argument, if everyone rallies to the cause and funds our Kickstarter, now we've got between May 5 and September 5 to build this festival happen. And Lollapalooza is the 800-pound gorilla in the room. We're waiting to find out what their lineup is, because those guys will be off the table for us due to the contracts they have. We don't want to raise $300,000 just to get a couple of bands from the '90s. We want this to blow peoples' minds and mark the resurgence and our return to the landscape, even though we've been here since July 11, 2011. A lot of Chicagoans don't know we're still here.
MD: There is a huge shift happening right now not just in media, but in our world -- and Kickstarter is a great example of that. It tells the story of what Q101 is and what it used to be. Radio stations across the country are abandoning the alternative format and they're not really moving into the digital space the right way. They're trying to hang on to transmitters and FCC licenses. We're -- along with ClearChannel and its IHeartRadio -- the only broadcasting company really moving forward and going into the digital space to own it.
We can't run Q101 the old way where we play music and pay royalties and help sell commercials that, on their own, don't work to small businesses and bring in record labels' dud bands. We have to cater this to fans. And if this event is a success, we'll show the new model to investors and partners. If that happens, we can get somewhat adventurous and reckless from there in planning the event by, you know, having a guy there juggling chainsaws on stage and not just focusing on the bands. A jamboree is a lively gathering by definition. And if it doesn't work out, we'll hang out in Vegas that weekend instead.
Speaking of Lollapalooza, how do you think this event will fit into the bigger picture of the city's music festivals? Jim DeRogatis recently wrote for WBEZ that the city is making it tougher for smaller, independent, non-Lolla festivals to get by.
MD: Something has happened over the last decade or so where the middle and lower range acts have become the headliners for festivals, not at Lolla so much, but at the suburban festivals and summer street festivals. Acts have gotten really expensive to book because Aerosmith and Kiss can go out and take in hundreds of millions of dollars on nostalgia tours and we're seeing KC and the Sunshine Band getting more money. The cost is through the roof.
We love Lolla, we're fans and Q101 was instrumental in making it what it is here in Chicago over the last 20 years but it's big business, not some upstart, little mom-and-pop thing. It brings in a lot of money and leaves in its wake a lot of destruction that has to be paid for. These things are getting expensive. You can't put on Lolla for $350,000 and you'd be hard pressed to put on Ribfest in Naperville for that money. But once this gets funded, we'll announce where this event will be and it'll blow peoples' minds. It's not going to be in Chicago proper unless something changes and when people find out where it is and what you can do at this location, they'll lose their minds and get pumped.
MN: It's clear that Lollapalooza impacts other festivals and their market blackout agreement will impact who we book, but a market of 9 million people can have several of these big festivals. This is city filled with street festivals all summer long and there is room for more. Lollapalooza has done a great job, no question, of balancing global acts and smaller, local acts.
It looks like you have had a strong initial response. You've already sold one of the $499 or more pledge levels where pledgers can propose on stage -- between musical sets, I'm guessing. How do you feel about the response you've gotten so far?
MN: We're encouraging people to back the project because we know times are tight and not everyone has the income to back a bunch of projects on crowdfunding sites, but you don't need to spend $200. I get that there are people who want Q101, this brand they've loved and supported since 1992, back on the radio and radio companies are watching what this campaign is doing. Businesses are watching what we're doing with this and people are taking noticed.
MD: Some people are looking at this as a presale, but it's just a pledge. You will not pay unless we raise $300K. The up side to this is getting noticed and the down side to this is getting noticed. Mike and I are the two faces of this endeavor. We're on the video and we're very passionate about this. When you put yourself out there, you do become a target for slings, barbs and questions and the first instinct of some people on social media is to either just click the "like" button or to comment with something filled with vitriol and misunderstandings. But Mike and I have our arms locked on this. We're Thelma and Louise on this. We're saying here we go and we're either going to succeed in this one or fail -- but that won't keep us from trying again. With Kickstarter, it's never been easier for entrepreneurs to try something. It's time for us to make a change, to keep things alive that you like and enjoy before they disappear.
MN: Didn't Thelma and Louise die in the end though? We should say something different. What about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?
MD: Well, they lived, but they went to jail.
MN: We need to come up with people who lived.
MD: Mork and Mindy. We're Mork and Mindy on this. The suspenders would fit you, I guess.
As of April 6, the Q101 Jamboree campaign has raised over $37,000 of their $299,000 fundraising goal. Click here to learn more about the festival and learn how to help revive the event.
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WATCH the Q101 Jamboree Kickstarter campaign video: