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InCuya Music Festival: Day 2 benefits from hot weather and hotter acts

August 27, 2018

InCuya Music Festival: Day 2 benefits from hot weather and hotter acts

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Better weather, a more diverse and arguably better-known lineup and word of mouth combined to send the turnstiles spinning at the second and final day of the inaugural InCuya Music Festival Sunday.

The brainchild of the Cleveland Concert Co., staged in partnership with promoter AEG Presents, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Destination Cleveland and the city itself, and with an influx of cash from local and national investors, the festival drew 7,500 people to Malls B and C on Saturday, said Joe Litvag, senior vice president of AEG Presents and a festivals expert.

At least that many had stepped through the gates by 5 p.m. Sunday, and lines outside the entrances even then stretched a half-block to see national artists Cake, SZA and the Avett Brothers on the larger City Stage, and Cleveland-related bands Tropidelic, Tank & the Bangas and Yuna on the smaller Lake Stage.

It was not the realization of the unrealistic hope that tens of thousands would flock to a new festival, but Litvag said it was a great birthday for InCuya, noting that time and patience are required to build a following for such an undertaking.

Litvag’s expertise is festivals. He’s involved with the internationally known Coachella, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the Stagecoach Festival, among others. His job is growing festivals – or cutting losses, depending the circumstances.

With that in mind, and considering Litvag’s experience-based analysis, all indications are that InCuya will continue to grow. Right now, there’s a three-year commitment to the InCuya Music Festival, and unless something dramatic happens, that’s only going to get longer.

“I think of all of the great large festivals in the United States, and attendance had to develop,″ said Litvag, in an interview on the pristine sidewalks of the VIP section near the Global Center for Health Innovation and the new Hilton Cleveland Downtown hotel.

“The big ones didn’t start out as [megafestivals],″ he said. “They were more manageable and grew.

“This is incredible for a first-year experience,″ he said, indicating the wide swath of immaculate lawn that was rapidly filling in the hour before the festival’s Sunday opener, the Blue Stones, took the City Stage.

The key is for organizers to “deliver the experience we say we’re going to deliver,″ he said. “That doesn’t always happen.″

Litvag denounced some online critics, who claimed the festival drew fewer than 2,000 to its opening day.

“Critics can say whatever they want,″ Litvag said, shrugging off the naysayers’ unsubstantiated shots. The reality is that positive responses from festivalgoers were rampant.

“Some say that there were too many genres, and others say the exact opposite,” said Litvag, asked about the eclectic nature of the lineup. The acts ranged from the hip-hop of They. to the old-time blues of Booker T. Jones to the neo-R&B of Daniel Caesar (a particularly impressive act on Sunday) to the enigmatic SZA and Sunday’s headlining bluegrass and punk concoction, the Avett Brothers.

“I walk around and eavesdrop,″ said Litvag. He “eavesdrops” on social media, too, to see what fans like and don’t like, and polls the artists themselves about their experiences. For the record, the last has all been positive.

Even Jones noted from the stage, “You people did it right.″

Triple C, the Rock Hall, AEG Presents and all those involved will do a “post-mortem” after the festival, Litvag said.

“There are 20 things we can do better,″ he said. But changing the philosophy is not one of them.

The lineup may be tweaked, but don’t look for a wholesale change in concept, Litvag said. It’s not going to become a rock ‘n’ roll Lollapalooza . . . or a country bluegrass MerleFest. It’s going to reflect Cleveland.

“It needs to remain eclectic,″ Litvag said. “This city is a diverse community, with a wide variety of genres.″

While organizers are hoping to grow the festival itself, Agnes Green of Cleveland has an even bigger hope.

She sat at the very back of Mall B, which climbs 27 feet in elevation from its starting point abutting St. Clair Avenue, sipping bourbon from a plastic glass, smoking a cigarette and enjoying the sound of Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Jones.

“I wanted to sit back and just to be here,″ said Green.

A lifelong Clevelander, Green wouldn’t give her age, but admitted, “I’ve seen a lot.″ That includes the good things and a lot of bad.

“Even then, I had hope for the city,″ she said, eyes twinkling behind her gold-rimmed glasses.

“This,″ she said, with a slight nod toward the music echoing off the buildings and the throngs of music fans following the shadow of the looming Hilton to escape the sun’s glare, “is what I hoped for.″

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