Conceptually, music festivals have no set venues. The biggest names — Coachella, Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo — tend toward wide-open spaces like farms, fields or city parks. However, plenty, like Austin’s South by Southwest and Gainesville, Florida’s, the Fest, take over the cities’ rock clubs, theaters and other dedicated music venues.
The Lotus World Music & Arts Festival leans toward the latter description, though most of its venues wouldn’t qualify as traditional music spaces. Six spaces are hosting events for the 22nd Lotus Festival on Friday and Saturday: three churches, two tents and the Buskirk-Chumley Theater.
The Buskirk-Chumley has been working with Lotus Festival since the theater reopened in 1999, said executive director Danielle McClelland, who has been with the theater since 2001. She said the theater’s history helps its partnership with the festival run smoothly.
“Because the BCT has been part of Lotus for such a long period of time, the way we structure our involvement, the way we run the front of house and our professionalism ... make it an ideal venue for the festival,” she said. “It makes it really easy on the festival.”
McClelland said the festival usually places artists with quieter or more subdued music in the church venues, and tents are set up to house more pop-oriented and dance-friendly acts. That leaves the Buskirk-Chumley with artists that split the difference.
“It’s going to tend to be a quieter group, but not as quiet as the churches,” she said. “It’s going to be the more popular acts you want to sit and listen to.”
McClelland also said she enjoys the way the festival transforms Bloomington. The downtown area turns into a “party zone,” but it’s nevertheless kid- and family-friendly, and it exposes residents to music and art they might not otherwise be exposed to.
Similarly, she said, the festival provides an opportunity for exposure for the Buskirk-Chumley, both to people who live in Bloomington but wouldn’t normally attend events at the theater and the many out-of-towners drawn by the festival.
That includes audiences and musicians. MarchFourth! marching band performed at Lotus Festival several years ago as part of its street parade. Now, the group has developed a stage show and has a Bloomington stop scheduled for October at the Buskirk-Chumley, which they connected with via the festival.
“The Lotus Festival is an introduction to the theater for people who wouldn’t normally otherwise pay attention,” McClelland said.
Like the Buskirk-Chumley, the First United Methodist Church has a history of working with Lotus Festival — facilities manager Erin Inlow said the church has participated since the festival’s inception — but because it doesn’t specialize in performances, it requires greater set-up.
That includes a stage built specifically for such performances. Pews are removed from the space, and the stage — several parts that fit together like a puzzle — is assembled, Inlow said. Then lighting and sound have to be set up as well.
“A lot goes on behind the scenes across the whole town,” she said.
Inlow said the church has hosted a diverse range of acts for Lotus Festival, including Irish and Cajun music and a cappella artists. Even before she worked at First United Methodist, she said she attended the festival fairly regularly, going with her children as well as her brothers and their families.
“You just see instruments you’ve never seen before,” she said. “You see things and experience things you never have before.”