Fresh Face

Cincinnati’s Williams hired to lead RiverRoots Folk Festival

He has been working with the festival
as campground director

(December 2016) – Dan Williams has been coming to the RiverRoots Folk Music & Art Festival in Madison, Ind., for years. He and his friends volunteer to run the campground, just a few yards away from the festival grounds along the Ohio River.
His experience as director of operations at the Whispering Beard Folk Festival, held each August at Old Mill Campground in nearby Friendship, Ind., was helpful in guiding efforts to operate the campground Fireman’s Park during the Madison event. That festival just completed its ninth year in Friendship, located just north of Madison in Ripley County, Ind.
But even so, it came as a surprise last summer when the RiverRoots committee asked him to apply for the opening for RiverRoots festival coordinator in the wake of former coordinator Greg Ziesemer’s departure following the 2016 festival.
“I thought about it a while and decided to go ahead and apply,” said Williams, 41, a resident of Cincinnati where he works as a band booking agent.
He was offered and accepted the job in September at a salary of $10,000 a year.

Dan Williams

“I love RiverRoots and volunteer every year,” he said. “I grew close to the other volunteers over the years, and many of them come to the Whispering Beard festival.”
While not a musician, he is familiar with many bands throughout the region. In Cincinnati, he books bands for Washington Park, several restaurants and Findlay Market, the state’s largest open air market.
A search committee made up of VisitMadison Inc. tourism director Linda Lytle and three members of the RiverRoots ­Committee – Tony Novello, Wanda Heath and Jim Bartlett – interviewed Williams. Since his hire, he has been making regular trips t    o Madison to solicit festival sponsorships and meet with the music selection committee. Bands are already being booked for next year’s festival, which is scheduled for May 19-20.
As far as his goals for the festival, Williams says, “There is nothing inherently wrong with the festival. It’s actually great as it is. I’m working more behind the scenes tweaking the numbers to make sure the money is being spent in the right places. We want to make it a profitable event so it can sustain itself for many years going forward.”
Williams said the festival is a family friendly event with low admission prices due to sponsorships. “We want to keep the admission prices where they are or even lower if we can.”
Novello said Williams in many ways fit what the committee was seeking for its festival leader. “Of all the people who applied for the position, he was definitely the most experienced, with his background running Whispering Beard and his love of music. It’s hard to find someone who has a knowledge of music and also the ability to organize an event like RiverRoots.”
Novello said the committee had reached out to Williams in the past for “some fresh ideas on the RiverRoots festival.”
In past years, the RiverRoots Festival committee has held offseason events to help grow its membership and promote the festival. Given this transition year in its leadership, no “Halfway to RiverRoots” party was held in November. Williams said they are planning a similar party to take place in late January or early February 2017.
“We want to make it simple for the volunteers and also keep momentum strong for planning next year’s festival.”
Novello said the RiverRoots Music Series will start up in January and run through April. The festival lineup will be announced during the February Music Series event.

Ziesemer, a musician and Madison resident originally from Indianapolis, stepped in to take over as festival coordinator at mid-year in November 2010 in the wake of the untimely death of former director John Walburn. Ziesemer helped build the festival into a multi-stage event, bringing in big-name bands from around the country. But the festival lost money the past two years, primarily due to poor weather and poor turnout, and the event also suffered from cost overruns, tourism officials said.

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