MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - BayFest is called Alabama's biggest music festival and the 2013 edition kicks off Friday, October 4 in the Port City. Since 1995, the music festival has attracted huge crowds to downtown Mobile. The festival was a concept early in Mayor Mike Dow's administration, a part of downtown revitalization. However, BayFest almost didn't happen until founder Bobby Bostwick made the next move. He recently shared about how BayFest has grown, its economic impact and the joy of seeing it continue.
"I had a lot of folks that use to mention to me that we need something in Mobile like they had in Birmingham at that time. I was thinking of something small around Bienville Square just to kind of get people to come down and get familiar with Mobile, a music festival in the downtown center," remembered Bostwick.
Bostwick is the founder and President of BayFest, the passionate driving force behind the event that brings thousands to the port city every October. Others wanted it, but Bostwick made it happen.
"I talked to Mayor Dow and the city council. They said, ‘That’s a great idea.’ But they didn't have any money to put in it. My research showed that it would take at least several hundred thousand dollars to bring in a few name acts. After a month or so and basically almost giving up on it, George McMillan with Birmingham Stages said, ‘Hey, if you incorporate and want to hire me, I'll bring my staff down and we'll make this thing happen. So I took a chance, and I went across the street to the court house incorporated a 501c3 nonprofit. We had zero money when I wrote a check," Bostwick shared.
He turned to McMillan and other industry experts in Birmingham to shorten the learning curve. They helped Bostwick negotiate the best price and contract, to make sure he wasn't overpaying or taken advantage of.
"In the early stages, I depended a lot on people like that who do this every day for a living. I didn't want to try and reinvent something that was successful at that time in Birmingham and some other cities. The media were also great partners. Joe Cook, WALA TV FOX10's general manager at that time, he believed in it strongly. I mean even before we got it going and he was very instrumental in pushing me frankly and supporting it. And, you couldn't do this without getting the word out," Bostwick said.
He said the event was a hit.
"It took off the first year. We just a little less than broke even after spending almost a half a million dollars. But there was a lot of good buzz and when I say good, a great event, even though there were probably just maybe five (thousand) maybe 10,000 people. We never had entertainment like that in the streets of downtown, I mean that was just unheard of," said Bostwick.
BayFest developed a winning formula to keep them coming back.
"Keep a good variety of acts. We're not a rock concert. We're not a country concert or a R&B, or whatever, we try to have a little bit of everything. The biggest key I think is trying to keep it affordable. I hate the fact that we even had to go up this year to $60 for a weekend. But you know, it's still a great bargain. We're spending $6 to $7 million to put the event on and you're spending basically 20 a day. It's a good event," Bostwick believed.
Bostwick believes it’s also a good event for the city, county and state.
"It is grown to be something now that has become an economic engine and a tourism engine, never dreamed it was going to be anything like that its second only to Mardi Gras, direct taxes to the City of Mobile of well over a million dollars. The economic impact, in 3 days we put $40 million plus into the local economy and when you look at the county over $30 million. Same thing for the state, BayFest does pay taxes," stated Bostwick.
Despite the size of the area, BayFest has a safe reputation. However, incidents nationally like the Boston Marathon keep BayFest officials ever vigilant.
"It’s probably the safest event I can think of. We've not ever had a major issue, and you're looking at thousands of people confined in a 12- 13 city block area. It's a tight space. People who enjoy rap, enjoy rock, enjoy country and they're all together: black, old, white, young, rich, poor. And I think that says something good about our community. We have close to a thousand volunteers every year. It takes a lot of people to put it on. Our police department here, they truly are very, very good at what they do. I do hire private security and the county sheriff’s department whose there, state police officers. They're people in that crowd and not everybody is in uniform," Bostwick shared.
Nineteen years later BayFest has become more than a local event.
"Our growth is coming from outside Mobile. We've had studies done the last four years by the University of South Alabama, very extensive studies. And we pay dearly for that every year to do very detailed studies. The people are coming from so many states. They now know about BayFest. When you're around that long and have big acts, from Louisiana, Tennessee, Ohio, just to mention a few. Roughly 40 to less than 50- percent of the crowd and people that buy tickets are actually from the Mobile area," said Bostwick.
While many of the other downtown music festivals have gone away, the crowds and Bostwick keep BayFest a Gulf Coast tradition.
"I'm not too many years away from 70 years old. So my personal future I really don't know, until I just can’t do it, I plan to keep doing it. Absolutely, I mean, I get accused of a lot of things and one of them is being passionate. I do love it. I absolutely I live and breathe it," stated Bostwick.
When Bostwick started BayFest there were successful downtown music festivals in Birmingham, Montgomery and Pensacola. All three of those and many others are the country no longer exist. Bayfest is now a $6 to $7-million annual event and a tradition for its fans.
Bostwick still wears many hats with the City of Mobile as its Executive Director of Cultural and Civic Development.
The Mobile native's full time day job includes overseeing operations of the Mobile Convention Center, Civic Center, Historic Development, the Museum of Mobile, the Mobile Museum of Art, the Mobile Public Library System, the Mobile Film Office, Cooper Riverside Park and Mobile Landing. Additionally, he is Liaison to the Mobile Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau and Fort Conde Welcome Center.
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