LARAMIE — After 16 years in locations near rural towns around southeast Wyoming, The WHAT Festival is switching gears in 2019 and coming to Laramie for a block party.
The music festival’s board announced Thursday this year’s WHAT Fest, taking place July 26-27, will be held at the Alibi Pub after encountering difficulties finding a rural location like its previous ones near Cody, Riverside and Centennial.
The festival has always given a chance for attendees to make it their own, said Adam Bender, chairman of the WHAT Fest board, and that won’t change with a radically new location.
Started as a grassroots music festival 2003 by founder Marko Ruble, WHAT Fest gives a place and opportunity for smaller, regional artists in the area to shine. Genres range from funk to punk, folk to rock.
“We try to get a variety of what we can, try to keep it as close to Wyoming as we can,” Bender said.
Additionally, the Wyoming Singer-Songwriters — a nonprofit that hosts a competition with the same name to help local artists record their music — helped book the acoustic stage with acts from their project this year, Bender said.
While some fans took to social media to express disappointment about the new location not being as camping friendly as spots in years past, Bender said fans will still enjoy the block party in downtown Laramie.
“We’re going to have a great party,” he said. “Don’t think it’s going to be anything less just because it’s in Laramie. Laramie is a great music town, great entertainment town, and it will be a fun time.”
He said the festival will encompass more than just the Alibi’s backyard and will still have the smaller events attendees love like the kid’s craft time Saturday morning.
“We’re bringing the same big stage that we always have at WHAT Fest,” he said. “There’ll be artists and vendors; it’ll be the same type of atmosphere.”
Some fans also expressed concerns about the size of Alibi’s backyard compared to the size of past venues, but Bender said the space shouldn’t be underestimated, especially with what they have planned.
“It’s actually bigger location than it was,” He said. “It was over in Riverside, Wyoming for six years and this location the parking lot is actually a little bit bigger, as far as fitting people in there.”
The fest will tear out part of the Alibi’s fence, connecting the backyard with a closed-off parking lot and stage.
Bender said they’ve already started scouting locations for 2020 that fit better with their original aesthetic and hosting this year at the Alibi is a way to “cut costs and raise some money towards next year.”
Without the Alibi, the board’s release said, “it’s possible we would have had to cancel outright.”
More than just wanting to keep momentum and tradition of WHAT Fest alive, Bender said the choice to not cancel the festival this year despite location setbacks centered around one thing: the bands. A former band manager himself, he knew many musicians plan and budget their summer tours carefully “to survive being a musician.”
“Losing a gig like that, there’s nothing they could’ve found, any of these bands, on such short notice,” he said. “To me, I felt like I had to make something happen.”
WHAT Fest is still asking for volunteers; those that volunteer a certain number of hours can even get free entrance into the festival.
For more information, a lineup and ticket information, go to www.whatfest.com. Tickets go on presale June 20.