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Twangfest ends St. Louis summer event due to growing costs to focus on smaller shows

Twangfest attendees stand for a Superchunk! performance at Off Broadway in south St. Louis. The sold-out show was part of the 23rd annual Twangfest festival on June 14, 2019.
Tim Farmer
Twangfest attendees stand for a Superchunk! performance at Off Broadway in south St. Louis. The sold-out show was part of the 23rd annual Twangfest festival on June 14, 2019.

The annual music festival Twangfest has ended after 25 years in St. Louis, bringing to an end an era of performances by country, blues, rock, folk and other artists each summer at Off Broadway.

Organizers said this week that many artists can’t afford to travel to the festival, making the event unsustainable. After the coronavirus pandemic, organizers found it hard to book bands from outside St. Louis, said Robert McClimans, a booking agent for the festival.

“You got to make it worth it for the bands, if they're not routed on a tour perfectly to come out and play a show,” McClimans said. “It just got really expensive, and it got a little harder to book shows. You don't want to do something that nobody feels good about.”

Organizers said they’ll keep the Twangfest name and apply it to smaller performances throughout the year in St. Louis.

But St. Louis has lost another summer event, only a few years after LouFest ceased operations.

Twangfest organizers said they were proud of the event’s strong history. McClimans was working at Off Broadway when he joined the Twangfest team. The festival found its most recent and final home there. It traveled venues before then, switching from spots like Blueberry Hill and the Pageant.

Rick Wood, a longtime Twangfest organizer, said the crowd was consistent each year.

“Twangfest could describe specifically a festival in June. It could describe the music we present throughout the year, but honestly, at this point it's almost a word for community,” Wood said.

Wood said the residency at Off Broadway happened because neither organization was in it for the money and organizers weren’t paid. Artists, musicians and business owners made up the volunteer organizing committee, called the Twang Gang.

Wood was there for the first festival in 1997. It was a success, bringing in bands from several states. He said it was born of Postcard 2, an online discussion board about “for lack of a better term, all things alt-country music related.”

“It's definitely changed over the years,” said Rick Wood, a longtime Twangfest organizer. “The four-night festival is at least on pause for now. As we all get older, four nights in a row is like a marathon.”

Twangfest put on the show with community radio station KDHX in 2007, but the partnership ended in 2015. It’s been an independent nonprofit since then and relied on sponsorships to help produce the festival.

“We believe in giving back to the community. We don't just do it in words. We do it in deeds,” said John Wendland, an organizer and former radio DJ. “It was just meant to be a little showcase for bands who were on Postcard. From there, it grew into something much larger.”

The new Twangfest won’t be a festival. Instead, performances will happen occasionally throughout the city. The plan is to continue producing single-day shows at Off Broadway, Tower Grove venues and other sites.

The change will reenergize Twangfest, introducing another era of connections between performers and audiences, Wendland said.

“All these people, we've done it really just for the love of music,” Wendland said. “I just think it's important that this continues, we keep bringing other people into the fold who have the same mindset.”

Lauren Brennecke is a senior studying journalism and media studies at Webster University. She is a 2023-24 Newsroom Intern at St. Louis Public Radio.