Published on April 10th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann0
Stan Gray and DIG SOUTH Celebrate Technology & Music
Stan Gray digs the digital age and the high-tech possibilities on the horizon. As the current Director of Strategic Communications at the College of Charleston, he’s plenty tech-savvy. As a veteran pop-rock songwriter, guitarist, and bandleader, he’s well aware of the challenges and triumphs musicians can endure and achieve as they try to connect with audiences.
A Spartanburg native, Gray has lived, worked, and played music in the Charleston area for years, and these experiences led him to organizing and producing the inaugural DIG SOUTH Festival, a massive event celebrating new music, new technology, and independent creative wiz kids in and around the Southeast.
“I’ve been thinking about this festival for a long time,” Gray says of DIG SOUTH, which kicks off on Friday, April 12 and runs through Sunday, April 14. “I worked for Piccolo Spoleto years ago, and I’ve attended many festivals and expos over the years. I’ve also been fascinated by technology for years — running mobile apps for the College of Charleston and getting into market and social media for a long time.”
When Gray attended the short-lived ChazzFest music festival on Daniel Island in 2006 and 2007, he thought it was a brilliant idea that almost worked. Observing the pros and cons of how festival organizers handled the concerts, marketing, and affiliated side events fired up a few ideas in Gray’s head.
“I loved what those ChazzFest guys were doing,” he says. “I had high hopes for that festival. When I reflected on why it didn’t continue, I thought that the piece that could have helped it was the cross-pollination of different artistic disciplines and technologies. I thing that [Austin, Texas-based festival and conference] South by Southwest does such a good job of doing that and allowing them to feed off of each other and spark new things.”
Inspiration for DIG SOUTH hit Gray particularly hard when he attended the Ad Age Digital Conference in New York in 2011. “The cofounders of Four Square were there with Ariana Huffington, people from Virgin-Atlantic, and many others,” he says. “There were a lot of companies talking about the tech side, and there were marketers talking about their messages. Charleston has been getting close to that.”
In recent years, the Charleston area has enjoyed an unprecedented boom of technological action. Companies like Amazon, Boeing, and Google have increased their presence. Groups like BenefitFocus, Charleston Regional Development Alliance (DRDA), Blackbaud, Charleston Digital Corridor, and PechaKucha have successfully made their mark in the Lowcountry as well.
Gray recognized the new innovation and big ideas that began popping up via social media, e-commerce, digital marketing, digital media, and mobile technology. As a musician, he was also pretty well tuned into the online music industry trends.
“To me, it’s a natural fit to combine creative technology,” he says. “You can look at the iPod and trace it back to Thomas Edison inventing the phonograph — a machine to create music and communicate sound. I don’t draw much of a division between the content creators and the platform creators. They’ve evolved hand-in-hand.”
Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, this week’s DIG SOUTH Festival will be a three-tired presentation. At the heart of the festival is a conference at the TD Arena on the CofC campus comprised of guest panelists and presenters from various local and national companies and organizations. The expo will feature a showcase of technology, creative businesses, entrepreneurs, and new products. The live music Sideshow will offer a mix of Charleston-based and visiting acts at local venues.
“It’s one festival made up of three big events,” Gray says. “It’s a conference full of high-level presenters on the digital side of creative industries. Then you’ve got an expo that’s a trade show of exhibiters. South by Southwest calls a group like this ‘creative industries,’ but it’s also a mix of technology, digital media, software, hardware, music, social media, and marketing. And there there’s the musical side show.”
DIG SOUTH’s Sideshow roster boasts a wild mix of styles and acts, including Lee Fields and the Expressions. Yarn, Roscoe Bandana, Dangermuffin, Those Darlins, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Sam Doores and the Tumbleweeds, Barefoot Movement, Rachel Kate, the Bushels, Brave Baby, Heyrocco, Elim Bolt, and others. The artists will perform in the evenings between April 12-14 at the Charleston Music Hall, the Redux Contemporary Art Center, the Alley, and the College of Charleston’s TD Arena during the expo.
“I’m super excited about Lee Fields and the Expressions,” Gray says. “Fields is a very dynamic performer in the mold of James Brown and Al Green. He’s a strong performer. As we tried to do with the presenters, we tried to get a good mix of local and national bands, and we tried to pair them up at every show, so the Entropy Ensemble will open for Lee Fields, even though they play a very different kind of music. We’ll have Dangermuffin with Roscoe Bandana from Mississippi, who won the Hard Rock Café’s recent band competition. New Orleans band Hooray for the Riff Raff have a terrific singer from Puerto Rico, and they have some great buzz going on.”
Gray and his team spent a lot of time and effort listening to and recruiting each band, considering where and how to place them in complementary was.
“On Friday at the Alley, we’ll have Those Darlins out of Nashville, and they have a powerful attitude with an element of rockabilly in there,” Gray says. “That’ll be a lot of fun, especially for a bowling alley show. On Saturday at the Ally, we have Yarn out of Brooklyn, and they’re a Grammy Award-nominated act. The local band the Bushels will open for them. There’s a great local showcase at REDUX with Heyrocco, Elim Bolt, and Brave Baby, too. I think all three of those bands are really serious about what they’re doing with songwriting, recording, and touring. They all know each other, and I think that’ll be a really fun local show.”
Typically, most professional expositions tend to be formal and stiff, with wordy seminars and lengthy lectures. Most certainly don’t feature a handful of live musical acts performing along the sidelines. Gray believes the DIG SOUTH atmosphere in the TD Arena will be much less stuffy than some might expect.
“I think it will be more easy-going than some people might expect,” Gray says. “It won’t be overwhelming. We’re focused on the ideas and getting people into conversations — the young entrepreneurs and rabble-rousers who are doing cool things, They aren’t going to be on the same level as the IBM and Facebook folks, and they won’t have these giant budgets to wow you. It’ll be start-ups. We’re a start-up, too. When you walk into the festival, hopefully, it’ll be more about meeting people and connecting over ideas. It’s not about the bells and whistles and giant booths. It’s more about connectivity and ideas.”
“You know, Charleston is laid back,” he adds. “A lot of these Southeastern companies are smart, and they’re growing, but they’re not aggressive in the same way that might see in Austin or in a big city. By and large, I think it’ll be laid back and about learning what’s here and the particulars.”
Gray and the DIG SOUTH team are eager to test things out during their inaugural year. They’ve spent months fine-tuning the presentations, interactive sessions, and showcases, but they’re anticipating a few more twists and adjustments as they prepare for next year’s follow-up.
“We’ll see what works best and adjust what we do next year and grow it,” Gray says. “Charleston and the Southeastern community will tell us what they liked and what they want to see. Hopefully, we’ll be able to build on that.”
Metronome Charleston will participate in a session at the TD Arena on Sat. April 13 at 3 p.m. titled “DIG TIME TWO: Making, Breaking & Promoting Music in the 21st Century.”
Visit digsouth.com for the full lineup, ticket info, and other details.
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