Culture Shock! Free Music and Art Fest is back, uniting artists and the scene in Scranton
In short, the Culture Shock! Free Music and Art Fest is exactly that – a full day of free music, art, food, video games, and more at Nay Aug Park in Scranton on Saturday, Sept. 19 – but there’s a lot of work and planning behind the scenes to make all that happen.
We talked to festival founder Cory Wolff, president of Everyone You Know Entertainment, an independent record label based in Scranton, and marketing manager of the music marketing agency Dotted Music, about this gargantuan annual task, memories of past years, taking over the park, and why it’s important to stop by and support events like this.
NEPA SCENE: What was the impetus for founding Culture Shock in 2012?
CORY WOLFF: A common conversation growing up was that we all wanted to get out of here. There weren’t many things to do for young people back then. In general, there was a very negative attitude. I must admit that I contributed to the negativity. As I got older, I realized that the only way to change things is to do something about it.
I grew up just a few blocks away from Nay Aug and always wanted to do some sort of festival or event there. As I got more involved in the local music scene, I saw the immense amount of talent right here in NEPA. I wanted people to know that there’s a crazy number of talented artists and musicians here. I wanted to create something free for everyone to attend and learn about that talent. Culture Shock is a way to give back and showcase the arts and culture of NEPA. I’d like to help change that conversation from negative to positive.
NS: The first festival was rescheduled due to tornado warnings. What was going through your mind when that happened? What made you press forward instead of just cancelling it altogether?
CW: Ha! Freakin ‘naders, man. Not to get all emo here, but I felt like it was a test. It was one of the first times that I got one of those PSA alerts on my phone. I was up early that day checking weather reports and asking friends and family what to do. My brother is a firefighter and told me that FEMA was telling people to stay indoors. My friend’s dad is a helicopter pilot and has access to some of the best weather forecasts around. All of these reports were indicating a high chance of a tornado. On a personal level, it was a hard decision to make, but ultimately I couldn’t allow it to go on in good conscience.
So here was my test. Do I push forward and do what I had set out to do or give up? I felt like if I gave up I would be giving up on my home and my community. I don’t want to give up on NEPA. This is home.
NS: What was your personal favorite moment from the first Culture Shock?
CW: I think my favorite part of the first Culture Shock was when Silhouette Lies played. Since the first year was postponed by a month, it ended up being in October. Silhouette Lies went on last around 8:30. Now, remember, in October it gets dark pretty early, and it’s cold. Not only that, but it started to rain! People left because of the weather and Silhouette Lies played one of the best sets I’ve ever seen live. I mean, really, these dudes rocked out like they were playing an arena full of people and loved it. They’ve been steady Culture Shock performers ever since.
NS: How did you choose the bands and artists for this year’s lineup?
CW: When we do the booking, we start with the past performers and ask them first if they’d like to return. It’s kind of like a thank you for being there in the past. Then we just start asking around, or sometimes we already have a band in mind. There’s no set process really. After we reach out to past performers, it’s pretty much a first come, first served.
NS: Why do you think it’s important to bring these different types of musicians and artists together?
CW: For me, when I become open to new things, whether it’s art, music, or anything else, I learn and grow as a person. I’ve seen this work for others as well as for myself. The hope is that we introduce someone to a type of music they might not have known they liked or been inspired by a piece of art that they normally wouldn’t see. It also brings the scene together a little more. We’ve seen this happen with the NEPA Scene’s Got Talent series. Comedians start to go to slam poetry shows, musicians start to go to comedy shows – the circle grows and gets stronger.
NS: What is the most challenging part of organizing an event like this?
CW: Getting the word out. Thanks to the interwebs and the things I’ve learned with marketing, I’m able to organize everything in a way that I can keep it streamlined, so booking the bands, adding the vendors, etcetera isn’t that bad.
Getting people to come is by far the hardest part!
NS: What is the best part for you?
CW: The thank yous.
NS: What is it like working with Nay Aug and the city on this event each year?
CW: The city has been good to us. I think they know what we’re trying to do here. We book the space and they let us do our thing.
NS: There is a lot of music going on that weekend with the Electric City Music Conference, among other events in the area. What is different about Culture Shock? Why should people stop by?
CW: The ECMC is an awesome event, but Culture Shock is a different vibe and it’s mainly during the day. There’s a few different things happening in the same area as Culture Shock – we have the video games, the art show, two different stages, food, shops, and more. Want to chill out under a tree? We got you. Want to see who’s better at “Mario Kart?” We got you. Want to hear some awesome local music? We got you there, too.
Culture Shock is a great way for all ages to hang out before a night out on the town hitting up the ECMC venues. This is an important weekend for NEPA. I hope people go out to support their community and their scene.
NS: What is your take on the local arts and entertainment scene? Where is it strong, and where does it need improvement?
CW: I’d really love to see us take advantage of our location. We’re close enough to the big cities to bring in medium-sized artists to play shows, but at the same time, we’re far enough away to have our own identity. Think about it – when an artist is on tour, they almost always go to New York City or Philly. How hard would it be to get them to come two hours from there to play a show? I think the Sherman Theater does a great job of this, but that’s the Poconos.
On the flip side, it’s a great opportunity for local bands to branch out to build their fan base. Yeah, driving two hours to go play a 30-minute set might not be the greatest night ever, but if you really want to grow and succeed, you need to play more than NEPA. Sorry! Just don’t forget about us.
The recent surge of creativity coming out of NEPA in the last few years is the most inspiring thing to me. We have Arts on the Square, really awesome film production companies in JVW Inc. and TwentyFiveEight, the Electric City Music Conference, the Bonfire at the Iron Furnaces – the list goes on!
NS: What are you most looking forward to about this year’s Culture Shock?
CW: The new location in the park. It’s called the Training Area (not sure why), and it’s next to Hanlon’s Grove. I had initially thought of this spot for Culture Shock since it’s a wide-open field and the possibilities are endless. I think it’s going to work out much better.
NS: Are you already thinking about next year?
CW: Always thinking about it. I always have it in mind when I see something cool or hear some new music. It truly is a year-long thing for me. I’d love to take over the whole park one day and have one big festival!
by Rich Howells
Rich is an award-winning journalist, longtime blogger, photographer, and podcast host. He is the founder and editor of NEPA Scene.