Noise Pop Soldiers on in 2009

Despite some music festivals being hurt by the economy, the SF indie fest continues to draw fans.

When news broke that the Langerado Music Festival was canceling its seventh annual event this year due to poor ticket sales, the music community became jittery with fear. Bloggers and news sites began to speculate: what other major music festivals would the economy claim in addition to the Miami event, which had scheduled big names like Death Cab for Cutie, Ryan Adams, Snoop Dogg, and Broken Social Scene?

Trying to avoid the same predicament, some music festivals are giving fans more flexible payment options. Two of the largest — the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival and Coachella — are offering layaway plans, while others are allowing fans to make deposits on their tickets. Coachella continues to book more fail-safe headliners, including veterans Paul McCartney and the Cure, as well as Morrissey, Leonard Cohen, and My Bloody Valentine among the dozens of other acts.

San Francisco’s long-running Noise Pop festival may not feature such top-tier superstars, but that could be helping its cause. Noise Pop cofounder Jordan Kurland says the small club shows and reasonable ticket prices may account for why the festival seems to be doing okay. (Individual tickets for most shows range from $10 to $20, while a badge for unlimited access costs $150.) What he has noticed, particularly with clients of his Zeitgeist Artist Management (which includes Death Cab) is that people are buying tickets later than they normally would. “People weigh their options more carefully,” he said, adding that fans are likely scaling back on the number of shows they see per month.

But the appeal of a festival like Noise Pop is offering fans more bang for their buck. “The type of audience we have — most are pretty hardcore,” said Kurland. Some shows — like the Mountain Goats, Josh Ritter, and Ra Ra Riot — are already sold out, while others are selling a bit less than expected.

Fans won’t notice much difference in this year’s festival because of the economy, Kurland says, although organizers booked fewer shows than normal, reasoning that folks would be more psyched about them. Otherwise, Noise Pop will still encompass different aspects of the music community: film screenings, art shows, a shopping event, and — for the first time — a day-long “Industry Noise” conference. “Really the thinking behind it is to do more of a formal day of discussions and interviews with people talking about music and technology and things that are appealing to our community,” he said. “There are events that happen here throughout the year that are music-focused, but nothing that’s very appealing to our music community.”

So, if anything, Noise Pop is continuing to expand. This year will see the festival’s biggest show ever — Antony and the Johnsons will perform at the 2,500-capacity Nob Hill Masonic Center. There are bands making their Noise Pop debut (Deerhunter and Les Savy Fav) and ones that don’t necessarily fit the typical Noise Pop mold (Matt Costa and Martha Wainwright). Kurland says expanding into the East Bay in the future is also still a possibility — especially now with the Fox Theater open — but organizers just need to book a band big enough to fill the place.

While the festival continues to grow, Kurland says that they aren’t making any money off Noise Pop. He thinks their new offshoot, the Treasure Island Music Festival, has more potential in that arena. Still, he’s not worried about Noise Pop’s demise. “It’s an institution of sorts,” he said. “It’s super exciting …. I don’t think we’ll ever be a profitable organization. That’s not the goal, but to expand and broaden the horizons.”

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