A preview of Evolution Festival 2024 | 09.28-29.24, Forest Park

Two Days. Twenty-eight artists. 20 hours of music: The second annual Evolution Festival strikes again September 28th and 29th at Langenberg Field in Forest Park. This year’s lineup features an electric mix of musicians and genres as demonstrated with headliners like The Killers, Beck, Blondie, Jane’s Addiction, Nile Rodgers + Chic, and Killer Mike, while also catering to smaller but dedicated fan bases with acts like Elle King, Todd Rundgren, and Pete Yorn, to name but a few.

We sat down with Steve Schankman of Contemporary Productions, the co-owner and operator of Evolution Festival, to discuss the sophomore year of his musical cornucopia. Schankman is no stranger to live music in St. Louis. Since co-founding Contemporary Productions in 1968, he has produced everything from the Grateful Dead at the Fox Theatre in 1970 to the marathon Superjam concerts in Busch Stadium in the ‘70s and ‘80s to the annual July 4 VP Fair concerts under the Arch. Schankman’s company was also instrumental in building Riverport Amphitheater (now known as Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre) as well as The Loop’s own Pageant.

Schankman, ever the St. Louis booster, opened by discussing the strategy behind the lineup. “We want to cover all the genres of music from the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, 2000s, even the 2010s. I mean everything through Elle King up to The Killers, which have been around since 2001,” said Schankman. “We want to reach all of St. Louis and the surrounding areas. In other words, a sporting event may have only one demo. We have as many demos as possible, whether race, color, sexual orientation… I mean, we want everybody. We want a lot of people to come and have two days of peace, love, harmony, and great music. And I think we showed that the first time, with Brandi Carlisle and Ice Cube and the Sugar Hill Gang.”

Doubling down of his strategy of “something for everyone,” Schankman and co. have selected a lineup to fit with this vision once more this year. His secret aim? Bring people in with acts they know and love and then expose them to music outside their comfort zone and hopefully convert them. “There’s acts you [have]never heard of, like Robert Finley. He was discovered by the the leader of the Black Keys who came last year,” said Schankman. The Keys’ frontman, Dan Auerbach, reportedly saw Finley play at a hole-in-the-wall venue in the south and recommended him to the booker, who brought him aboard this year. Finley is a 70-year-old blues singer-songwriter and guitarist who is also blind. While not a conventional draw, it’s this kind of overlap in worlds that Evolution is looking to expand upon this year.

Speaking of changes for their second outing, much was learned after last year’s inaugural Evolution Festival. “So we did a survey of a thousand people right after the festival. And you know, everybody talks about parking. But you know, don’t forget, you can get on the Metro and you get let off four minutes away. The park is two blocks away,” Schankman mused. Another important change this year: more acts. “[Last year] we had 18 bands. [This year,] we’ve added a third stage and another 10 bands. So, we have 28 acts now,” Schankman reminds us. That’s not all they’ve improved from the feedback. “We’ve had people say the entrances to the festival were too far apart. So we put one right in the middle. We took the main entrance, which is on the North and the VIP on the south and we put up another on the East,” Schankman said. Aside from adding more concessions, they’ve also introduced dynamic pricing for tickets, which hopefully will incentivize people to buy tickets early. This hasn’t been an issue so far, as enthusiasm for this year started off strong. Says Schankman, “So we always encourage people to buy tickets early. In fact, we did several thousand tickets on this ‘early bird special’ during [the] holidays. I mean, that’s without announcing a single band. Yes, people are happy with our selections so far. I know Billboard magazine came out there and they were very happy with what we have as a festival.”

Some 150 media appearances later, Schankman reflects on the positive feedback and interest from sponsors. “I mean I have sponsors that were there last year. We asked, ‘are you coming back?’ and they said we signed up for the next three years. Now that helps us a lot. There are other people that weren’t sponsors yet. I asked them, ‘Why would you not want to sponsor this?’ It’s a cultural experience for all people in St. Louis!” said Schankman, adding “there’s so much diversity and so much individual and cultural interaction! You look at the pictures and everybody’s together and their arms are up in the air and even if they didn’t know the act, they’re having a great time.”

Another important change from last year is the timeframe. As many might remember, last year was the hottest summer on record and not everyone wanted to brave the heat to see their favorite acts. This year, they’re looking for less hateful weather by staging the festival at the very end of September. “You know, last year we did 25,000 [tickets], so we’re hoping to do 30,000 plus [this year]”, says Schankman. “But it’s not about how many people we bring, we have to keep the experience… Some people want to be surfing down in the pit, body surfing down in the barricade area. I want to have somewhere where people aren’t standing on top of me. I’m not that tall, I can’t look over people. So that’s the thing, you’ve got to draw the line. I can sell another five thousand tickets on top of that, but I don’t think the experience is as good if it’s too crowded.”

Tickets for this year’s Evolution Festival are on sale now at evolutionfestival.com. Weekend passes start at $129.50, though prices will increase as the date draws closer. The festival is an all-ages event, and children 10 and under may enter for free with a ticketed adult. | Joseph C Roussin

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