Behind the Scene: AthFest’s Andy Whitehead

Welcome to Behind the Scene, a biweekly series where Flagpole and DTproductions  profile the people who work offstage to make Athens music matter.

WHO HE IS: Andy Whitehead

WHAT HE DOES: Marketing director for AthFest Educates


Flagpole: How did you wind up in your position?

Andy Whitehead: All the way through middle school and college, I would go to AthFest and I really loved it. I went away for college, but when I came back, I was looking for more experience in the music business. So, I got in touch with [Jared Bailey, former AthFest director] and asked about interning. I spent a summer… doing odd jobs. Then, I moved toward the marketing side of things. After that, they asked me to be marketing coordinator, helping with the venues and selling wristbands there. From there, I moved to festival marketing. Now, I’ve taken the reigns for all of the marketing. It’s been a pretty gradual transition from intern to more responsibility. 

What does it take to make AthFest successful?

First and foremost, it takes a lot of amazing people giving a lot of time and effort for free, which is a beautiful thing. We pay the bands, but we don’t pay them nearly what they deserve. But, they understand it’s for a good cause. They’re out there in the hot sun sometimes playing long sets and getting it done for us. Our board, outside of the director, we’re all unpaid. You have to have so many people that care a ton about this project, sacrificing a lot of their free time and coming together. It’s a lot of people giving their time and their effort. 

What advice would you give to bands and festival goers involved with AthFest?

Buying a wristband, as an attendee, would definitely be the best thing. A lot of it is miscommunication. A lot of people think AthFest is just the outdoor artists market, which it is, but the amount of bands you can see for $20 is obscene. From a marketing perspective, it makes my job so much easier. We pack so much value into this tiny price that it is insane that we don’t sell 6 billion of those! The amount of amazing talent in Athens that we are able to showcase is incredible.

The effort the volunteers put into it is insane to me. The more people realize that, hopefully, the more they will appreciate that they’re what makes Athens beautiful. 

Outside of that, from an attendee’s perspective, I think you should be open to anything. AthFest is set up, especially with the Club Crawl, so that you feel like you’re pinballing through downtown. My first couple of years going to AthFest as a spectator, we would plan out a night and see the whole evening’s run. And that was fun—you could see the bands that you wanted to see. But the most fun I’ve had is when I go off of the targeting computer and space out. You turn a corner, and it’s the most incredible show you’ve ever seen. So, I just recommend people cut loose and be pulled into the momentum that is AthFest. 

Can you describe the lead up and preparation work for AthFest? 

Leading up to the festival, it’s a lot of building relationships: advertising partners or content providers, people who cut commercials. I have to find an artist to do all of the theming for the whole festival—everything you see on the stage, on the album, on the program, that’s all done by a local artist that we go out and find. Soliciting that art and finding a cohesive visual theme is first.

Then, it’s a lot of website updating and putting the content in there. Then, it’s writing the marketing budget and passing it through a nonprofit board, which is always hard, because we have to look it through the lens of “every dollar we spend is one that we’re not fulfilling our mission with.” So, I really have to sell it a lot harder to get any more marketing dollars. Once I pass my budget, it’s planning out ad-buys and the schedule for it. From a marketing perspective, once you get within a few days of the festival, there’s almost nothing you can do at that point. The sales will either be there or they won’t.

Once I get to the festival, I switch into broadcast mode: running around with a camera, laptop and a phone. I’m helping our PR person work with local press. I’m Instagramming everything I can. I’m updating our Twitter and Facebook and updating our website in real time. At that point, I’m just trying to help steer people to all of these amazing things going on and help them make sense of it, because it can be overwhelming if you’re just bouncing around. 

Do you think the average AthFest-goer is aware of what it takes to put the festival on each year?

Probably not. Just because there are so many different people involved and so many different groups give so much, from the artists to the people who give us a deal on the billboard. From the customer’s side, you see the stages, you see the bands and all that, but people don’t realize that there are volunteers from dawn until well into the next morning. The effort that they put into it specifically is insane to me. The more people realize that, hopefully, the more people will appreciate that they’re what makes Athens beautiful.