Smiley Pete’s Crave festival a bid to expand its business model

Covering the local culture scene has long been an important part of the business model for alternative publications. But many are now finding they can make more money by actively nurturing that culture scene.

The classic example is a music festival the Austin Chronicle started in 1987. It attracted only 700 people the first year, but South by Southwest is now the world’s largest multi-venue music festival. It and affiliated SXSW digital media conferences have an annual economic impact on Texas’ capital city region of $190 million.

Other small publications in cities such as Toronto; Portland, Ore.; and San Jose, Calif., also have found success by organizing festivals. So why not Lexington?

cravelogoThat’s the thinking behind the first Crave Lexington food and music festival, Sept. 21 and 22 at the MoonDance at Midnight Pass amphitheater at Beaumont. It is being organized by Smiley Pete Publishing, which produces the community magazines Chevy Chaser, Southsider and Business Lexington.

The festival includes a diverse array of local food and drink vendors, demonstrations of cooking and food preparation and concerts by a variety of musicians and bands.

“We see opportunity,” said Chuck Creacy, who with business partner Chris Eddie started the Chevy Chaser 16 years ago next month. “It has worked in other markets. Whether Lexington is big enough is a question. But people in this town love to eat and drink outdoors, that’s for sure.”

Crave is the biggest event Robbie Morgan has organized since she joined Smiley Pete two years ago as director of events and sponsorships.

“Part of the reason they brought me on was to expand our reach in the community,” said Morgan, an Anderson County native who moved back to Kentucky from Toronto five years ago.

Morgan has organized several small-business development seminars under the Business Lexington flag. And she created Tadoo Lounge, a series of free, early evening events the first Thursday of each month at Smiley Pete’s Old Vine Street offices that featured local musicians, food and drink.

The Tadoo Lounge events, which were designed to introduce a different slice of Lexington to the growing late-night local club scene, made enough money to pay the bands, Morgan said.

Crave Lexington’s goal this year is to establish a brand, show people a good time, break even and offer guidance for profits in the future.

In conceiving Crave, Morgan wanted to bring together the diversity of Lexington cooks and musicians for a family-friendly event. Special emphasis was given to exposing people to local resources they might not know about.

The venue — the MoonDance amphitheater — was a practical choice because of its good facilities. But she also noted that while downtown may be the hot entertainment spot these days, much of Lexington’s increasing ethnic and cultural diversity has settled in the suburbs.

On the food front, that meant a range of options. On the low end, Crave has assembled local food trucks with items costing as little as $1. On the high end, there is a 10-course, five-hour dinner Saturday night featuring Kentucky Proud food and drink prepared by local chefs including Ouita Michel, Jonathan Lundy, Toa Green, Rona Roberts and Jeremy Ashby. Tickets are $175 each.

“We have all this culture; how do you create opportunities to bring everybody to the same kitchen?” Morgan said, explaining the concept behind Crave. “Kitchens are where the best parties happen.”

On the music side, Morgan lined up 10 acts for the Crave stage, with an emphasis on local talent many people don’t know about. One example: the Pandya Family, a group of Indian musicians who Morgan said has played before 10,000 people in Chicago but has never done a show in Lexington, where they live.

Morgan said 10 percent of the proceeds from Crave will be donated to Food Chain, a Lexington non-profit focused on urban food production and preparation.

“This is a new role for local publications,” Creacy said. “But Chris and I decided sometime back that we wanted to move our business toward doing things that make Lexington the kind of place where we want to live.”

If you go

Crave Lexington

What: Inaugural food and music festival featuring local food and drink vendors, demonstrations of cooking and food preparation and concerts by Vandaveer, 23 String Band, Pandya Family, Kelly Richey and others. Organized by Smiley Pete Publishing.

When: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sept. 21; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sept. 22

Where: MoonDance at Midnight Pass amphitheater, 1152 Monarch St. at Beaumont Cir.

Admission: Free, but there is a charge for food and drink tickets. Some meal events also require tickets.

Learn more: Cravelexington.com