Tim Walther’s Grassroots
Tim Walther, whose Walther Productions organization, a Maryland-based company, have been bring jamband music to the masses for the last eight years. Their annual All Good Festival is always one of the highpoints in the festival scene each May, despite its propensity to draw some of mother nature's fiercest weather. Since its inception, Walther Productions has worked with many of the Jambands scene's biggest names including moe., String Cheese Incident, Disco Biscuits, and Gov't Mule to name a few. When not promoting outdoor gatherings Walther brings improvisational music into the Baltimore and D.C. area club scene, providing beltway music lovers with shows to go see all year long. Tim's next big event is on—-.
Aaron Hawley: Given the nature of what you do, you obviously love music. What is your own personal musical background?
Tim Walther: I pretty much got introduced to the scene, the way a lot of people did, the way a lot of bands did, through the Grateful Dead. And being on tour with the Grateful Dead. Their music, it opened my mind to improvisational music.
AH: How did you get into throwing festivals and promoting shows?
TW: I got a degree in hotel and restaurant management, and tried that for awhile, restaurant management. I found that I never quite had the job satisfaction I was looking for, so I decided to follow my passion. It took me about six months to figure out what I wanted to do. I was working with God Street Wine on the side, through a buddy of mine. I started doing street promotions for them, and I really got the fever of the music industry, by seeing their situation grow over the year or two I was working with them. It really sparked my interest.
AH: What has it been like creating a vibrant jambands scene in the D.C./Baltimore area, one whose music scene is more renowned for hardcore and punk than jambands?
TW: I don't know if this answers your question, but I started by working with the music that I liked, and it wasn't popular at the time. But over time the scene had grown, and I think the other promoters and venues in this market, that didn't used to pay attention to the jamband scene are starting to take notice. But that's because the bands are starting to attract a bigger following. With this business it's all about the bottom line, how many people you bring in, how much beer you sell at the bar. The jambands are starting to generate more ticket revenue, bringing more people to shows, people are starting to notice.
AH: How integral was Wilmer’s Park to the development of the DC-area scene?
TW: I think it had a lot to do with the birth of jamband music in the Baltimore/DC area. I know our birth was at Wilmer's Park, bringing all these bands together. We were pretty successful down there because it was a really good proving ground for bands to play for a lot of people. And systematically, bands would go in there and play in front of three or four thousand people and the following year, their club scene would increase dramatically. From drawing twenty five people, to drawing a hundred and fifty, to drawing three hundred. It gave them a chance to put their best foot forward and spark people's interest.
AH: Last year you were forced to pull shows out of Wilmer’s Park and move them, a few of which, including the most recent All Good Festival found their home at Marvin’s Mountaintop, in Masontown, WV. How’d you come across that venue?
TW: Marvin actually came to us. After the situation at last year's All Good, he heard through the local people that we dealt with a pretty tough situation up there, with damage to the Sunshine Daydream property. He heard how we went up and took care of it, and he said he had a lot of respect for that and he contacted us about working out there for a future event. He just called and left message with one of my staff, and I just kind of threw it in my file, we get a hundred calls a year "Oh I've got this great piece of property", I've heard it a million times and it's very rare that the conversation will turn into a festival. But when Wilmer's Park fell apart, I called him and went out and looked at what was a really nice piece of property.
AH: Has the All Good Festival found its permanent home?
TW: I think so. It's definitely where I want it to be next year. As far as for years down the road, it's hard to say. Next year will be the first time in six years that it has returned to the same place for two years in a row.
AH: You’ve scaled back the number of festivals this year, is that a response to the current glut in the festival scene?
TW: I feel like I foresaw what was going to happen this summer. I really felt like there was gonna be an incredible amount of festivals and a lot of competition for the ticket dollar. There a lot of people out there getting their butts kicked this summer, fortunately I'm not one of them. There's a quote for ya'.
AH: What do you take into account when scheduling a festival?
TW: I try to be as just and fair to the bands as I can. Primarily I do choose to put a certain band a certain place in the lineup due to their drawing strength or level of success. You know, if there's a band on the bill that's drawing seven hundred people, and one that draws five hundred. More people are coming for them, so they will headline. Outside that, you know, you have hundreds of bands to choose from and it's hard to whittle it down to five or six. The Grassroots Festival has a real original lineup; it has a lot of bands that aren't at a lot of festivals this summer. There are jambands out there right now who are playing at every festival, and it makes it a lot less exciting for people to see them when they're at every festival they go to. I tried to pick bands for Grassroots where it was their only area appearance for the summer, ones that are more attractive to ticket buyers.
AH: Moving on to something completely different, Congress recently passed the RAVE Act which targets the organizers of events at which they feel drugs will be present. Do you think this could be detrimental to your events and the festival scene in general?
TW: Yeah, definitely. And I think the law is unconstitutional. I think part of the scene has taken a beating this summer, and not a lot of folks are going out there has to do with the fact that Bush passed this law as a way of controlling that scene. Right now they're not taking it to the festivals. But they did pass a law that said they could when they wanted too. People like myself are putting together shows for the enjoyment of people, certainly drugs are a part of an event, but they're a diversion and not the focus of our events. That's not what we're about.
AH: What do you love the most about your job and what do you hate the most about your job?
TW: I really like the music, and I like the challenge. I'm always up for a challenge. I like the interaction . As for the worst thing, I really have a hard time with unprofessional people. I don't have a problem with competition, because competition is what the economy is based on. Free competition. I have a really difficult time with people who are unprofessional, or act in an unprofessional matter, say one thing and do another. Lack of trust, for what it's worth.
AH: Do you think that has to do with the high profile nature of the music business, or from the fact that many things are sealed with a handshake?
TW: For the most part I'd say that ninety percent of the people I deal with are very straightforward and trustworthy. The music business systematically weeds out the weaker folks, those with lesser integrity. It's a huge business, one of the biggest, might be actually the biggest business in the world. But at the same time it's a small business because you have to have contacts, but there people, and bands, that get full of themselves and prove they can't be trusted.
AH: Finally, what can someone who is reading this, but has never been to a Walther Productions event expect when they come?
TW: They can expect great music, friendly service, fair prices and an overall positive experience. We try to create a scene where people of all ages can come and have a good time