MASSV Music Fest Finds its Footing 

In spite of tragedy this show will go on

Colleen Wogernese didn't believe her brother Zach Peterson when he said he was putting on a two-day electronic music festival in the mountains of Idaho. It ranked right up there with Peterson's professed belief that he could use his independent label, Dark Psyence, to make Idaho's electronic music scene more like that of his hometown of Chicago. She said he was always something of a dreamer.

"We were all like, 'Yeah, yeah. Just let us know when it actually happens and we'll all come,'" she said.

So he did. On April 20, Peterson sent Wogernese a Facebook invite for MASSV, the festival he had talked about for years. She didn't open it, thinking she would look at it later when she had more time.

But by the time she did, it was too late. Three days after Wogernese got the invite, her brother and his wife, C.J., drifted across the lane on Hwy. 26 into the path of an oncoming pickup truck. The Petersons and the pickup's driver, Eugene Albert Bernard, died on site.

That was when Wogernese discovered how close Peterson was to accomplishing his dream. He had found an investor willing to put up six figures, booked a first-class lineup headlined by Austin, Texas's Ghostland Observatory, and gotten the mayor of Ketchum to roll out the red carpet for the festival.

For years, Peterson had told Wogernese about the festival he would one day stage as a tribute to their father, and he died approximately one week before announcing it to the press. Wogernese knew she couldn't let Peterson's dream die.

"Him and his wife were so passionate about it," she said. "It was all they did, day and night."

All Wogernese knew was that there was a date. She didn't even know the investor's name, only that he was a doctor in Sun Valley. She wasn't sure if it was possible, but she knew she had to try.

Wogernese found the investor through a business license he and Peterson had filed for the festival in Boise.

But then she found out he had called the whole thing off.

In January, Brent Russell answered an ad looking for an electronic music festival investor in the Idaho Mountain Express. A full-time doctor and self-described fledgling DJ, Russell didn't have much experience beyond gigging as DJ Alien at a few clubs in Sun Valley. But he knew the area's major players and had money to burn.

"My job was to handle the Ketchum side of things," Russell said. "Zach was handling the booking."

And despite an overwhelming lack of experience, both were doing a good job. Russell had the full support of Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall and Peterson was working with Henry Rennar, the booker at Boise's Reef, and Ian LaPlace of The Top Hat in Missoula, Mont., to bring in big touring acts for the festival.

More than just a scrappy outdoor concert, MASSV was shaping up into a genuine music festival complete with camping, lasers and all kinds of afterparties.

But in the aftermath of the accident, things got complicated. Several of the people assisting Peterson jockeyed for control of the festival, and Russell had reached his limit. He posted a cancellation notice to MASSV's Facebook page.

And that was when Wogernese found him. She asked him not to cancel the festival and even offered to contribute financially.

"My brother worked so hard on this for so many years, we wanted to see it got followed through on one way or another," she said.

C.J.'s family contacted Russell as well but Russell had very legitimate doubts. He didn't know the bookers that Peterson had been working with, and he discovered that a primary force driving everything they had accomplished so far was Peterson's enthusiasm.

"He was calling me four or five times a day and he was so pumped," said Rennar. "Every time you talked to him, he was excited about something."

Without Peterson, it would be tough. But it mattered to his family, and ultimately, to the bottom line. Deposits had been paid and artists had contracts to be fulfilled. Russell asked Rennar to take over for Peterson.

"I was surprised," said Rennar. "I already have a full-time job."

He accepted the offer and together, he and Russell set about the task of trying to salvage the Petersons' legacy.

To do so, they retooled the festival a bit. Instead of a straight electronic festival, Rennar brought in some hip-hop and rock acts like Gift of Gab, Brother Ali and Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, then rounded things out with some Boise bands like Shades, Finn Riggins and Atomic Mama en route to Denver's massive Underground Music Showcase.

MASSV now has more than 20 acts playing over two days. Oakland, Calif.'s Beats Antique will headline on Friday, July 13, with a set of world-influenced hip hop and experimental dance music, and Saturday, July 14, will be capped off by Ghostland Observatory's epic laser light show.

There will also be performances from firedancers and Boise's Red Light Variety Show in an attempt to give MASSV something of a carnival vibe. Downtown Ketchum will turn into a block party after the bands finish.

Another person pleased with how MASSV is shaping up is Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall.

"The city is really behind this," he said. "We want to roll out the red carpet for these people. We want to make sure they have a great time."

And it's not just because of the $300,000-$400,000 that 2,000 concert-goers could bring to the local economy.

"We know, demographically, that we're getting older by the day. We know that for our community to be sustainable, we [have to] build a community that appeals to younger people again," said Hall. "These kinds of events are targeted at bringing younger people here. That's the low-hanging fruit. The higher-hanging fruit is higher education, jobs. We have to have a community that younger people want to come here for."

Hall said that the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance has identified drawing in younger people as a marketing strategy. That's why he hopes to see the festival turn into an annual event along the lines of the Targhee Music Fest in Alta, Wyo.

Russell sees the same potential.

"If The Gorge can get Phish and Dave Matthews Band, why can't we?" he asked. "This could be the start."

Rennar and Russell said that ticket sales have been slow out of the gate, but between Boise, Missoula and the underserved youth of the Wood River Valley, they hope several thousand people will turn out.

"I'll be very surprised if we can't sell 2,000 tickets in the area," Russell said.

It isn't too farfetched. More than 1,200 clicked "attending" on the Facebook event, and as every local promoter will tell you, Idaho is a walk-up kind of place.

Of course, it's easy to be a starry-eyed idealist in the run-up to your first music festival. But even Rennar, the experienced pragmatist of the bunch, is optimistic. He sees Idaho's burgeoning music scene as a benefit to upstarts like MASSV.

"The scene is young here," he said. "It needs people in it for the right reasons. Nobody is trying to get rich. We're just trying to do something for the region we live in."

The same spirit of community improvement that conceived the festival in the first place has endured. The Peterson's dreamed big with MASSV. Clearly, they weren't the only ones.


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