WonderBus Co-Founder Talks Debut Festival & Investing in Columbus, Ohio

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LaureLive
Steve Lindecke, Denny Young, Michelle Wesley, Cliff Chenfeld (second from right) and Rick Milenthal with Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and CD102.5 President Randy Malloy .

Organizers for Cleveland’s LaureLive festival will debut their neighboring event, WonderBus, this August in Columbus, Ohio. The inaugural festival will feature artists Walk The Moon, The Revivalists, Jenny Lewis, Ben Harper, Trombone Shorty, X Ambassadors and more at The Lawn at CAS across from Ohio State University.

LaureLive producers Elevation Festivals and Cliff Chenfeld, Kidz Bop founder and Columbus native, are hoping their joint venture will make a dent in the saturated festival market as a two-day event by and for the Columbus community.

“I think there is room for what we are trying to do with these festivals, which is a little more localized, a bit more niche, where the community owns it,” Chenfeld tells Billboard. “We are trying to find markets that are growing, that have active communities and a lot of energy, with a demographic that embraces the kind of festival that we’re creating.”

Organizers expect to bring in 10,000 fans a day to the festival in the heart of Ohio’s capital, ranging from young families to college students from nearby Ohio State. With 50,000 students, the university serves one of the largest undergraduate populations in the country, and WonderBus producers have gotten the O.S.U. a buy-in for the debut.

“We have a partnership with Ohio State in regard to their efforts to combat depression and work on suicide prevention," says Chenfeld. "We are going to be doing a lot of work through the festival, including raising money and awareness."

The Ohio State president Michael V. Drake and Governor of Ohio Mike DeWine both attended the press conference announcing the festival to show their support.

“In this community, the numbers on suicide are very high. The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Health is one of the leading health facilities that is working on this. There was a great deal of interest in trying to deal with this, as it is very important to that community,” says Chenfeld. “Ohio State is such a huge part of the community, so to have them directly involved in our festival is the gold standard in Columbus.”

WonderBus, which takes place from Aug. 17-18, will not only donate to the university’s mental health research, but will also hold local events to bring awareness and additional funds prior to the festival.

“In addition to everyone having a great time, we can create some broader social benefit,” says Chenfeld, adding that “this festival works well for that market because it is something that they can own.”

For Chenfeld, WonderBus isn’t about competing with major festivals like Coachella or Bonnaroo, but creating a reliable annual event for Columbus and the surrounding cities. “Even though Columbus is a midwestern Ohio city, it really in many ways acts more like a Sunbelt city,” he says. “It is growing quickly and very aspirational. Columbus very much wants to position itself and grow into a place that is very tech-savvy and very culture-savvy.”

Organizers aspire to grow the festival on a yearly basis and evolve as the community sees fit, which includes being flexible on the lineup. “This is a festival that is geared toward slightly more mainstream college students, young professionals, younger families,” says Chenfeld of the accessible and contemporary artists on the inaugural lineup including Mt. Joy, Andrew McMahon In the Wilderness, Ripe & Bishop Briggs.

“We didn’t want it to be too homogeneous, but we also didn’t want anything that was so off the grid for Columbus,” Chenfeld tells Billboard. “We wanted to spread it out a little bit for the first year and not box ourselves in.”

Elevation will unveil WonderBus this August and has plans to expand its festival roster with a third event slated for 2020.

Festivals 2019