Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Shipyard missed the boat

Monday, September 24, 2018
Matthew Dollard

Three days after Shipyard Music Festival the massive staging and signage is still being removed from the outdoor venue, located next door to the Rust Center for Media, from which the Arrow operates.

Cape’s music history is rich. And wherever music appreciation is a staple of the culture, festivals are birthed.

To my knowledge, at least three annual music festivals were held for more than a decade in Cape Girardeau — Riverfest, held on the literal riverfront between the 1960s and 1980s, City of Roses, which began in 1996, and the River City Music Festival, which celebrated 14 years in 2010.

In the two-dozen-some articles written on Shipyard in past months, the event was billed as a destination event, modeled after larger festivals like Burning Man and Bonnaroo. Bob Camp, who organized the first City of Roses event, said he had a similar notion, after working with Memphis’ Crossroads festival in the early ‘90s.

Camp said the first City of Roses was a three day event, with a local music awards ceremony, a “downtown walkaround,” which featured 50 local bands in a dozen clubs and a finale the third night, with national headliners like Rufus Thomas.

Each of the local bands played for $100 on that second night, according to Camp. Split between three to five members, it’s doubtful that overhead even covered the price of gas. Camp said there were far fewer than a dozen venues hosting live music at that time, but the community and business owners got behind the idea and the local groups that played were happy to be involved.

Six of the seven acts recruited by Shipyard had no relation to the city. It’s understandable that the organizers — Rust Communications, a professional partner of the Arrow, and The Scout — would desire “national talent,” especially as a headliner, but the final line-up of bands boasted little name recognition. Sure they’re up-and-comers on the circuit, but only in the realm of tidy, enjoyable and very predictable sounds.

There was talk about this year’s fest starting something new in this town, but from my viewpoint they had it backwards. Shipyard missed the boat in an opportunity to ride the arsenal of local talent, as those past festivals had. The countless bands formed in Cape Girardeau that are playing heartfelt, raw, original music with no label, no manager and very little monetary-wiggle room.

Perhaps the demographic of our local bands is too heavy for Shipyard’s squeaky-clean aesthetic. But I’d bet my life that the folks who support shows at the Rude Dog Pub, the Hangout and Shakers would have paid good money to get down in Ivers Square.

As for college students, a heavily targeted demographic for this event, the festival may have felt like the dawning of a new era, when in reality it’s simply another chapter in the book. I hope Shipyard has a long and prosperous future, but I hope that local acts are considered for next year’s lineup.

In my experience covering shows in Cape Girardeau over the past year, I’ve quoted a fair amount of local musicians saying “there’s live music every weekend,” and any patron of downtown bars knows that to be true. Some were more than willing to pay upwards of $25 at the gate, but refuse to fork over the $3-5 cover at the bar room door.

As a college student, especially living on or near campus, it can be easy to say “man, I wish Cape was a music town,” without taking the time to explore. I learned that lesson the hard way, asking some bands from one of the first shows I covered “why isn’t there a stronger music scene here?” Those guys had heard that question before, and their answer was simply: “the community is here; folks have to make the effort to be a part of it.”