The west coast is home to Coachella and Treasure Island, while the east coast’s taste in tunes is captured mostly through Electric Zoo and Ultra. These festivals are seasoned and impressively sized, spanning over 3,000 miles across the country. While the coasts have various big-name festivals representing their musical preferences, the Midwest representation is a bit muddier. Mostly small- to mid-size festivals make up the music scene in the Midwest, and it can be difficult to choose the best of the bunch, as it’s almost a guarantee the word electric will be thrown sloppily somewhere in the title. EDM is most prevalent on the east coast and is one of the few genres that doesn’t include Los Angeles as a hub (yet). Instead the scene is happening a bit north of LA in San Francisco. Data also shows EDM emerging as a strong preference in Miami, Chicago, and Milwaukee.
It is difficult to find a mid-size EDM festival where you don’t feel suffocated inside a sardine container filled with sweat. And it is even more difficult the further west you head. The problem? Most EDM festivals run along the coast leaving the heartlands well…heartless. The solution: Dancefestopia.
Dancefestopia is a 3-day, strictly electronic dance music, camping festival in the heart of the heartlands—Kansas City, Missouri. It is the only multiple day urban EDM festival with camping downtime. September 11th, 12th, and 13th mark the third DFT nestled in Berkley Riverfront Park and will be the largest Dancefestopia yet. Despite its freshness (the festival was founded in 2012), DFT was able to land some of the largest and most diverse names in EDM. Prepare for sensory overload with Bassnectar, Porter Robinson, and Datsik as headliners, in addition to Audien, Borgeous, EDX, and Simon Patterson and more.
It’s not just the star-studded lineups that keep Midwestern fans rejoicing, but the fan-centered style of DFT. Based on execution and tranquil flow of the fest, it’s clear producers Kevin and Doug Bordegon, care more about the experience fans get than the money they make. I got to interview Doug Bordegon and get the lowdown on how Dancefestopia came to be and the ins and outs of producing a large-scale event without a large team.
Sarah: “So, Doug…Who are you exactly?” I say sheepishly. “How did you get into the music and event production scene? What’s your background?”
Doug: I actually don’t have a music industry background, but I played music growing up. After school I took lessons at Chicago School of Music. My brother and I moved around a lot, growing up in New Jersey, then moving to Ohio, then NYC, and Chicago. At the time we were producing New Year’s parties and smaller events. My brother was the driving force in deciding to get into large-scale events. Borda Productions has been around for ten years but we developed Dancefestopia in 2012. Kevin ended up marrying a Wichita girl, which is how we settled on Kansas City for Dancefestopia. The city just offered so much, a real communal, raw phenomenal experience.
S: What’s your team like?
D: Primarily there are three of us. For day-to-day it’s Kevin and Matt Bonabhan. But, we rely on at least a dozen more people who are in the local scene around Des Moines, St. Louis, Denver, Ohio. We rely on a few key people for good advice.
S: Wow that’s a lot of responsibility for 3 people.
How has your lineup evolved in the past three years? How do you go about choosing it?
D: I can’t even tell you what we did the first year because it would be embarrassing.
S: Awe, shucks! Really? (Doug half laughs, coughs, and dodges the question).
D: Back in 2012, Kansas City hadn’t even started to jump into electronic music so we started as more of a hip hop, pop, and EDM fest. Flo Rida and Wiz Khalifa headlined the first year. Our business is making sure we provide the best experience for fans so we basically asked attendees what they wanted to see for next year and it was a split between hip hop and EDM, eventually transitioning entirely to EDM. Last year was the first full EDM show with major EDM headliners.
You have to treat it [booking talent] like a business. You need to develop trust, and making sure your DJs and talent are treated correctly. My wife and Kevin’s wife are backstage making sure everything is running smoothly and giving the space a Midwestern, communal feel. We try to create an ambiance where the artists can relax in a private but not-too-private area. The artists talk to each other and will let each other know what festivals treated them well.
When it comes to picking talent, we want talent who’s going to entertain. But we also want to take risks with up and coming artists. Our talent budget is very small and Kansas City is a tiny market. We listen to the chatter amongst the crowd and in the community. We are what these artists were when they were starting off—a smaller market and a smaller competitor. A headliner on the east coast might only sell 2500 tickets in Kansas City, because of our market size. They have to look at us differently.
S: What would you say is the biggest struggle you face producing Dancefestopia?
D: It took a few years to find the momentum. It’s challenging because you need time and money, and the more time that goes by the money continues to burn. You have to be patient and trust the flow of development and that is very difficult to do when you don’t have the marketing resources that other festivals have. It takes a ton of labor. For the first 3 years, we were on the street flyering 4 days out of the week for every week. As a core team, the struggle has become something we love to do. I’ve mortgaged my house for this. We had 5,000 attendees our first year, and we are expecting 30,000 over 3 days and it is all organic growth.
S: “Why electronic dance music?”
D: I am very eclectic in my interests. I love piano, classical, country and of course electronic dance music. We started as a mix of hip-hop, pop, and EDM because EDM has roots in hip-hop. Like hip-hop, EDM tells a story. It goes through a series of emotions—there’s a build up and a crescendo and the emotions that can be drawn from the music is what attracts me.
S: What would you say is the biggest differentiating factor of Dancefestopia compared to other fests?
D: Every decision we make is based on our fans. We run the business and make thoroughly thought out decisions based on the benefit to the fan. We offer the lowest prices because we like to reward our supporters. Our starting ticket prices this year were $89.00 and that price holds for a full 24 hours. Guests can bring two cases of beer or wine per person and as much food as you can eat. We give out free bananas in the morning. You can walk from any campsite to the festival in stellar time. It is difficult to get lost—headliners are all on the main stage while the second and third stages are reserved for up and coming talent, mid-tier talent, and secret DJ sets. Cars aren’t allowed in the camping area and it is just an incredible site to see tent after tent after tent in #tentcity. It’s the care and thought we put into the execution. It’s figuring out a better way to do things that stays with the fans.
S: What’s next for Borda Productions and Dancefestopia?
D: I can’t say too much but we are extremely excited for next year. We are going to expand on what we’re doing and for the five-year anniversary we have much planned. What fans love about Electric Forest and Ultra will be combined into one phenomenal experience.
S: Any secrets you want to share with FestPop? Come on.
D: Snails will be doing a secret set late night Saturday with two other phenomenal DJs that he’s real close with (there’s a clue). Look for secret sets on DFT’s TheUntz.com’s stage.
Let’s give it up for Doug.
Dancefestopia is set in the stunning Richard Berkley Riverside Park. Fans wake up along the water and to the smell of sizzling bacon from the next campsite over. It offers a one-of-a-kind location that the brothers most certainly capitalized on. With much success in its inaugural years, Dancefestopia’s expansion seems limitless. Billboard magazine ranked Dancefestopia in the top 10 EDM fall festivals in the world last year and for good reason. The unmatched care when it comes to the simple things, like unlimited water and fresh bananas in the morning, gives fans something to take with them after they leave the Paris of the Plains.
3-day General Admission Tickets are on sale for $159. Attendees can also purchase an early entry GA ticket for $179 that allows them to enter the festival one-hour earlier to secure a special camping area or just relax sooner. If one is truly looking for the all-around experience Borda even offers a backstage pass for $2,500 which gives attendees the opportunity to see all of their favorite artists before and after their performances. You’ll definitely need a camping pass for $49, which also comes in GA and VIP form. If there ever was a year to miss out, it sure isn’t this year. For the first time, this year offers more vendors, added art displays, workshops, fireworks, showers, helicopter tours, a zip line over the crowd, and non-stop music. Plus, a lineup filled with international and waiting-to-be-recognized artists. Get full information here.
By: Sarah Kelleher