Cedar Rapids makes its first foray into a mini-SXSW festival with the launch of newbo evolve August 3–5. Located in the New Bohemia district, and celebrating the imaginative and unconventional bohemian lifestyle, newbo evolve’s far-ranging—and first-rate—lineup includes cultural icons from fashion, food, music, tech, and art. On the roster are Olympic skater Adam Rippon, HGTV carpenter Clint Harp, fashionista Carson Kressley, tech entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian, fashion designer Christian Siriano, filmmaker John Waters, and more. Music headliners include Maroon 5, Kelly Clarkson, and the Shadowboxers.
The bohemian ethos came about in 19th century France as impoverished artists gathered in cheap-rent Romani (also called Bohémien) neighborhoods. By association, these free-thinking and freewheeling artists came to be known as Bohemians. “There are no roads in all Bohemia,” wrote San Franciso poet and iconoclast Gelett Burgess in 1902. “One must choose and find one’s own path, be one’s own self, live one’s own life.”
The organizers of newbo evolve want to bring this adventurous, forward-thinking spirit to what they hope will be an annual event (albeit one whose $375 weekend pass may exclude actual artists). To find out more about the creative thinking behind the festival, we spoke to newbo evolve director Scott Tallman, an Iowa native who has been working in the event industry in Los Angeles for the past 30 years.
How did you come up with the idea for a bohemian-themed cultural festival?
Scott Tallman: When I started at GO Cedar Rapids two years ago, we were walking through Czech Village in the old factory district where there’s a mural that says, “Welcome to Bohemia.” It’s now our arts and tech district and the name has been shortened to NewBo. My favorite movie in the world, Moulin Rouge, celebrates the bohemian experience, and I thought, This is super cool! This is what I love!
That stuck in my head for a while, and when I looked up the modern definition of bohemia, it basically says anyone who creates is bohemian. Tech people create, therefore they are bohemian. That represents who we are here—there’s a lot of tech, a lot of old-school art. This was something we owned here genetically.
I’ve worked on all these other festivals—SXSW, Comic-Con—and I’ve done some work on the TED conventions. What really makes those things special is that they’ve created an experience. I love the bohemian base for it, so we started brainstorming to see what it could look like.
I like to do events where they belong, where they have an organic root. It was just seeing a diamond in the rough that had been sitting here since the area was setttled.
Tell us how you picked the speakers and performers for the first year’s lineup.
We started talking to people and selling them on the idea of this festival. And I have to tell you, we were a little surprised and extremely happy—once people heard the pitch, they committed to being here. We got a lot of fast yeses, and it’s really been tremendous for a first-year festival.
How did people respond when you said the festival would be in Iowa? Did people respond positively?
Yeah, I will tell you, a lot of creative things are happening outside of mega-urban areas. The first act that we got to say yes was Maroon 5, believe it or not. I think when people saw that we had them, they realized we were serious about what we were doing. Carson Kressley signed on I think the same week. After that, we were able to go out and say, here’s the theme, we’re celebrating 10 years after the flood, this is our coming-out party—and people loved everything we talked about.
Is there one speaker you’re especially interested in seeing?
Well, you’re asking me which one of my children is my favorite, and I can tell you, as director of the festival, I’m personally excited about all of them. But I’m hoping people will gravitate towards Adam Berinsky, a professor at MIT who was hired by the country of Finland to help them battle their issues with fake news. He is the leading expert on the planet on fake news and infiltrations, all the things that are in the news right now. I find him amazingly smart and engaging, and everything he’s talking about is incredibly timely.
What about the cost for a pass, which is $375 for all three days?
Tickets for the music concerts can be purchased individually, but for the sessions, we are only allowing people with the three-day pass to get in. It’s just a way to make sure people get value for what they’re paying. It would be so hard to administer if we sold tickets session by session. And again, we based it on how every other festival in the country does it.
Back to the bohemian theme, do you hope that festival goers will take away some of that adventurous or unorthodox spirit and start manifesting it into their own lives? What sort of influence do you hope to have?
You know, the joke I always tell is that I feel that everybody went to college as an art history major and ended up becoming a computer something-something somewhere. You go into the real world and suddenly you have a job. And that’s all you do. I want people to get reacquainted with that creative side of their persona.
When I was a kid, if you wanted to get into any of the professions, you had to go to New York or LA or San Francisco. We now live in 2018, where you can legitimately record an album in your basement. Books like The Martian are self-published books that sell millions of copies and get made into movies. And people are social media stars everywhere.
That’s sort of the B message for us as well—you can be as involved in the arts and all of these creative bohemian things as you want to be. Maybe it’s just therapy, as it is for me a lot of the time, or it’s a sideline for money, or it’s secretly been your dream. Just get out and do it—and here’s how I, we, they did it.
That’s what we’re really talking to these panelists about—their personal journeys. What drove you to continue doing this? What was the worst thing that happened to you and how did you overcome that? Going to Adam Rippon, his story is really amazing. Here is a guy who decided to be his true self before he had fame or fortune, and it ended up helping him in both of those endeavors. That’s an incredibly important message—to be your authentic self. Don’t wait till you feel you’ve achieved a certain level of success.
I keep telling people, I call it summer camp for adults. It’s a place to come and get in touch with those things again. There are so many sessions and events, it’s almost too much for one weekend—but that’s kind of the point.
The first year, you have to set the tone. We want people to walk out and say, “There’s so much going on! There were so many people to see!” We want people to leave elated and touched but tired.
Find registration information and a complete schedule of events at newboevolve.