Sandbar Storytelling Festival

Multi-stage, multi-city organization, focusing on music, mental health, education…we run two festivals a year, one in Winona, one in La Crosse…trying to build community around the arts…and experience good music.

Dylan Hilliker

Executive Director, Mid West Music Fest

Dylan Hilliker is the new Executive Director of Mid West Music Fest, we discussed the festival, live music during covid, his background, and how people can donate, volunteer, play, or otherwise get involved with this two city festival.

La Crosse Local is proud sponsor of the La Crosse Winter Roots Festival.

Balancing Act.

Dylan Hilliker 01:11
Dylan Hilliker. I was born in Chapel Hill, but raised in Rochester, Minnesota. And I got started with music administration through starting a festival when I was in high school called Rockchester in Rochester, Minnesota. So there was a lot of places to play as like a young musician in Rochester. So we kind of had to, you know, create it by ourselves. And I was fortunate enough to have a couple of bands that were coming up around the same age range as me. And so we started that festival and it grew into something that was completely local to, you know, having bands come from Michigan, Chicago, Minneapolis, Iowa, all over the place. And so the last year we did it was the year that the pandemic hit. So we shifted all to a live stream. And after that I kind of repurposed Rockchester into the company that I’m working on now called Three Birds Music. It’s a music management, you know, booking consulting kind of group for me, so I managed two bands in Minneapolis and yeah. So got started with Midwest just a couple weeks ago and I’m super excited to be here.

Brent Hanifl 02:32
Yeah, I mean, it sounds like your past kind of has some parallels with Midwest Music Fest, you being the new executive director and all. So for people that are unaware of Midwest Music Fest, can you just share a little bit about it?

Dylan Hilliker 02:44
Yeah, for sure. It’s a multi stage, multi city organization, focusing on music, mental health, education. So we run two festivals a year, one in Winona, one in La Crosse with a bunch of stages going on throughout the whole day. The whole weekend, I should say. And yeah that’s really it. We’ve, you know, started some other programs like our Mental Health Initiative, and our Teen Press Program, which gets, you know, local high school kids involved with interviews with bands and running kind of press and promotion for the festival as well. So really trying to build community in a way around the arts, and really focusing on giving everyone the opportunity to buy in and experience good music

Brent Hanifl 03:36
Being that the last 18 months were, you know, a trying time for everybody, you know, especially for the arts and musicians out there and bands they’re trying to tour even now. Where is Midwest Music Fest headed? Like, how is it adapting?

Dylan Hilliker 03:50
Yeah, I mean, well, throughout the last, you know, 18 months, you know, obviously, there was a lineup announced for 2020, that ended up having to get shifted around. They did a live show in Winona before my time, and then just recently, we did the River Roast in La Crosse as kind of our 2020 programming, even though it’s in 2021 now. I mean, you know, when I was running the festival that I was running previously, you know, we had to deal with COVID. And I think the shift is just like figuring out how to make an experience for someone that’s sitting at home rather than at a venue. And so I think, you know, with COVID, it’s kind of given us this unique opportunity to kind of step back and really rethink what we are doing as a festival and what we’re doing as people in general. And so they think in terms of like, moving forward there could be a reimagining of what the festival is. There could be, you know, just kind of going back to the old model and really trying to hone in, you know, that’s something that, you know, we’re actively talking about and something that, you know, we’ll start having answers for pretty soon. I just can’t give you a definitive picture of what its gonna look like next year right now, just because, you know, we’re kind of doing that work of figuring out what the festival looks like going forward.

Brent Hanifl 05:21
You know, I know this is kind of a reflection time in a kind of a transitional period for individuals and festivals and musicians. What have you learned about yourself when dealing with creativity? Festival planning? COVID?

Dylan Hilliker 05:34
Yeah, I definitely think I’ve learned how to adapt more so than I ever have in my life. I’m definitely a person who is very, like, rigid. And if I have a plan, I’m sticking to it. But sometimes that’s just not how life works, you know. So I think it’s given everyone the very unique opportunity to kind of figure out what they really truly need to be doing figure out that like, reset, there’s like, things in my life that I thought I was going to be doing, pre COVID, that I would never have done post COVID. You know, so like, I think it’s just all a time of, like you said, reflection, and of just like growth and figuring out how we really, like, bring people together, even when we’re apart. You know, I think Midwest did a great job this year, with some of the virtual sessions with some of the spread out outdoor shows, you know. I think, you know, moving forward, hopefully, we’re able to get back to that in person, packed crowd format. But as of right now, we just have to keep planning for what’s happening right now. So I think, just really, the staying present has been the most important part for me to learn for sure.

Brent Hanifl 07:00
So you kind of you know, reference some things up in the air. But is there anything that you could share about the festival you’re excited about? You know, kind of like, what’s next? Or is there anything that is in the oven?

Dylan Hilliker 07:12
Yeah, I think there’s, the board members that we have are really great. I’ve really enjoyed like getting to know them. I think there’s a lot of ambition, and there’s a lot of like dreaming happening right now. And I think you’ll probably see, hopefully, we get some even bigger acts this year, coming back and really start to make the festival into kind of what that first vision was kind of like the Midwest, South by Southwest, you know. So having an event where artists and industry people from around the Midwest can connect. And really just like, build community in that way. And, you know, my ideal scenario would be, you know, a band comes in, they get the eyes of venue promoters from across the Midwest, maybe industry, people that have offices out in like Chicago, or Minneapolis. And give them the opportunity to be like, hey, we’re really good bands. Now we have all these connections in Minneapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, anywhere around the Midwest. So we can go and play a show whenever, or we can start to get connected in like this. So really, I’ve always been in this for the emerging artists, the up and coming artists. And obviously, you know, Minnesota and Wisconsin music. I’ve grown up with my dad’s side is from Wisconsin. I’ve lived in Minnesota for pretty much my whole life. So really passionate about the art that’s being made here because I think it often goes unnoticed. You know, when I’ve been to places on the East Coast and the West Coast and I’m talking about these bands, people like oh, I’ve never heard of them. But these guys are really good, you know. So like, I think it’s just about continuing that education and continuing that growth mindset going forward.

Brent Hanifl 09:10
So if people want to donate, volunteer, play, or otherwise get involved, what’s the process of that? Where should they go?

Dylan Hilliker 09:18
Yeah, everything is going to be on So there is, on the support drop down, there’s a donation and a volunteer link right there. So everyone can go down there and check it out. Or if you just want to know more information about the festival.

Amy Gabay 09:39
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