FestForums may be the first time a conference has been lauded for its “amazing vibe,” but that’s what co-founders Laurie Kirby and Stuart MacNaught hear most about their event. FestForums, formerly known as FestForward, is in its second year of providing their three-day conference for music, film, and food and beverage festivals in scenic Santa Barbara, Calif. and continues to provide a unique experience for promoters, founders, and managers. This year’s conference will be at Fess Parker hotel, Nov. 19-21.

1b39a1a1066d411ec7f76a7e3d4e6f1f_fotor-300x231“One of the ways used to describe it often is that it has an amazing vibe,” Kirby told Amplify. “When you get there you know what they’re talking about.”

Santa Barbara, Calif. is renowned for its scenery, wine tasting and relaxing atmosphere, a perfect place for FestForums to cultivate the fun and creative conference they’d want to attend.

“We love Santa Barbara and we love it as a location for the conference,” MacNaught said. “We got amazing feedback last year.”

“We look at it as their summer camp, if you will. It’s in the winter, but… It’s a way for them to let their hair down,” Kirby explained. “That’s why we have parties for them. It’s really a mini festival for attendees even though it’s a conference because they want to network and they want to enjoy themselves.”

With over 100 festivals represented through panelists, FestForums also provides a heavy dose of industry knowledge for participants. Speakers like Vans Warped Tour Founder Kevin Lyman will lead a discussion on how to break into the festival business and, as the conference progresses with topics becoming more geared to music, film or food, attendees have the opportunity to spend one-on-one time with mentors in their field.

For a conference jam-packed with material, here are a few things you can’t miss at FestForums 2016.

That Vibe

A conference doesn’t create a buzz about its “vibe” from location alone. Kirby and MacNaught have found distinguishing ways to cater to their guests at the Fess Parker hotel.

“Our conference is also a little different in that we have yoga in the morning,” MacNaught mentioned. “We have a healing station that will be set up where there will be massages and wave therapy.”

FestForums will also feature two poets who will appear throughout the conference, typically to introduce or close a segment or panel. This year’s poets are former Rhode Island Poet Laureate Lisa Starr and Coleman Barks, a renowned interpreter of Rumi or other mystical Persian poetry.

The poets “typically open and close our sessions throughout the conference,” Kirby explained. “They provide food for thought for the audience and we believe it sets the tone for what we’re trying to achieve.”

“It’s a cool, creative vibe that we want to permeate the conference,” said MacNaught.


A returning feature for the festival is the SponsorFest led by Founder of Lesa Ukman Partnerships and co-founder of IEG.

The Saturday segment is part of the broader topics FestForums cover that applies to every kind of festival. In addition to panels throughout the day about technology and marketing, SponsorFest helps attendees understand how to get large sponsorships.

SponsorFest will give attending festivals the rare opportunity to actively seek a $10,000 sponsorship from Delta Air Lines. Delta will award travel certificates to the festival that provides the best three-page targeted sponsor proposal for the airline. In addition to gathering valuable information from panelists, participants are getting the opportunity to put their newly acquired knowledge into action.

At last year’s conference, the airline surprised attendees by awarding two $10,000 sponsorships when they were too impressed by both presentations to choose just one.

Women in the Film Industry Panel 

Saturday night will have a panel focused on inclusion in the film industry. Moderated by Lynne King Smith of TicketForce, panelists Laura Michalchyshyn of Sundance Productions, Wendy Guerrero from Bentonville Film Festival, Gabrielle Carteris from SAG-AFTRA and Director Caroline Suh will discuss the lack of females in top positions in the film industry. Suh’s docu-series “The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem” will be shown as well.

“I’m a huge proponent of trying to really integrate women into the festival industry and give them a voice,” Kirby said. “I go to so many conferences where typically the average speaker is a 50-60 plus year old man and there’s nothing wrong with it, but we want to say the population is more diverse. We want people of color, we want different genders.”

Suh’s docu-series “The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem” will be shown as well.

The film “illustrates the fact that most film directors are male,” Kirby explained. “We’re going to be showing the film and putting on a panel with some high level women talking about how we can move the needle forward in terms of integrating more women into the top positions in the film industry.”


A new program for this year is the 20-20s. On Sunday November 20, the conference will present 20 20-minute multimedia films, discussions and talks about various concerns within the industry. The series of shorts is way to cover specific topics that may not be represented in larger panels throughout the weekend.

“We’re going to talk about things like Wi-Fi and wine tasting and the history of the Glastonbury festival,” Kirby said. “There’s some really interesting, meaty, substantive topics that gives a TED Talks style to some of the festival leaders as part of our panels.”

Fiesta Lagunitas

After an opening day of panels and networking, FestForums is hosting their own evening of fun for attendees. Fiesta Lagunitas will provide beer, wine and spirit tasting along with appetizers and dinner.

“Lagunitas will be the title sponsor of the opening night party, called Fiesta Laguanitas, and we do a two hour wine tasting there,” MacNaught said. “This year we’re going to have a whole musical performance program that’s new this year.”

The first night of the program will feature a private concert from Shawn Jones, Canned Heat, Luxury DJs and two-time Grammy winner Rita Coolidge.

Best of the Fest

best-of-the-festThe “Best of the Fests” Award Ceremony will take place on Monday, November 21, to close out the conference.

The awards will be given out to festivals for their stellar efforts in sustainability, charitable works and innovation. Lifetime Achievement Awards will be presented to Michael Lang who co-founded Woodstock, the youngest chef to receive the prestigious Michelin Star Chef Gilles Epie, music legend Rita Coolidge and Academy Award nominee Bruce Dern for his contribution to film. Dern will be the closing keynote speaker.

Recording artist Jack Johnson and his wife Kim Johnson will be honored for their contribution to promoting sustainability at events. Johnson is being honored for his work with non-profit 1% For the Planet and their environmental awareness work such as Johnson’s performance rider that is legendary for its environmental impact requests on host venues.

James Beard Dinner

james beardJust because the conference is technically over, doesn’t mean attendees have to go home. Following the closing ceremony FestForums is partnering with the James Beard Foundation to host The James Beard Foundation’s Celebrity Chef Tour Dinner.

The dinner will have seven courses prepared by celebrity chefs including celebrated Parisian Chef Gilles Epié and LA-based French Chef Christophe Émé and California wine pairings.

“We are so excited to partner with The James Beard Foundation in its first James Beard Celebrity Chef dinner,” said the co-founders. “A who’s who of chefs, including Santa Barbara’s Cat Cora will be on hand to wow the crowd.”

To learn more about FestForums 2016 go here.