An Electrifying Journey: Origin of a Music Festival Celebrating Innovator Bob Moog

In 2004, New York-based music promoter Charles Carlini, with whom I spoke by telephone, was contacted by Moog Music, the company founded by the late Robert Moog and run by Michael Adams, about producing an event in celebration of Bob’s 50th Anniversary of being involved with electronic music.

“They wanted to do it in New York, where Bob had grown up, around the time of his birthday (May 23). They had heard about work I had done with Les Paul. I put together a list of artists who were well known Moog users and was excited to get Keith Emerson (Emerson, Lake, & Palmer) and Rick Wakeman (Yes), who had never performed on the same stage before,” said Carlini.

"Emerson came out with a cape, he brought his vintage, 8-foot-tall Moog that had to be carted in with its own truck!”

The inaugural Moogfest, at B.B. King’s on May 18, 2004, was a sold-out four-hour extravaganza that also included Parliament-Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell and jazz fusion guitarist Stanley Jordan.

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"Bob was very grateful, it was a very emotional night for him to have people who he helped over the years come and pay tribute to him. He came out on stage, spoke, and introduced the closer, Keith Emerson, who was a spectacle; Emerson came out with a cape, he brought his vintage, 8-foot-tall Moog that had to be carted in with its own truck!"

Such resounding success energized Carlini and he was soon planning another Moogfest for the following May, but as the event approached, he encountered unexpected resistance from Moog Music regarding Bob’s involvement. “I didn’t know that Bob was ill; Mike Adams didn’t want to divulge that Bob was sick. I said ‘Bob has to show up; the festival is centered around him! He needs to make an appearance, even if for 20 minutes.’ I kept pushing, and Bob emailed me and said ‘I’m having some life challenges and I am unable to come out, as much as I would love to be there.’”

Moogfest 2005 was a bittersweet success without Bob, who was to pass away from brain cancer on August 21, 2005.

Carlini continued to cultivate Moogfest as tribute to Bob Moog. "My vision was to work with musicians who defined the instrument and had a very tight relationship with Bob; most were actual friends who would call him on the phone. I wanted to keep it pure." In 2006, Keith Emerson returned to headline.

Efforts to expand Moogfest in 2007 included bringing in new wave pop star and producer Thomas Dolby as the marquee attraction and having a separate day of non-music offerings that highlighted Bob’s cerebral side. “Bob’s daughter Michelle helped us arrange an afternoon of lectures, including talks from electronic music pioneer Herb Deutsch (who helped devise the keyboard for the original 1964 Moog synthesizer) and composer Gershon Kingsley at Columbia University’s Computer Music Center. When Bob started he was an intellectual and the avant-garde composers embraced the technology.”

Moogfest 2008 brought a change of venues, to the more expansive Hammerstein Ballroom, and of curatorial vision. Carlini explained this shift: “Mike Adams wanted to see a younger generation learn about Moog and pushed for jam band Umphrey’s McGee as headliner.” Both changes unfortunately coincided with dramatic economic turbulence in New York City.

"The show was set for October 13, 2008, which turned out to be right after the financial markets had collapsed. We had a very poor turnout; the music was great, but I felt that we had done as much as we could do a solo promoter. I relinquished the Moogfest name to Moog Music. New York City is very tough place to hold a multi-day festival."

There was no Moogfest in 2009. In 2010, Moog Music partnered with AC Entertainment (which co-produces the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival) to continue Moogfest in Asheville, North Carolina. It became a three-day festival with newer acts that ranged from rock (MGMT) to hip hop (Big Boi) to electronica (Hot Chip). AC Entertainment’s Ashley Capps shared some thoughts, via email, on the new direction for Moogfest.

"When we first proposed to move Moogfest, we did so because Asheville has a great history for us of supporting live music events. Plus, it was Bob Moog's adopted hometown and continues to be the headquarters of Moog Music, so it seemed like the perfect location. By moving it to Asheville, we've also enabled Moogfest to achieve a profile and visibility that it deserves, something that's much more difficult to achieve in New York City," said Capps.

"The other major change was to recast Moogfest as a contemporary music event that celebrates a new generation of musical performers who are pushing the boundaries of electronic music. We also opened it up so that it wasn't strictly about artists playing Moog instruments, though many if not most do, but rather about Bob Moog's legacy as innovator who opened up a whole new toolbox to inspire the creative imagination of generations of musicians. We love the history of Moog and many of those classic artists too—we intend to include them in future festivals—but we wanted Moogfest to be a celebration of the present and the future, and not only the past."

The upcoming (October 28-30) Moogfest 2011 boasts a line-up of popular artists from varied genres (including The Flaming Lips, Moby, TV on the Radio, Tangerine Dream, and, once again, Umphrey’s McGee); indeed, a new generation is celebrating the legacy of Bob Moog!

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