Lotus World Music & Arts Festival

Frequently Asked Questions

When was the first Festival, and who started it?

The first Festival was in 1994 (three small venues downtown; about 800 people attended). It was launched by a handful of people on the local music scene, including James Combs, (a rock musician in a band called Arson Garden), Shahyar Daneshgar (a classically trained musician from Teheran who had settled in Bloomington), and Lee Williams (a booking agent). Learn more about the origins of the Lotus World Music and Arts Festival in the book: Bringing the World to Our Neighborhood: The Lotus World Music and arts Festival, published by IU Press, and visit our Lotus About Us page.

Where does the name “Lotus” come from?

The first Festival committee thought about calling the event the Bloomington World Music and Arts Festival, but decided to go with “Lotus” instead for two main reasons. 1) The lotus flower grows all over the globe (including Lake Lemon in Monroe County); it expresses beauty and universality. 2) Many of the Festival planners had known the Orange County old-time musician Lotus Dickey (1911-1989). Lotus was a kind, curious, talented, and generous musician, and that spirit was something the planners wanted to capture with the Lotus World Music and Arts Festival.

Who organizes the Festival?

The Lotus Education and Arts Foundation – a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization with a staff of 3 full-time/ 2 part-time employees and many volunteers. The Festival and Lotus Blossoms Educational Outreach – as well as occasional concerts, benefits, and general necessary fundraising- occupy the organization year-round.

How do you set the Festival dates – and why isn’t the Festival on the same weekend every year?

Bloomington has a busy events calendar, and the Festival has to be scheduled on a weekend that is not already booked with an IU home football game. Home football game weekends mean there are few to no hotel rooms available for artists and festival-goers from out of town. We also try to avoid the major Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which also vary on the calendar from year to year. Upcoming Festival dates are usually posted on our home page as soon as they are confirmed.

I bought tickets for Friday/Saturday nights. Do I just go to one of the venues and show my ticket to get in?

You will take your Festival ticket to the headquarters area on Kirkwood Ave. (between Washington and Walnut) to exchange it for a wristband that is your passport to all Festival venues. If you have a 2-night pass, you will get only one wristband, which you must wear for both nights. We cannot replace missing wristbands.

Can my children get into the Friday and Saturday night showcases for free?

Children 3+ are included in the youth discount price (see ticket info); children younger than 3 get in free with a parent. This policy is based on standard practices at local venues such as the Buskirk-Chumley Theater (same as the Festival policy) and the IU Auditorium (*everyone* must have a ticket, regardless of age). Night-time Festival events are not designed for small children; instead, the Festival offers 5+ hours of free daytime programming (suitable for families and children of all ages) at Lotus in the Park, on Saturday. Parents who choose to bring infants/toddlers should know that outdoor venues (and indoor venues like the Buskirk-Chumley Theater) may have loud music and may be crowded; there is also limited capacity for moving strollers around, limited access to bathrooms with changing stations, etc.

Why isn’t the Festival all free?

The Lotus World Music and Arts Festival has sponsors (at many different levels and in-kind support), but the cost of putting on a festival – with artists’ fees, hotels, and meal costs; all of the costs associated with using tents and stages outdoors; sound and other technical requirements; and many other budget items – means that we have to charge admission. We keep our prices as low as we can, and even then, ticket sales only cover about 50% of costs.  We also offer a considerable amount of free programming on Festival weekend that is supported by donations and grants — most years, Lotus offers 40+ hours of free activities such as Lotus in the Park, the Festival Arts Village, parades, exhibitions, and visual-arts installations.

How do you choose the artists who perform?

Artistic Director Lee Williams determines the artist roster in a variety of ways, including (but not limited to): attending music conferences in the U.S. and abroad; working with other festival directors to help make stops in the Midwest viable for musicians who are on tour (Lotus works with festival organizers in Chicago, Madison (WI), Milwaukee, and Minneapolis); extensive professional networks that include artists’ agents; submissions from artist themselves; recommendations from fans.

Do you fly artist in from around the world?

Rarely. The cost of flying a group from (for example) Hungary would run into the thousands of dollars (imagine international flights for 8 or 9 people, the cost of visa applications, etc.). Most often, we book artists who are planning tours in this country and can include the Lotus World Music and Arts Festival in their tour schedule.

I haven’t heard of most/any of the artists on your roster. How do I find out about them so that I can decide which nights to go, who to see, etc.?

For print, start with the Bloomington Herald-Times program (published the week of the Festival); using the web, go to our site, where you can get quick thumbnail descriptions or print off a PDF. From there, visit artists’ websites for more information and music samples. Also, be willing to wander around at the Festival and try out music that you know nothing about. You can also access our mobile schedule here.

I just want to see one specific artist during the Friday-Saturday showcases, and so I want to buy a ticket to that performance alone. Can I do that?

The short answer is: No. We don’t sell tickets to individual sets of music on Friday and Saturday. Your ticket is a Festival ticket. When you exchange it for a wristband at Festival Headquarters, you have access to all of the Festival venues.

But I still just want to see one specific artist. Does my ticket guarantee that I will be able to see him/her/them?

Your Festival admission guarantees that you will get into the Festival as a whole: one (or two, if you come both nights) night full of a lot of different music and exhilarating experiences, at a number of different venues. If you are coming to the Festival for just one artist, and you arrive at the venue early (perhaps pairing on some other interesting stuff going on), then chances are good that you’ll get in to see ta one artist. However, we can’t guarantee that. Our advice: come for the Festival as a whole, and not for one particular group or individual performer.

Where do I park?

Because the Festival brings thousands of people into downtown Bloomington, street parking will be understandably at a premium. There are now a number of parking garage options available both north and south of the square off of Walnut and College. For info on downtown parking, visit the Downtown Bloomington site.

I’ve got my wristband…I get to go to all the Festival venues…So why do I sometimes wind up in a line outside a venue?

Lines may occur at “sit-down” places such as the Buskirk-Chumley Theater or quieter church venues. In these venues, house managers and door monitors ensure that audience members enter and exit only at the breaks between songs – this keeps distractions to a minimum for artists and audiences. A line may mean: 1) The venue is at capacity at the moment, and it’s likely that at the next song break, some folks will leave, and you will be able to enter. 2) The venue isn’t totally full, but the artist is in the middle of a song. At the break, people will be able to come and go. 3) Popular artist = longer line. See the “I just want to see a specific artist” question above.

Why is the schedule “always subject to change” – why don’t you publish the performance details sooner?

More than two decades of the Festival has taught us that when dozens of musicians have to travel from all parts of the US and the globe, anything can happen. It’s actually rare that we don’t have some kind of cancelation (everything from late airplanes, to hurricanes, to emergency situations), and when that happens, the schedule changes somewhat. Rather than publish a schedule a month early – knowing that it’s highly likely that something might change – we now have a tentative schedule posted on our website about a month out. The final schedule is made official in the Herald-Times program guide, and if there are any last-minute changes, we notify attendees when they get their wristbands at Festival HQ. Last-minute changes are also posted here. (We hate schedule changes as much as fans do, by the way.)

Where can I get artists’ CDs? Will you have them at the Lotus Office after the Festival?

During the Festival, the artists who are performing will have their CDs at our Festival Store. After the Festival, those CDs (and our store) are gone. If a CD doesn’t sell out, the artist will take the rest with them when they leave. Lotus isn’t a retail outlet and doesn’t keep back stock. If you love the music and have brass in pocket to buy the CD when you see it at the Festival Store…get it. Every year in the month after the Festival, the most common refrain is: “ I wish I’d bought that CD when I had the chance.”

Why don’t you close more streets for Festival activities?

Downtown Bloomington doesn’t stop for the Festival. We are allowed to close various blocks to set up parts of the Festival precinct, but the fact that the Festival takes place in an urban center means that we have to share space with businesses and traffic. Major arteries such as Walnut, College, and Third Street are not closed during the Festival, and pedestrians need to pay attention to traffic and cross with the lights.

Why does the volume vary? Some venues/artist seem pretty loud, even when the performers are playing “acoustic” instruments.

Music is amplified during the Festival sets 99.9% of the time, even if artists are playing acoustic instruments such as guitar, violin, kora, mbira, etc. “Quieter” music is scheduled for churches; everywhere else, you may encounter music that is quiet, medium loud, or fairly loud. Expect loud music at the outdoor tents, where there are bigger crowds and the music is geared for lots of movement, competing audience noise, and dance. Most groups have their own sound engineers and their own preferences regarding sound level. When possible, we ask groups who turn up the volume to turn it down somewhat. Also, please keep in mind: each person in the audience has a different reaction to the volume. For every complaint about a loud venue, we’ll get an enthusiastic “That was awesome” from someone in the same crowd.

Sometimes, dancers will get up at the front of the stage and block my view. Why can’t you put a stop to that?

This is a perennial conundrum at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. If you are in a venue that has an open space in the front of the stage – such as the BCT – it’s safe to assume that at some point, dancers will appear in that space (depending on the music). Much music featured at the Festival either comes from a dance tradition OR is flat-out dance music. Many times, performers will ask us to make sure that there is a dance space available: they like having dancers right there, doing their thing. And for a lot of Festival fans, dancing is simply part (and an important part) of the experience. Where dancing is really not appropriate (or there’s no room), an emcee will say as much. When in doubt – and if you want to avoid having to look around dancing Festival fans – try to sit farther back, to a side, or in a balcony.

I’ve never been to the Festival before. What’s the best way to attend? There’s so much to see and I don’t know how to fit it all in.

You can pick one venue and stay there; you can run from place to place, sampling; you can take it easy and people-watch on your way from one venue to another. Some hard-core fans work on seeing some of everything, while others pick one artist they don’t want to miss – and then leave the rest of the evening to happenstance, following the recommendations of friends, or overheard conversations (“ I just saw the most amazing Tibetan singer”; “You should get to the last half of the Balken Beat Box set – it’s incredible”). Leave your expectations at home; if something isn’t to your taste, move on. Be willing to sit a while if you’re at a performance that really moves you.

Is there a list of all of the artists who’ve been to the Festival over the years?

Yes, it is on the website. You can get there here. One of the most frequent questions we get is something like: “I remember this group from a few years ago – you know, that Cuban group, they played at the Buskirk-Chumley before it was renovated? They’re my favorite. I can’t remember their name.”

How can I volunteer for the Festival or other Lotus events?

See our main volunteer page. You can call 812-336-6599, or email us at [email protected].

How can I find out about sponsoring the Festival or other Lotus events?

See our main sponsorship info page or contact our Development Director at 812-336-6599.