Libby Rose Wants to Change Music Festival Culture
The festival director for Wildwood Revival makes Austin home
By Vanessa Blankenship
Photographs by Kristin Karch, Hollie Lytle, Andrew Hutto and Emilia Pare
Festival director Libby Rose lives a somewhat nomadic lifestyle. As co-founder of up-and-coming music festival, Wildwood Revival, she spends much of the year traveling coast to coast searching for gifted musicians, vendors and artisans. But this music industry insider decided to put down roots in Austin, and her new home is the one place where she doesn’t have to worry about calling the shots.
Rose describes her life in the Live Music Capital of the World as an oasis, a place to disconnect and enjoy the music scene on the other side of the stage as a spectator in the crowd.
“I sort of knew from an early age that I always wanted my home base to be somewhere in the South or Southwest, despite loving to travel everywhere else,” Rose says. “The landscape and the culture and the people just feel like home to me. So to have that place be Austin and also have a reprieve from my work, in terms of being onsite, is really awesome.”
Learning the ins and outs of the music business, Rose started her career by collaborating with her close friend Justin Glanville at his recording company, Live & Breathing. There, she would film live recording sessions backstage at music festivals.
One of the first festivals Rose partnered with while at Live & Breathing was Pickathon, a small festival outside Portland, Oregon. She felt truly inspired by the setup; with its inviting camping experience and sustainability programs, the event seemed ahead of its time compared with others she’d attended on the East Coast.
This sparked Rose’s interest in finding out what it takes to manage a music festival. She began volunteering at the Newport Folk Festival and now collaborates with AC Entertainment, the company behind Bonnaroo, to help put together the High Water Festival at North Charleston’s Riverfront Park in South Carolina.
After spending years connecting with musicians and apprenticing at multiple festivals, Rose and her brother, Jesse Collier, decided to create a music festival like no other. Together, they created an “anti-festival” where music lovers can take part in reviving the community and enjoy a cultural experience. And so, in 2013, Wildwood Revival was born.
“Festival culture has become more about selling as many tickets as possible, having the biggest stage and bringing in the most revenue,” Rose says. “It’s [become] less about the experience and more about the mighty dollar. So Wildwood is the anti-festival, in that we took some of the things that we liked about festivals and rolled in some ideas that we thought would create a more communal event and less of a mass cattle call environment.”
While the music industry remains male-dominated, Rose was determined to succeed early on in her career. There were instances where she caught inconsistencies on the booking and production side of planning her festival. “I work in a lot of different circles in the music world,” Rose explains. “So I know pretty immediately when someone is inflating costs. Maybe it’s not because I’m a woman, but I can tell you that a lot of my male counterparts didn’t have as many of the same experiences as I did.”
Rose says she ultimately had a positive experience learning the ropes while starting her business, but she did encounter some cases of sexualization and stereotyping at first.
“Men backstage would assume I was the wife or girlfriend of the musician rather than the person running the show,” Rose says. “Men were calling me ‘sweetheart’ or ‘honey’ or being condescending when they don’t know what I’m saying. That’s happened many times…but I’ve had no trouble holding my own.”
Rose’s intimate, three-day celebration is held outside Athens, Georgia, at Cloverleaf Farm. The 35-acre property is owned by her family and features a 7,000-square-foot antebellum farmhouse. Many of the concerts are held in an open-air barn, showcasing about a dozen musicians and bands.
Capping the number of attendees at 3,000 people, Wildwood Revival is intentionally small and viewed as a “summer camp for adults,” where guests can enjoy all aspects of art and culture. Serving cuisine inspired by Rose’s travels and providing outdoor activities like yoga, Wildwood is unique because it’s all about connection, authenticity and community.
“We wanted to take the feeling you get from visiting places—small-town juke joints and honky-tonks and farmers markets and swap meets, front porch parties, supper clubs—and just kind of bring those elements to the farm in the form of the festival,” Rose says.
When Rose isn’t planning for Wildwood or freelancing for other music organizations, her normal day-to-day consists of exploring hole-in-the-wall music venues around Austin. The intimacy of a smaller crowd and watching aspiring artists gain a fanbase is an adrenaline rush for Rose, which is why she loves discovering local talent in Austin’s music scene.
A regular at C-Boy’s Heart & Soul on South Congress, Rose remembers watching the Black Pumas perform there before they gained international fame and a Grammy nomination. The funk and soul duo’s connection with the audience and Eric Burton’s captivating voice stood out to Rose, and she immediately booked them for Wildwood in 2018.
“[In] this town you can see any given act throughout the month, everything you’d ever want to see. Everyone tours through here,” Rose says. “It’s such a special place that I don’t think there’s anything like it.”