Editor’s note: Tahoe Onstage reporter Garrett Bethmann caught up with Hangtown Music Festival organizer Ryan Kronenberg before the start of the festival last year. Here’s the story.
Hangtown Music Festival is celebrating its sixth birthday this weekend and one person who is looking forward to blowing out the candles on the cake is co-founder and South Lake Tahoe resident Ryan “Krony” Kronenberg.
Kronenberg always knew he was highly affected by music from an early age, playing both piano and drums as a child. Later, while he was involved with the snowboard industry, he began cross-promoting those events with shows for his band and other local groups. A spur-of-the-moment trip to Horning’s Hideout in Oregon for a String Cheese Incident festival is what finally planted the seed in Kronenberg’s head to craft something out of his love for music.
“I really got inspired the first time I ever went to Horning’s Hideout to see Cheese,” Kronenberg said. “It was just a mind-blowing experience up there. And that was the spark for me to start Hangtown. I went up there with my friend Kyle and his dad on a total spontaneous thing. They were like ‘Dude, you need to come with us, we got this extra ticket. Somebody backed out.’ So I was just like, ‘Hell yeah, I’m going,’ and dropped everything and went. Those to me, those things of experiences are sometimes the best ones.”
Crafting a festival is never an easy operation, especially in today’s atmosphere, where it seems a dozen new major festivals spring up every season. Organizers and promoters face opposition from city councils to help nail down a site and then have to compete with an ever intensifying market for acts. Festivals aren’t even supposed to make money or break even before three years and some don’t make it that long.
With serious amounts of time and sweat equity poured into creating the festival the first year, Kronenberg was somehow able to do with Hangtown what very few people can say they have done.
“It’s just cool to see,” Kronenberg said. “I’m an El Dorado County native, I was born in Barton (Hospital). So it was neat to keep it within the area. And it wasn’t easy in the beginning, we had to jump through some serious hoops and really lay it all out on the line, in a big way. It was pretty intense the first year. Going into the second year that’s when we decided to partner with High Sierra because we needed some help with infrastructure and other types of things. But we pulled it off that first year and for an event of that nature, a music festival, it’s pretty unheard for those events to break even or make money in the early years. … We broke even the first year.”
Kronenberg has been able to turn his passion for music into a full-fledged career working in the live entertainment industry. When he’s not within the months-long planning period for Hangtown, he is a sound engineer for events around Lake Tahoe, as well as working huge concerts and festivals such as Bonnaroo and Hangout Music Festival. Kronenberg enjoys all types of events and constantly is being influenced by them. He recently attended Lost Sierra Hoedown and was impressed by the intimate, rustic feel of it.
“There is this whole spectrum of stuff that you can do and I enjoy it all,” he said. “And personally, I really enjoy the intimate shows almost more as a fan, sometimes. Production wise and musically, I enjoy some of the bigger shows. There is a lot of discovery that happens from them, and the sounds and the stages and the settings, you kind of get blown away by it all. It’s like years of planning went into this.”
For a lot of fans, the lineups at festivals can be a source of serious contention. As festivals get bigger and become more diverse, fans can view any sort of shift in musical direction as an infringement on their territory. Kronenberg admits he always receives some pushback each year for the lineup from friends and fans, but he is super excited about the performers this year and is proud of the diversity of sounds.
“We’re never gonna hire DJs, but a band like Beats Antique, to me, it’s an amazing performance,” he said. “Dude is still playing the violin, he’s the producer. The drummer is ridiculous, and with what they do performance wise, I feel like it’s the perfect thing for Halloween.”
With six years under his belt, Kronenberg says he has learned a ton about not only about handling the business sides of things but also life in general. The festival is “like huge a art project” for him that he views as a labor of love to try and create a space where people can come together in love and community. Kronenberg is intent to keep working to get the festival to a more comfortable and self-sustaining position, though he said he is careful not to forget why he got into festivals in the first place.
“I would love to just see this thing grow just a little bit more and get to a place where we have a solid budget and we know we can produce the festival within this certain framework, then we can grow and expand from there,” he said. “I have no visions of it blowing up and becoming some huge thing. But I would like to get it to about 5,000 people and just be able to have fun. At the end of the day, this is the biggest thing I’m realizing, is that if it isn’t fun, then what are you doing it for?”
Five bands to watch at 2016 Hangtown Music Festival. LINK