UTG INTERVIEW: So What?! Music Festival founder Mike Ziemer discusses this year’s event

Mike Ziemer

In three weeks’ time, hoards of festival-goers will flood the city of Grand Prairie, Texas for So What?! Music Festival (formerly South By So What?!), which will be returning to QuikTrip Park for the fifth consecutive year on March 19. This year’s event features a healthy blend of big name acts and fast-rising stars, and as always, promises to be one helluva a wild weekend.

We caught up with So What?! founder and promoter Mike Ziemer, who was kind enough to give us all the details on this year’s festivities. Read our conversation below, and score tickets to the two-day fest here.

As many will likely note, the name of this year’s festival has been tweaked slightly from years past—it’s now just “So What?!” as opposed to “South By So What?!” Could you enlighten readers as to the reasoning behind the name change?

There were several factors involved in our decision, but essentially it came down to our opportunity to expand outside of just Texas and our desire to completely separate and brand our event as more than just a play off of South By Southwest in Austin. We want to take this festival to multiple markets and the name change helps with that.

This festival has been going strong since 2007—what do you attribute to its ongoing success? What are you personally most proud of?

I think we have successfully found a way to mix “legacy” bands with up-and-coming bands and mixing in the mid-level bands that are on the rise and almost at headliner level. We’ve also been able to use big enough venues, multiple stages, and give people the most “bang for their buck,” so to speak. $50 a day to see this many bands or $85 for 2 days is insanely cheap. When we booked Taking Back Sunday and The Used on the 10-year anniversary of me doing shows it was incredible. I do this because of bands like that, and now the Underoath reunion… it just blows my mind to see where we started and where we are.

Will this year’s festivities differ in any way from those past?

This year is only two days but we are working on a really awesome pre-party and afterparty. It should be a good time for everyone. We stacked the two days strong so there wasn’t really a need for three days, but next year is our So What?! 10-year anniversary so we will see what happens.

What artists are you most looking forward to seeing perform this year?

For me, it’s going to be so awesome to have all the pop-punk bands on Saturday, especially New Found Glory. I’ve listened to them since like 1999. Underoath, as well—I can’t believe that’s happening. So stoked.

What would you say is the coolest and/or most ridiculous thing you’ve ever witnessed at So What?!

When Danny was still in Asking Alexandria he was hammered drunk and showed up and made me chase him around the entire stadium. He told me to meet him at the box office because it was “urgent” and so I literally ran and he was gone and then I heard on the walkie talkie that he was trying to steal a golf cart and then I met him in green room because he finally stayed in one spot and by then I was freaking out trying to figure out what was wrong or going on or if our headliner was even gonna play, and he grabbed me, thanked me, and had me walk with him to the stage so he could play. It was bizarre but so entertaining. Then he brought me on stage after a couple minutes of pelvic thrusting the camera man [laughs]. Wild.

If So What?! Music Festival had a slogan or tagline, what would it be?

We are the festival for the underdogs. Every single person that feels alone, rejected, depressed, even if they’re happy but only find real connection through music, this is where all of those people come together once a year and build relationships. I see the posts and tags where people from all across the country have been meeting up at the festival for years now. It’s so awesome. People have gotten into relationships and even married from meeting at our festival.

Is there anything else you’d like our readers or this year’s attendees to know?

If you’re on the fence about going, I promise it will be one of the best experiences of your life. Just do it. Just get a ticket, and go. I look forward to this every year as a fan and the promoter and I go into a post-festival depression every year knowing how far away the next one is. Part of why we want to bring this to multiple markets, we put everything into this festival 365 days a year and it’s only getting better.

So What

Kyle Florence
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