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Orion’s stars align in Park City

Alisha Self, Of the Record staff

As Park City gears up for the Sundance Film Festival, venues around town will rev up enthusiasm for the independent spirit at the inaugural Orion Independent Music Festival.

The music festival starts Thursday, Jan. 14, and continues through Jan. 20, highlighting a host of national and international independent musicians. More than 50 artists from all over the U.S., Canada, Sweden, Chile and Australia will converge in Park City and Salt Lake City to share their musical stylings and personas.

Festival founder and CEO Steffon Olsen has dabbled in many different aspects of the music industry from headbanging in heavy metal bands in the ’80s to creating his own record label in 2000. A singer-songwriter himself, he has recognized the evolving atmosphere for independent artists in recent years.

"We are on the cusp of a revolution," Olsen says. "The music business is in a state where the labels are no longer viable to artists because of the Internet. We are in a time where the independent artist has never been more empowered, and that’s what the festival is all about. We are here to create a gateway to help the artists access their audiences and get to the next level."

The festival will be an annual event headquartered in Park City and dedicated to providing exposure for independent music acts during the week prior to the Sundance Film Festival.

This year’s artist lineup includes an Australian acoustic crooner, a Christian hip-hop artist, a Texas-bred country rock group, a Latin pop sensation from Chile, and possible every musical incarnation in between.

"We wanted to make sure that there was diversity, both musically and geographically, to have a good cross-section in this first year that will appeal to various musical tastes," says festival spokesperson Hilary Reiter.

Olsen says he used social networking sites such as MySpace as well as SonicBids.com, a site that helps bands and promoters book gigs, to get the word out about the festival. His main criteria included great songwriting and unique deliveries. "I was looking for artists that stand out and don’t sound cookie-cutter," he says.

While hundreds of acts expressed interest, Olsen and his artist care manager, Desiree Bates, personally whittled the pool down to about 50. He says he hand-selected the artists solely by sampling their music online. "They’re the upper echelon of independent artists, not just your typical garage band."

According to Reiter, some of the artists are signed with small, independent labels, but most have been self-promoting their music via the Internet. The festival will expose the artists to marketing companies, record labels and talent agencies. "The goal is to provide artists a forum to gain wider exposure among both audiences and various music industry professionals," Reiter says.

Olsen, who lives in Salt Lake City, didn’t have to look far for the perfect locale to host the event. "I think Park City chose the festival almost, you know?" he says. "It’s a town that’s all about local support of the arts. It was just meant to be."

Park City also stood out because of the density of music venues. "Main Street is so conducive for having this type of event because it’s easy to hop from one venue to the next," says Reiter. "If you’re not into something at one bar, you can go to another and maybe find something that suits your tastes better."

The participating venues include Cisero’s, Doolan’s, Downstairs, Flanagan’s, The Sidecar, The Spur Bar & Grill and The Star Bar. Select showcases will also be held in Salt Lake City at The Woodshed, Studio 600 and Speakeasy.

Festival wristbands, allowing access to all venues, are $20 each. The price was recently reduced from $40 to generate interest among those who are hesitant to see unfamiliar artists or have low entertainment budgets. "The idea is just exposing as many people as possible," says Reiter. "We have some amazing talent lined up and I think if people are really encouraged to go out and see it and not have to spend a lot of money, that will create a great image for the festival and help with the growth and credibility in future years."

Entrance to individual performances will be $5 at each of the participating venues. In addition, all current and retired military personnel will receive complimentary admission to all showcases.

The opening ceremonies for the festival will be held Thursday at 7 p.m. at The Egyptian Theatre with Park City Mayor Dana Williams kicking off the festivities. There is limited seating for the event, but the public is invited to the afterparty at The Spur Bar & Grill.

For wristbands and more information about the festival, including a complete artist line-up and showcase schedule, log on to http://www.orionmusicfestival.com.


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