The DeLand Original Music Festival rocked its 20th annual event Nov. 14, spread across multiple stages in Downtown DeLand. For 20 years, the festival has been a staple of the Volusia County music scene.
Organizer and founder Phil Weidner said he was worried about the COVID-19 pandemic, but he was determined to make the festival happen, no matter what it took. Luckily for him, DeLand had recently made the decision to permit a limited number of events, after halting them all earlier this year.
“It was very important to me to make the 20th happen. If they gave me any green light, I was going to make it happen, no matter what,” Weidner said. “It’s what I do, and it’s what a lot of the musicians do. It’s in their blood to come out.”
COVID-19 led to the cancellation of the DeLandApalooZa festival in April, which Weidner also organizes annually. When he found out he would be able to hold the DeLand Original Music Festival with restrictions, he went for it.
City of DeLand events manager Kieu Moses said for an event to get the green light from the city, organizers have to submit a COVID-19 safety plan, and follow specific health guidelines.
In the case of the Original Music Festival, for example, signs asking attendees to wear masks and social-distance were required, as were hand-washing stations throughout the Downtown area.
Attendance was limited to 1,500 people, and Weidner said turnout was down about 20 percent from 2019. Some 100 bands performed across 15 stages from Abbey Bar to NEST and Cafe DaVinci.
Rocking out, 6 feet apart
Weidner wasn’t the only one happy the event was able to happen. For some musicians, like Matt Fair, the lead singer for the band Futuristic Diner, this was the first opportunity in months to perform.
“Everything was canceled,” Fair said. “It’s a blessing that we have Phil who can make these kinds of things happen. It gives people an outlet.”
Fair said Futuristic Diner, which plays music he described as “funky” and “groovy,” has played the DeLand Original Music Festival for the past 10 years.
The day wasn’t without a few minor snags. Due to some bands canceling, or having to change venues, some acts had to shift stages. One such artist was Bryan Raymond, an acoustic guitarist who plays “indie folk” music.
“I was rescheduled to play on a different stage,” Raymond said. “The main stage.”
That stage, set up outside of DeLand’s courthouse, and designed for large bands, was a bit big for his solo acoustic act, but it worked out.
“It was a nice snafu for me,” Raymond said.
Making it happen ‘unless the world explodes’
Weidner said it wasn’t easy to arrange everything, but he was very happy with how the festival turned out.
“In any event, you’re always taking a risk of somebody getting hurt or injured. This is just a different animal to combat against,” he said. “I think we did everything we possibly could to make it as safe as possible.”
Moses said the city has been very careful about deciding which events get an OK. Since the state reopened, DeLand has allowed only three events Downtown: the Friday-night Artisan Alley Farmers Market, the Rotary Club of DeLand’s Taco Tuesday, and the DeLand Original Music Festival.
Even with precautions in place, and a more sparse crowd, the pandemic did prevent some from attending the music festival, including some musicians.
Adam Floyd, frontman of the band Coyotes and Towndogs, said his band has played the festival every year for the past 20, since the event began.
Due to health reasons, Floyd said, he couldn’t risk being around crowds.
“It was very difficult — emotionally, and pridewise, I guess,” he said. “Our band feels like we’re stakeholders in this great event, but because of pre-existing conditions, I just can’t be out in the plague.”
Floyd said the festival has helped him and his band gain local fame — or “notoriety,” as he put it — and has allowed him to turn making original music into his career.
When Floyd moved to DeLand from Miami, he said, he never expected such a vibrant arts scene.
“It’s just a dinky little town in the middle of nowhere! I came to this area to relax, but I’ve had more success in this area than I did before,” Floyd said, laughing. “It’s amazing. It’s the fans, man. That’s who I’d like to thank.”
While several Coyotes and Towndogs members were able to play with other acts at the Original Music Festival, Floyd said they will have to wait until next year to play together as a band.
“I will certainly be there,” he said. “One hundred percent — unless the world explodes.”
Even if the world does explode next year, Weidner will probably still try to hold the DeLand Original Music Festival on the smoldering remnants.
“As long as we can do these festivals, we’ll do them,” he said. “As long as I can physically do them, I will.”
Weidner said he’s seen DeLand change over the past 20 years — seen more events come together, seen the arts scene grow. He wants to mold the music festival to fit the city as best it can.
“People said you need to do it in Kissimmee, or Sanford,” Weidner said with an eye roll. “DeLand’s my favorite.”
For 2021, Weidner said, he wants to bring in more family-friendly acts, and to ensure that DeLand’s older population has plenty of music that interests them, too.
And, Weidner added, he certainly hopes there isn’t a pandemic next year.