CONNECTION FESTIVAL IS THE NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

Let’s make one thing clear about the inaugural 
Connection Festival, scheduled for 
 Downtown Jacksonville on Sept. 12-14. It’s not a “mini One Spark,” as First Coast News described it on Aug. 20. And it doesn’t just “seek to build upon One Spark’s success,” as the Florida Times-Union wrote in July.

Yes, One Spark and Connection Festival both focus on modern technology and how that drives commerce and creativity. Yes, both have a stated goal of re-energizing Downtown. And yes, Connection Festival co-founders Mateo Puig, Joseph Lezcano and Julia Gregory first publicly launched the idea behind their three-day open-air festival at One Spark 2014, securing a primary investment from Jax Beach native Scott Hooks, who co-founded the social networking app Yubixi.

But as Puig, who serves as Connection Festival’s tech & commerce coordinator, tells Folio Weekly, “There is a fundamental difference between [One Spark’s] mission and Connection Festival’s: One Spark, which is doing great things for the Jacksonville community, focuses on helping startup ventures and ideas find their funding to elevate into fully fledged businesses, whereas Connection Festival offers a platform for those ventures and ideas that are already established within the community to present the best of the local arts and business scene alongside national and international communities.”

Consider it less of a fundraising/networking platform and more of a good old-fashioned music festival mixed with (forgive the analogy, guys) a miniaturized version of South by Southwest. The Main Stage on the corner of Main and Adams will host a wildly divergent assortment of acclaimed international acts that reflect Puig, Lezcano, and Gregory’s respective interests. Indie rock favorites like Surfer Blood will rub shoulders with ska mainstays Less Than Jake; hip-hop kingpins like Sugarhill Gang, Naughty By Nature and DJ Logic; regionally authentic fixtures like New Orleans jazz master Kermit Ruffins and Puerto Rican salsa legends La Quilombera; and avant-garde cult artists like Cibo Matto, Nels Cline and Sebadoh.

Puig, Lezcano and Gregory reached out to a similarly broad swath of Duval groovemasters — Northe, Whole Wheat Bread, Sidereal, Parker Urban Band, Universal Green, Orange Air, This Frontier Needs Heroes, SWIMM, Canary in the Coalmine — to perform alongside those top names on the Main Stage. But they also went much further, instituting a jam-packed (and 100 percent free) Venue Series lineup that gives 75 more local acts the chance to perform at surrounding venues like Burrito Gallery, Burro Bar, 1904 Music Hall, Underbelly and The Volstead.

“Connection Festival is designed with local at its core,” Puig says, “which is why we have some of Jacksonville’s fastest growing acts right alongside the national and international performers on the Main Stage. [Then], the Venue Series is designed to stimulate the local economy [and serve] as a platform for both up-and-coming and established artists and the venues involved, as well. The more exposure we can help bring to our partner venues, the more Downtown grows.”

If you’re into all things tech, Connection Festival has you covered as well. On Sunday, Hooks will moderate a business and tech meetup at CoWork Jax titled “Art & Commerce in the Digital Age.” The idea, Puig says, is to “demystify technology” and give it its rightful place as an underlying engine of creativity. “Connection Festival speaks to the historical arch of technology and how we continue to elevate our potential by creating more tools to facilitate communication and the production of ideas,” he says. “Most people hear ‘technology’ and think of Facebook or the latest and greatest app. But when we peel back the layers of our creative process in art, music and business, technology can be found in almost everything.”

Even with such a high-minded theme — and a long-term vision of hosting simultaneous festivals in different global cities with cross-broadcast, live-streamed events — Connection Festival still remains firmly rooted in the local. More than 25 art and business vendors will post up in the Main Street Park Family Zone, along with 15 purveyors of area food and drink. All will be situated amid the grand opening of Sculpture Walk, and an adjacent Art Pavilion will feature street performers, music workshops, hands-on art activities, yoga sessions and dance presentations by professional companies and local studios.

Puig believes the variegated experiences offer a holistic immersion in Downtown’s transformation into an active cultural hub. “The connection with Downtown Jacksonville is very important to us,” he says. “Downtown has a certain energy and buzz around it, and everyone [is] interested in seeing it fulfill its potential. We’re just grateful to be able to contribute to that journey.”

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