An Inside Look at DIRT FEST 2014

Voted the Best Live Event of the Year the 2014 Line-up on August 9th Brings over 55 Bands to Multiple Stages and Transforms Birch Run into a National Destination Point

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, National Music,   From Issue 794   By: Robert E Martin

24th July, 2014     0

For festival creator and organizer Matt Dalton, who first started the annual musical gathering known as Dirt Fest sixteen years ago and has witnessed it grow into one of the region and state’s premier musical extravaganzas, Dirt Fest 2014 is shaping up to be the best year yet.

“Although Dirt Fest is technically a teenager now, I still feel like it is in its infancy, and we have a lot more in store for the years to come,” reflects Dalton. “Dirt Fest has always been about cultivating something from nothing. We do our best to stay true not only to what fans of our festival love, but to also create an event that speaks to our musical community without following trends or the lead of what any other event might do.”

“What defines Dirt Fest is that we are basically a bunch of music lovers pulling together to put on a show for other music lovers. It’s just a great community of people who all go out of their way to make is a success.  And this recipe must be working, because each year Dirt Fest continues to grow.”

Assembling a stellar musical line-up consisting of Killswitch, Engage, Sid Wilson of Slipknot, Powerman 5000, Nonpoint, Tantric, Gemini Syndrome, Local H, and with over 55 performing acts set to claim multiple stages at Birch Run Expo Center on Saturday, August 9th, Dalton explains how this year’s line-up is very different from previous festivals “because it’s harkening back to a time when heavy music was shifting from the ‘Nu Metal’ era to the ‘Metalcore’ era.”

“I grew up listening to bands like Hed Pe and Slipknot, so it’s great to have those guys involved,” enthuses Dalton. “And bands like Killswitch, Engage and Chimaira really took the torch from some of the other Nu Metal era bands and kept the heaviness going strong. So this year is really an homage to the bands in my record collection and on the Banana 101.5 playlist who have stayed true to themselves and their fans.”

“We follow our gut instincts each year and as a result we seem to see an increase in attendance each year,” continues Dalton, “and I’m thankful that we’ve had such a great run. Everyone involved feels very fortunate to be part of something with such modest beginnings that has now grown into something much bigger than we had from the start.”

Voted Best Live Event of the Year in both the 2013 & 2014 Review Music Awards ceremony, Matt is also excited about a new feature that his team have added this year by forging a partnership with the music discovery App known as Ourtunez. “While Dirt Fest is committed to helping fans find new bands on stage, Ourtunez has been helping fans find new bands online,” he explains. “They dedicated an entire station AND playlist on their service for fans to check out the artists performing at Dirt Fest, as well as tons of other great music from all genres.”

When asked about some of the biggest changes that he’s noticed regarding the evolution of Dirt Fest, along with lessons learned from prior festivals that have helped shape and improve both the quality and caliber of the Dirt Fest experience, Dalton points to the level of excitement people display at the show.

“Observing the crowd it is VERY noticeable that people have been looking forward to Dirt Fest for a long time, and each year it feels like the positive energy and excitement is growing more and more. This year we even had people from California purchasing blocks of tickets so they can attend Dirt Fest because they were so impressed with our line-up; and we’re always learning from year-to-year. But we also try to change things up to make each event unique in some way, shape or form, and not stick to one comfortable format. This year we’ve added more stages and rearranged the layout so that it gives people an immediate sense of “new” right when they walk in the gate.”

As for the selection process that determines the line-up for each year’s Dirt Fest, hundreds of bands and booking agents are contacted every year. “I’m proud to say that the bands who get the first shot at performing are my close personal friends,” notes Dalton. “Being in music for over 15 years has helped develop some great friendships with some extremely talented people; but with that said, putting together a show like this is not easy, especially when deciding who makes the final cut.”

“My partner, Tony LaBrie at Banana 101.5 and I stay in close contact, texting each other late into the night about ideas for who should perform and making strategies about how to get them to make a commitment to Dirt Fest. We put all of our efforts together towards assembling a great line-up every year comprised of top-notch national and local talent that stands out against any other music festival in the country.”

When asked what artists and groups excite Dalton the most from this year’s line-up, he quickly points to Hed Pe. “I was a huge fan as a teenage and was asked to help them record their new record, Evolution, which is coming out on July 22nd. They’ve become good friends and they pair well with our pal Sid, the DJ of Slipknot who is also performing. There’s a little bit of hip-hop threaded into this year’s event and I could literally go down the list of ALL the bands and tell something that excites me about each one of them:  Nothing More, Saint Ridley, Sydetrakt, Murder FM, Nuisance, It Lies Within, Through The Ashes… the list goes on and on of amazing talent that we are all proud to put on stage in front of thousands of fans.”

With crowds increasing each year, does Matt foresee a time when Dirt Fest might expand into a multiple day festival or each a tipping point where they outgrow their current venue?

“We absolutely love the village of Birch Run and our friends at The Birch Run Expo Center, and we have definitely talked about expanding to multiple days. Our goal with Dirt Fest has never been to expand for the sake of “getting bigger”, but only to make a better event for the people who attend. So with that said, the future could hold anything for Dirt Fest, but we are very happy with the event as it is now.”

Of course, watching an event succeed and grow to the levels that Dirt Fest has over the years does not come without an investment of personal sacrifice. “It is very stressful to pull everything together,” comments Dalton, “and it would be impossible without the support of family and friends. My brother and partner Andy Dalton is a major glue to the backbone of Dirt Fest and our entire family helps with the events. Our friends pitch in as well. It feels good to know that this is something that people look forward to every year and that we’ve been able to evolve and stay relevant with the changing times.”

As we wind down our conversation, I’m curious what Matt feels is his own most memorable Dirt Fest experience over the past sixteen years that best sums up all the elements of commitment and emotion involved.  “To date, my most memorable experience starts off on somewhat of a bad note.”

“In 2007, a girl near the pit was knocked unconscious and rushed away,” he explains.  “She received extremely wonderful medical care from both our EMS and the Ambulance crew, and it was then discovered while examining her injury that she had a pre-existing life-threatening condition that she was previously unaware of. To this day, she is now one of my best friends, and we still joke about how Dirt Fest actually saved her life!”

Tickets for Dirt Fest 2014 are still available by going to or visiting any Electric Chair Tattoo location. Dirt Fest is an All Ages show and happens rain or shine. Tickets are $35 in advance and $45 the day of the show.


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