Following weeks of anticipation fueled by numerous promotional social media posts, the inaugural Athens Happens Festival took place Thursday at the Athens County Fairgrounds.
It didn’t meet expectations.
The festival, organized by 68N.tertainment, a local promotion company, began at 3 p.m. and featured several local and national musical artists, including Athens-based DJ Scalf and nationally famous rapper Rob $tone. The first act, DJ Smothers, began performing around 3:45 p.m. and was met with a crowd of about 20 people.
As the festival progressed, more people shuffled in, though the size of the audience wasn’t up to the standards of those at the festival.
Lauren Tullos, a junior studying interior architecture and design at Ohio University, said she came to the festival because it was the first one held in Athens in a while and she wanted to support it. She arrived at the festival around 4:50 p.m., while musical artist Masai was performing onstage.
“Right now, I don’t know, I’m hoping for more,” Tullos said, motioning to the crowd. “I’m hoping for better. I’m hoping it gets a little more bumping later.”
Madison Saunders, a sophomore studying child and family studies, agreed with Tullos and said she thought the event would be bigger. She also thought it wasn’t advertised very much, and said some of her friends had no idea about the festival.
The size of the crowd didn’t stop those at the festival from having fun, however. Andrew Magoteaux, a 2022 OU graduate, said he thought turnout at the festival would be bigger because he was enjoying the music and the atmosphere. For Magoteaux, the spirit of the Athens Happens Festival was reminiscent of Numbers Fest, an annual music festival that began around 2004 and lasted until 2020, according to a previous Post report.
The CEO of 68N.tertainment, Hunter Antritt, said the small crowd size might have been due to the unfortunate timing of the event, which took place during finals week, the last week before graduation. Antritt said he planned for the festival to be held during that time because he wanted to provide students at OU an opportunity to finish the semester on a high note, though the idea may have ended up working against him.
Antritt said the festival sold around 300 presale tickets, which were priced at $35 per ticket. Around the time the festival began, tickets were reduced to $20 per ticket, with $15 refunds offered to those who had already purchased presale tickets. Antritt said he was unsure of how many tickets were sold at the door and that he would be happy with 1,000 tickets sold.
Despite Antritt’s goal, original estimates for the size of the crowd at the festival may have been much higher. Aaron Maynard, captain at the Athens County Sheriff’s Office, which Antritt hired on “special duty” as external security for the festival, said those in charge of the festival advised the sheriff’s office that the crowd could grow to as many as 2,000 to 3,000 people.
Maynard said the turnout was much lower than those estimates and that the sheriff’s office had received no complaints in regards to the festival as of 6:40 p.m.
Though disappointed with the festival’s turnout, Antritt said he recognized the reality of the difficulty and complexity of creating a brand new music festival in Athens, or anywhere, and left open the possibility of future festivals. He also said he could use the first Athens Happens Festival as a learning opportunity moving forward.
“I think I'm definitely being a little pessimistic and down on myself,” Antritt said. “Tonight, I’m going to have fun. We have celebrities in Athens performing live — I’m going to enjoy it, going to remember it forever. If this is the last concert I do, I’ll remember it forever, and I’ll learn from it.”