Middle Waves Music Festival Returns with New Leadership and Plans for a Long-lasting Legacy

There’s nothing quite like experiencing live music in a setting with thousands of neighbors and fellow fans. While some music festivals might require a plane ticket or a camping tent, for Fort Wayne residents, the experience is right in their backyard. Or rather, in their ballpark at Parkview Field.

Middle Waves Music Festival is returning on Saturday, June 15 from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. at Parkview Field in Fort Wayne.

The local festival has been around since 2016, bringing indie rock groups to the downtown area. In previous years, the two-day, all-ages festival has had great artists perform ‘before they hit it big,’ including Lizzo in 2018. Last year, the Embassy Theatre officially acquired the festival, taking over the programming, planning, and execution of the music event.

Carly Myers is the chief marketing officer at the Embassy Theatre, handling promotions, marketing, public relations and brand awareness for the historic theater. She says the festival has a notable history, even before its recent connection with the theater.

“The Middle Waves Music Festival was created by a group of very passionate music people that wanted us to have a music festival in Fort Wayne,” she says. “They ran it and did a really good job with it, and then the pandemic hit, which affected everything. They brought it back in 2022, and at the end of that run, decided it was a huge undertaking. The festival business is not for the faint of heart, it requires a lot of money and a lot of business acumen– it’s really a full-time job.”

The volunteer-driven organization was feeling a little burnt out and started looking for outside help to bring the festival into its next era.

“That’s when they started talking to us,” Myers says. “Then we agreed that it fit our mission and our own strategy to grow our audience and have a definite part in becoming a music city, which is a bigger, broader community and economic plan. We decided to go ahead and financially acquire the festival, and we did so last summer.”

Because of the leadership change, Middle Waves was on a sort of hiatus last year. Instead, the Embassy team put together Ripple, a smaller music event meant to show the passing of the baton from the original organization to the Embassy Theatre.

The festival itself is branded to give a nod to the city’s location in the middle of the country and a community at the intersection of rivers. It’s vibrant, fresh branding that uniques a younger crowd of visitors, says Myers.

“Having a festival like this appeals to people from 20 to mid-50s,” Myers says. “We’re hoping to get a younger demographic here that really is interested in embracing a festival on their home turf. We want to make sure people don’t have to drive to Indy, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland.”

It’s that same ‘home turf’ stakeholders hope to make even more green with economic dollars spent in the performing arts industries. Myers shares that the Community Research Institute at Purdue Fort Wayne conducted an economic impact study in 2023, examining the calendar years of 2018 through 2022.

“It revealed the impact of the Embassy Theatre operations and our activities and how it affects various Allen County business entities,” Myers says. “It estimated that the impact that we have is $9.9-10.3 million, compared to the last study where it was only $5.9 million, so our annual impact has increased hugely over just a short period of time.”

Often, a visit to town for a show at The Embassy is more than just one outing– it’s a night out with a stop nearby for dinner or drinks, a stay at a local hotel or unique Airbnb, wandering of nearby museums, and exploring the downtown area. Myers hopes the legacies of the festival and theatre can continue to increase tourism and drive economic growth to the area.

“We know that what we do already affects our tourism and the local support of things. It all adds up,” she says. “We know that our support helps with the rest of the economic development and the impact downtown. We expect that having a festival, especially over time like this, will have a significant impact on this community and bring people in from all over.”

In the meantime, the folks working hard behind the scenes are being realistic with their expectations. While the sky’s the limit and they do have big ideas for the festival’s future, the timeline is not to be fuddled.

“Instead of jumping in and creating a festival that is going to bankrupt you, or going to be hard to grow over time in an incremental, sustainable way, we wanted to have a one-day festival this year,” she says.

While it might seem like a significant change, Myers warns this is a step in the right direction. Organizers are thinking long-term and focused on creating a sustainable model of growth.

“We’re very comfortable sharing this because this is important for the community to understand,” she says. “We are actually taking a $100,000 loss on this event starting year one. This is something we’re buying into for the long haul, and our board of directors have bought into the loss as well, knowing that we’re taking it on to build it.”

While attendance has fluctuated over the years, ranging from 1,500 to 5,000 festivalgoers, Myers says they hope to have 800 to 1,000 fans enjoying the music this year. Their intention is to focus on getting local residents to embrace the event. then, within the next few years, they can focus on attracting visitors from other major cities, drawing tourism in too.

Festival goers explore vendors along the concourse at Parkview Field.This year’s concourse stage is sponsored by MidWest America Federal Credit Union and includes live music from Alvvays, Houndmouth, Pom Pom Squad, Murder by Death, and Overlook. Four different zones invite patrons to participate in live art, music and creativity, play games, and shop local vendors.

Around the concourse, guests can enjoy temporary tattoos, glitter stations, and flower crowns as part of the immersive festival experience. The gates open at 3 p.m. and music runs until 11 p.m., with DJ sets from DJ Double K in between the bands.

Event organizers and fellow Fort Wayne stakeholders don’t plan for the festival’s fun to stop there though.

Over at The Porch Off Calhoun, After Waves, the afterparty for Middle Waves will provide a “rave type of vibe” free to the public from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. with DJ J. Tubbs.

Tamara Cummins, the events and programs manager for Downtown Fort Wayne, says they’re excited to be a sponsor of Middle Waves and host the after-party.

Cummins says she hopes the After Waves party can showcase the recently opened Downtown DORA areas for patrons to enjoy beverages, explore the activation zones, and patronize local businesses.

“The afterparty gives us an opportunity to show them what our nightlife has become because in the past couple of years, it has expounded,” Cummins explains. “With the addition of DORA, we are able to offer some new and unique perspectives and different locations downtown.”

Cummins believes events like this will help further develop the city’s nightlife and a vibrant downtown area.

“When we have the opportunity to host festivals, it really gives people who may not have had any exposure to Fort Wayne, it gives them an idea of what kinds of businesses, activities and opportunities we have here in our town,” she says. “It brings a lot of exposure to us beyond a festival, and has the ability to create more than just one visit.”

If all goes according to plan, the Middle Waves Music Festival brand can be leveraged to increase the number of events and programming, tourism, placemaking, and further economic development in the long run.

“We’re looking forward to having a legacy of a great music festival that we’ll grow over time,” Myers says. “We’ll become a huge destination for people visiting our city, and in 10 or 20 years, people are going to think of Middle Waves way outside of Fort Wayne. It will be a destination.”

Photos Courtesy of Embassy Theatre

This feature is by Sarah Spohn. This story is made possible by support from Downtown Fort Wayne in partnership with Input Fort Wayne.