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Thursday, March 2, 2017 12:07 am

SOHO no mo?

Festival founder Eric Welch calls it quits

SOHO Music Festival


After 12 years of directing and coordinating the SOHO Music Festival, founder Eric Welch is stepping away. “I’ve come to the realization that I can’t do it one more year,” Welch said. “It was a difficult decision to make – but I just don’t have the energy for it anymore.”

SOHO (an acronym for Service Organization for Humanitarian Opportunity),  which began in 2004, grew out of Welch’s longstanding desire to raise money for local charities as well as provide a showcase for Springfield’s music scene. Each year, SOHO grew in attendance, from 1,000 people the first year to 16,000 in 2016. During that time, the festival expanded to include a concurrent 10K race and a disc (read Frisbee) golf tournament. Over its 12-year history, Welch reports bringing in “upwards of $150,000 for various local charities,” with over $31,000 raised last year alone.

Welch has been mulling letting SOHO go for the past three years and the inner circle of the festival had already been warned. “I’ve let everybody know that I’m getting tired – I am so utterly consumed with it, it affects every aspect of my life.”

The responsibilities of coordinating all of the various aspects of the physical festival (including insurance, permits and other legal necessities) along with doing all the graphic design and running the website, distributing flyers and making sure that his volunteer staff had the support it needed, gradually took its toll on Welch. He described a grueling schedule which found him spending the months between January and June each year working 60 hours per week on SOHO in addition to his 40-hour day job as a revenue tax specialist with the state. “I haven’t taken a vacation in 12 years – I’ve had to use up all my time off to do SOHO. It was a compromise I was willing to make and I did it for a long time.”

Welch had initially intended to have 2017 be the final year of the festival. “The time came for our first big steering committee meeting of the year – I’d set up this big presentation to start the season off and get people organized – I starting having a lot of anxiety about it.” The prospect of another cycle of SOHO turned out to be more than Welch could deal with and he started dreading the very thing he used to relish. “Aside from the money we raised for the charities, it really amounted to doing all that work for two days of enjoyment, so people could come downtown and just have fun.  And honestly, when I rolled into SOHO the last three years, I didn’t even enjoy myself. I was so exhausted and depleted.”

There is a chance that someone else will pick up the SOHO mantle, but Welch is somewhat dubious, though he has pledged his support should any of his former directors decide to step in. “I really hope that something can develop in its stead. I’m just afraid they might not understand that there’s a big difference between handling one aspect of a festival and coordinating them all together. That’s what did me in.” Welch described the fact that the SOHO staff was all-volunteer as having both advantages and disadvantages. “They are passionate but at the same time, it’s not their day job so you can’t throw down the hammer, like ‘you’re gonna get fired if you can’t get along with this other person.’ Sometimes I felt like a hostage negotiator.”

He also hopes that if something like SOHO happens again, that the city and local businesses will be more supportive. “They should let these things grow because the culture of the city depends on it. It costs a lot of money and it takes a lot of effort and it can take the wind out of your sails if you’re fighting the government and jumping through every hoop they can put in your way.”

Still, SOHO has defined Welch’s existence for over a decade and leaving it behind is not an easy thing to face. “I loved doing it – all the people who came out, all the volunteers, all the friends I made, having an opportunity to make some sort of impact on the local music scene –  I’m gonna miss all of that and I feel remorse about anybody being let down.”

Contact Scott Faingold at sfaingold@illinoistimes.com.

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