Fortress Blends Art with Music Like No Other Festival

Article by: Andy McErlean|@_mcerlean

Wed April 26, 2017 | 14:20 PM

Imagine strolling from a Roy Lichtenstein print, to ancient Greek pottery, then a sublime Ansel Adams photograph of the American West while catching the grooves of soulful R&B from Nathaniel Rateliffe And The Night Sweats, or the dream pop melodies from Slowdive along the way.

Enter: Fortress Festival. Set for its debut this weekend, April 29-30, in Fort Worth, Texas. Set in the city's cultural district, Fortress will bring a new approach to combining music and art in the festival scene. By teaming up with the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth , the Kimbell Art Museum and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fortress marries Forth Worth's venerable museums with a wide array music superstars. The vision, according to co-founder Ramtin Nikzad, is that attendees will be able to seamlessly flow between music and art; the proximity of the festival to the museums allows for an easy walk from stage to stage and gallery to gallery.

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A gallery in the Modern Museum of Fort Worth. Photo by: Fortress Festival

The fusion of art and music into one unified experience is critical to the festival ethos. So many festivals celebrate art with onsite works, but few (if any) bring the music to the art – and even fewer music festivals incorporate museums into their stages and grounds.

“From the very beginning, when we decided to do this, our first choice was doing it in the cultural district, and working with the Modern,” he explained. “In addition to the Modern, you have the Amon Carter and the Kimbell there so people can even come in early and walk around that whole area, go into any of those galleries and then come into the festival. The Modern is even open to passholders after hours so people can go from the stage to walking into the galleries.”

Attendee wristbands double as tickets into the hundreds of works the museums have to offer. When attendees need a break, they can take in the linear neon work of Dan Flavin at the Modern or walk along the rainbow gradients of thread artist Gabriel Dawe at the Amon Carter. Then, it’s easy to step right outside to catch the lax vibes of Flying Lotus or the mesmerizing beats of Purity Ring.

The crown jewel of the festival's mix of art and music is the Modern Stage, which will be perched atop the reflecting pond by the Modern Art Museum.

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Image of the reflection pool at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Photo by: Fortress Festival

“The stage will be set on top of the pond with people gathering around the lawn facing the building itself," said Nikzad. "I think it really does affect the vibe or the aesthetic."

The backdrop of glistening water against the sleek architecture of the museum will offer more than your typical stage in a field. The acoustics and light show against the water and huge museum windows will undoubtedly be dazzling. To add to the experience, Fortress Festival will have daily yoga on the sloping, grass lawn overlooking the stage so that attendees can downward dog their way to good vibes.

The joining of music and art had always been a part of the long-term plan for founders Nikzad and Alex Jhangiani. During their stint running the Lonestar Film Festival, they noticed a shifting landscape. There was a greater need for immersed experiences. The duo saw a future in the fusion of music and art and thus adjusted their sights. “The whole time while we were working on the film festivals, we always wanted to do something with music,” Nikzad recalled.

“There is still absolutely a need for film festivals, but more and more people are watching Netflix on their big TVs at home. With music it’s kind of the same thing but to an opposite effect. You also have an abundance of music that’s available for next to nothing. At the same time, people are discovering all this new music but the emphasis now is on the live experience.”

With that realization, the duo set out to create what came to be Fortress Festival. Any new festival concept comes with the toils of designing a brand, negotiating location, permits, staffing, lineups and all of the other behind the scenes necessities attendees rarely think about. Many succumb to the mountain of tasks facing them. The Fortress team, however, reveled in it. Nikzad wasn’t the least bit phased by the daunting task of starting a new festival. Though the stress levels and uncertainty ran high, he recalled: “Every step of the way was very exciting for us.” This passion is what’s setting up Fortress to exceed expectations in its first year.

Many festivals incorporate music and art into their experience. Day For Night in Houston brings stellar light installations to its musical lineup. SXSW melds in tech and film. BUKU Music + Art Project delights with its live graffiti backdropped by the Mississippi River. Fortress Festival iterates with intimate gallery experiences across a multitude of centuries and styles of museum-caliber art while providing big-name acts like Run The Jewels and Purity Ring in a unique setting. Luckily for attendees, Fortress plans to foster the art and music experience for years to come. “We really saw that as part of something we want to grow year after year,” said Nikzad.