When was the last time that you traveled to attend a two-day festival experience? For me, it’s been a few years. The same was true for John Cimperman, owner of 42 North Brewing Company, when he attended the Pilgrimage Festival in Franklin TN, near Nashville a few years back. He came away with a feeling that the residents of Franklin, and surrounding towns, had something special that just wasn’t found in Buffalo. At the time, the closest thing of that nature was the Mountain Jam in the Hudson Valley. Not that Cimperman was a festival organizer, but he was good at starting things, and he did know a good thing when he sees one. That’s why, when he first paid a visit Knox Farm State Park in East Aurora, a vision flashed before his eyes – he saw the beautiful landscape and rolling hills… similar to that of the Pilgrimage Festival… right in front of him. But this park was in his hometown.
Before he knew it, Cimperman was on the horn looking for someone that knew a thing or two about festivals. He found that talent in Jennifer Brazill who was originally from East Aurora, and had just moved back home. While away, she worked for the Dave Matthew Bands, and ran a music festival in Steamboat Springs, among other ventures. With Brazill in place, the 2018 Borderland Music + Art Festival was born.
According to Cimperman, no one could have guessed that 10,000 festival-goers were going to show up the first year. “30% of our ticket buyers were not from Buffalo,” he told me. “If we do our job, they will all fall in love with Buffalo. This is not an East Aurora festival, this is a Buffalo festival that highlights all of the great things about this area, from the craft beers to food to the artists. It’s called Borderland because of our proximity to Canada – we’re on the border, which should be celebrated.”
While Cimperman might beat a pretty loud Buffalo drum, you might find it surprising that he’s from Cleveland. He’s a marketing guy who once worked for the LA Kings, and then came to Buffalo to work for the Sabres (that was the “No Goal” year). He continued his marketing practice in Buffalo, opened the brewery around three and a half years ago, and now his heart is set on growing Borderland to a 20,000 ticketed festival in 2019. “People aren’t buying things as much as they used to,” explained Cimperman. “Instead, they buy experiences. I’ve put on 1000 hockey games in my life, and while the music festival is a lot more to worry about, it’s also the most rewarding experience. Last year, after the festival, people told me that it was a spiritual experience. They ate great food, met local artists, drank a ton of craft beer, and listened to an incredible music line-up over the course of two days.”
According to Cimperman, the first year was the toughest. They had to prove to the Knox Farm State Park that they would be responsible, and would leave the grounds better than they found them. They literally had to build the festival grounds, including 10 acres of temporary fencing. In the end, they had multiple stages and a range of regional and national music acts. This year, there will be 7 local breweries, 6 local restaurants serving farm to table foods, and 24 bands with 1/3 regional acts.
Cimperman also says that the festival is super green, which is thanks to the eco sensibilities of Brazill. “She’s greener than Kermit the Frog,” he said [laughing]. “This is a 100 % plastic free event! We have waste management, composting, and a Green Team dedicated to keeping the festival grounds clean, while promoting sustainability.”
It’s interesting to note that some of the most flattering press that Borderland has mustered comes from national media airways. There is a big buzz surrounding this festival, and word of mouth is traveling fast to people who look for these types of events to attend, near and far.
When I asked Cimperman what he was most excited about for this year’s festival, he said “I’m pumped to see Mavis Staples. I saw her at the Pilgrimage Festival when she was only 77 years old at that time. Mavis is hot – Ben Harper just produced her new album – she’s everywhere these days. She has a storied history that is unlike anyone else in the music business. I’m also excited to have our first distilleries at the event – Lockhouse Distillery and Buffalo Distilling. This is a family friendly event, which means that while people are enjoying some drinks – they are also very responsible because of the different age brackets that attend. It’s a two-day festival, and attendees can come and go as they please throughout the weekend. You can either buy a ticket for one day, or a ticket for the whole weekend.”
We’re lucky that Cimperman calls Buffalo home. He says that he could have gone anywhere, but he fell in love with Buffalo and never wants to leave. Instead, he is building the city and the region up, in ways that is hard to measure. But if you attended the 2018 festival, it was an unforgettable festival experience that you will carry with you throughout your life. To Cimperman, that’s the biggest reward for doing what he does – he wants people to fall in love with the festival, and the city that he emphatically calls home.
To learn more about Borderland, and to purchase tickets, click here.