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How TBD Festival Went From a One Day Hotel Party to Sacramento’s Creative Epicenter

Before heading out west for the THUMP Presented festival, we caught up with founder Michael Hargis to hear about how it all came to be.

California's capital of Sacramento tends to get a lot less attention than San Francisco and Los Angeles—at least as far as the state's musical and cultural life is concerned. Perhaps that's why TBD Festival, a three-day meeting ground of art, design, and sound, is shaping up to be quite the cinderella story. This year's event is taking place September 18-20, right next to the city's Tower Bridge, and it's slated to feature headliners like Pretty Lights, Chromeo, Tyler the Creator and Tycho, among other indie-leaning acts from California and beyond.

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THUMP's proud to officially be presenting the festival and its totally badass lineup, and before we make our way out west, we thought we'd catch up with festival co-founder Michael Hargis to find out how TBD evolved from a quaint hotel party to one of the West Coast's biggest dance parties.

Hargis, a Sacramento native, founded TBD with his business partner Clay Nutting in 2012. Before that, he'd cut his teeth as a promoter in the mid '90s with Planet Rock, an Afrika Bambaataa-inspired Bay Area party that showcased rap music with an electronic edge. Teaming up with AM Only founder Paul Morris, who had only just started his own agency, and forming a chance kinship with house icon (and his next door neighbor) DJ Dan, he began fine-tuning his party-throwing chops. Within three years of Planet Rock's start, Hargis was showcasing legends like De La Soul and Grandmaster Flash to upwards of 15,000 attendees. He also helped launch one of the first nation-roving DJ tours, Big Top, which sent '90s dance legends like Moby, LTJ Bukem, and BT everywhere from Boston to Los Angeles. "I was always good at gathering people," Hargis says.

Micael Hargis (left), and Clay Nutting (right), TBD's founders. Photo via Sacbee.com

After finding success as an event organizer, Hargis began feeling the stress of juggling multiple events nationwide, and decided to move back to Sacramento, where he zeroed in on some of his other passions, like architectural design, while immersing himself in a blossoming community of design-centric artists in the city. After attending his first Coachella, he became further intrigued by the idea of combining indie-leaning dance acts with art installations in a festival setting, and launched TBD's first incarnation in 2007, which was called Launch.

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"It was a kind of avant-garde, runway fashion show-meets-music concert-meets art party," Hargis remembers. Launch's early years began at the city's Green Hotel courtyard, with Sacramento natives like Tycho and !!! (Chk Chk Chk); over time, the festival grew to encompass acts like Chromeo, DJ Shadow, Future Islands, Imagine Dragons, and Girl Talk, and Hargis and Nutting started thinking about going bigger. "We went to the governor and explained how much was left to be determined—so why cap what we can do? That's why we decided to call it TBD Fest," Hargis explains. "We wanted to express the emerging culture in Sacramento; everything was coming alive here." Shortly after adopting their new moniker, they broke out with their biggest year yet, with Blondie, Justice, Moby, and Empire of The Sun occupying the top tier of the party's lineup.

Launch festival in 2013. Photo via Honey Agency.

"I think we have a community that's hungry for something," Hargis says of the city he calls home. "For so many years, we just delivered the status quo—obviously we have a community of people that travel, are connected to the internet, and breed the arts. This year, with a theme of "social beauty," TBD made a call to artists, both locals and travelers alike, to contribute sculptures, artist posters, as well as interactive light, video, and performance environments, in hope to institute near Burning Man-style of expression throughout a city that's for long struggled to showcase its creative potential. "Our inspiration has always been to do something that's relevant, and the city has really rallied behind that. They're hungry for something real and authentic," Hargis says.

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As Hargis explains it, now that San Francisco is experiencing an overload of tech-crazy yuppies, many of the state's creatives are migrating to other Bay Area cities like Oakland and Sacramento, creating an emerging class of artists in his native city, many of which contribute to the festival's artisinal village of clothing, installations, and mouthwatering eats. But even with growing support from the mayor and interested residents, in a state as crowded with festivals as California, getting the acts they want hasn't always been an easy task for Hargis and his team. Having an ear to the ground on emerging talent, as well as a dedicated, hard-working team of employees, helps them get the job done. "We've taken some capital losses over the years and it's fine with us," says Hargis. "Not many of us are always getting paid, but we're doing this because we believe in it, and that's what you have to do to reach critical mass."

TBD's 2015 headliners.

While TBD's upcoming 2015 edition promises to be their biggest year yet, their path towards becoming a concrete tentpole in the industry, as well as California's crowded festival real estate, revolves around tireless attention to detail, and a knack for knowing what's about to break. "I think we have to be one step ahead of the game. We're building a market here in Sacramento, so we really are making sure we're telling our story correctly. We always look at what's inspiring us.

"In the end though, it's a big ass party," Hargis admits.

Connect with TBD Festival David Garber is on Twitter