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The Return of So What?! Music Festival: An Interview with Mike Ziemer

With decades of experience in local music management and event coordination, Mike Ziemer is the mind behind the only music festival to include and promote Dallas-based artists.
Courtesy of Mike Ziemer

After more than a year of COVID-related cancellations, music festivals finally return to Dallas. On February 15, So What?! Music Festival announced its lineup of participating artists for this year’s three-day festival at Choctaw Stadium in Arlington. Among the roster of entertainers are festival regulars, 2 Chainz, Tyga, Rae Sremmurd, and Trippie Reed, to name a few. But, the real surprise was the abundance of Dallas-based musicians, like Bobby Sessions, Yak The Mack, 10K.Caash, and The Crown, TX.

The festival, formerly known as South By So What?!, is the brainchild of promoter-turned-marketing-and-music entrepreneur Mike Ziemer and his business partner, Orlando Mendoza. Since 2008, the festival’s launch date, Ziemer has viewed it as an opportunity for local artists to shine on the festival stage. In fact, Ziemer is still in the process of fulfilling spots for local Dallas-Fort. Worth rappers to perform at this year’s festivities.

Ziemer spoke to D Magazine about how local artists can snag those coveted spots and his fierce advocacy for Dallas music.

The interview has been edited for clarity.

D Magazine: Last year, I covered JMBLYA and Posty Fest, two music festivals that were supposed to happen, but were canceled because of rising COVID-19 cases. When I saw the So What?! music festival announcement, I was excited for two reasons. First, because of the multi-genres on the lineup, and underrated legends like Big K.R.I.T. Second, the additions of local musicians on the lineup.

Mike Ziemer: Yeah. We are adding more locals as well. We have contacted a lot of them, but at the moment, they do not have agents or managers. So, we are contacting them though social media platforms, like Instagram.

Earlier this week, I saw your tweet, “So far we got @bobbysessions @TheCrownTX @GUNMUSIC40 @IamYChibi @YakTheMack @astrusss @10k_cash @OODAREDEVIL for local DFW rappers. Who are we missing? We got a few more spots for LOCAL DFW acts. We aren’t selling spots either, this is paid.” Could you tell me more about rationale behind that?

We still have opening slots for hip-hop. I am really looking for Dallas-Fort Worth artists that we can put on the festival stage. Since the start of So What?!, it has been super important for us to have local artists and bands on the festival lineup. When we started on this year’s festival, we had obvious choices, like Bobby Sessions, who we booked for a previous edition of the festival. There is so much talent in Dallas. The goal of the festival is to get all these Dallas artists who may not usually play together, but have them on a singular festival lineup. We enjoy giving Dallas artists a chance to shine.

What I liked about the artists featured on the lineup is you have Bobby Sessions, you have Yak The Mack, and you have 10k.Caash. Can you walk me through that selection process of making sure you have the Grammy award winner next to a viral sensation profiled by The New York Times?

As far as Bobby [Sessions], we worked with him before when we did a Deep Ellum version of the festival. We definitely wanted to put him on the same days as 2 Chainz, Big K.R.I.T., and Waka Flocka Flame, to give him a main-stage opportunity. I met 10k.Caash when he used to record at my studio. Then, with Yak The Mack, we had him open for K Camp at Trees and were really impressed. The selection process is basically how can artists get our attention? Whether it is their social media presence, really good music, the extra effort they put into music videos, or seeing the name on a bunch of flyers or media coverage by Central Track or D Magazine. We try to pay attention to everything on the local scale and see what we can lock in.

This reminded me of the local musicians who opened up for Westside Gunn and Smoke DZA at Trees. DJ Kimblee had P$O Kwama, Graham Malice, Devy $tonez, and more on the lineup. Last summer, Coach Tev and Devy $tonez sold out Ruins. I see a trend for professionals in the concert promotion field, using big names to draw out the crowd, but selecting local artists to be the opening act.

In 2020, artists released a lot of music, but there was not a lot of shows for them to perform at. In response, I made a playlist called Dallas Sounds 2020. I put Pretty Boy Aaron, Devy $tonez, Rikki Blue, Pat Ron, Yella Beezy, Bobby Sessions, Graham Malice. I put all these artists on that were being creative during the pandemic, and said, “I’m going to keep an eye on these artists to see what happens to them coming out of the pandemic. Are they going to be playing shows? Are they going to continue releasing music?” It makes you realize how much talent is here in Dallas and deserves exposure.

When I think about exposure, specifically the last 12 to 24 months, it has been great for Dallas hip-hop. Erica Banks, Tay Money, and Kaash Paige have received coverage in national publications, performed at major events like Art Basel and NBA games, and dominated TikTok. I think the pandemic allowed from music from smaller markets to pop up. Also, the Dallas scene is so intimate. On Twitter, I saw every local musician shout out their friends for one of those remaining opening slots. Are you going to be considering those shout outs in your selection process? Is the selection going to be more organic?

I do see everything. I notice the tags and support for a lot of different artists. We are going to try to add as many as we can. We are working on pre-parties, after events, and related events. This year, we want to be able to do it bigger, so we can include more artists. If you are an artist, I would keep me updated. Keep sending me your new releases, keep sending me music videos, send me live footage from your shows. That’s the stuff I like to see. A lot of artists are doing it right now. Yeah, I mean, I’m just I’m everyone you mentioned is like already on my radar. And I don’t know if they like know or understand that yet. But like, I do see everything and like I do. Notice all the tags and like all the support for a lot of different artists and home primers. We’re gonna try to add as many as we can. And we’re working on pre parties and after parties and other events. And, you know, whatever we do this year, we want to be able to do it even bigger next year and include more and more people. So I would just say like, as annoying as it can be sometimes like just keep keep me updated. Like if you’re an artist, like keep sending me your new releases. Keep sending me the music video you just put out show me that live footage from your show.


Taylor Crumpton

Taylor Crumpton

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Taylor Crumpton is the former online arts editor for FrontRow, D Magazine’s arts and entertainment blog. She is a proud…

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