Fest411: Hawthorne Heights’ Multi-Venue ‘Is For Lovers’ Festival Pokes Fun At Emo, Embraces Millennial Nostalgia

The artist-curated festival has taken many forms in recent years, from Post Malone’s stadium-headlining indoor-outdoor affair known as Posty Fest to the Brandi Carlile-topped Girls Just Wanna Weekend island destination getaway. Yet, Hawthorne Heights’ multi-city Is For Lovers Festival has found a way to still stand out.

“The point is to try to take this genre of music into as many unique places as we can,” says JT Woodruff, frontman of the unabashedly emo band Hawthorne Heights.  With the festival’s name coming from the Dayton, Ohio, band’s 2004 hit, “Ohio Is For Lovers,” Hawthorne Heights is wearing its guyliner on its sleeve as presenting curator for each stop on the traveling festival, which this year takes in 10 cities after just three dates last year.  

Taking in major venues of multiple types across the U.S., from Fiddler’s Green in Colorado to The Caverns in Tennessee, Woodruff says the festival is a celebration of sorts. 

“When we all started these bands, we were all playing rental halls and basements, any show we could by any means necessary,” he said. “I think it’s wonderful and pure to try to do this in wild locations now. We never thought we’d get in any of these places, and now we’re doing it in the far reaches of the world.”

The lineup and location vary by night, with artists including Alkaline Trio, Jimmy Eat World, The Story So Far, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Plain White T’s, Thrice, Sleeping With Sirens, Underoath, Rise Against and more, with Utah Is For Lovers taking place last Friday at Granary Live.

“We always say that being in a band is sometimes the extraordinary feels ordinary because you’re just used to doing it, but this feels special, in that we get to take out the bands, hang out with friends and also try to play with some people that we just consider legends in the scene and genre,” Woodruff says. “Anytime you can have Jimmy Eat World on your call sheet, that’s a very good time for us. We’re in emo heaven right now.”

With different bands, venues and promoters involved in each show, Woodruff says the goal is to make each gig work for everyone as fairly and seamlessly as possible. 

“The band is in every conversation from moment one to settlement,” he says, crediting independent agent Ben Mench-Thurlow.  Promoters vary as well, with indies as well as corporate partners involved depending on the show. “We’re really hands-on, so we need a team that is OK with that and enjoys it and doesn’t feel like we’re too heavy-handed,” Woodruff said. “We want the promoter to have as much fun as we do, and we want the balance sheet to end up as close as we can for all parties involved.”

Capacity at the events also varies, with Hawai’i doing 3,000 tickets “which is beyond our wildest dreams,” and last year’s homecoming Ohio show doing about 7,000 tickets. He says Iowa is likely to sell out, with Orange County being strong and “the Rave In The Cave” looking to be particularly fun.

“Everything’s really positive, and all the promoters are happy, so we have no complaints right now,” Woodruff said. “Our tickets are trending up. I know that that’s a very business answer for you, which is not very punk rock of me and not very emo singer of me.” 

Hawthorne Heights is led by singer JT Woodruff, a creative force behind the multi-city “Is For Lovers” festival. Photo by Courtney Kiara

VIP and other experiences include coffee and donuts with Hawthorne Heights, with activations including “Dunk A Punk” dunk tank involving band members and  a “MySpace Your Face” photo opp and trip down memory lane back to early 2000s social media. 

“If you can’t look back on things fondly and just kind of poke fun at yourself a little bit, then maybe you’re taking this too seriously. We try not to take it too seriously because we’re all living bonus life right now,” he says. “You always have the joke that your mom said it was a phase. That’s funny to say, but a phase lasting 20 years is pretty incredible, right?”   

As for future festival plans, Woodruff says the goal is “ride the rocket until we fall down,” with some international dates in the works.  Woodruff considers himself fortunate to be heavily involved in putting together the shows from top to bottom, getting to include his family and 15-year-old daughter as well.  

He says it’s a credit to the fans who still love the music and have made it possible for the band to continue into its third decade. 

“Let’s try and do as many of these as we can and prove that we can do it, prove that this music scene is as strong as it’s ever been and try to get as many people that look and sound different all in one location together and show that we’re all kind of the same when you think about it,” he said, “We’re having a blast and we’re going to try and grow it until we can’t grow it anymore.”