How do you build a music festival in your family’s backyard?
First, don’t tell your parents.
For the last 10 years, Southwest Suburban Hickory Hills musician, producer, videographer and podcaster Ben Arguelles has been working to grow DZ Fest from a small DIY event to the two-day backyard behemoth it is today.
“I’ve always been obsessed with sound and music and audio production. I also love going to shows and live music,” Arguelles said. “The whole umbrella of sound, music, performance, art, creativity. I love it all.
“I was going to Lollapalooza when I was 17 or 18, Pitchfork, things like that. And I loved the idea of having a big music event. But I was a teenager, so I didn’t really know how that’s possible. There’s no rule book for how to start your own suburban DIY scene.”
Arguelles’ 1-acre backyard has been no stranger to music events through the years, even back when it belonged to his parents. The DZ clubhouse he built when he was 15 was a second home to friends, artists, his early bands and eventually the start of his recording studio. And as he got older, Arguelles said his parents would visit his out-of-town grandparents during the summer, leaving him to his own devices.
“I would start doing things like building more stuff or having events. I started having house shows in the garage, and I would loosely tell them about it,” he joked about keeping the fest’s roots under the radar initially.
When he was 22, Arguelles officially launched DZ Fest with 7 bands and a handful of friends helping out. This weekend the DIY gathering celebrates its ninth year with 40 acts on two stages and just under 50 volunteers planning to make sure the event runs smoothly.
Now teaching sound design, studio arts and music business in the creative technologies department at Illinois State University, the Columbia College grad has grown his DZ Records studio brand to include his monthly (pre-COVID) “An Intimate Evening with DZ Records” house shows, video production work and the “Bending Brains” podcast, all of which has expanded his access to more musicians and artists from Chicago and across the nation.
“By doing all those things, you open up this massive funnel to capture anything that falls through it,” he said, adding that a lot of video and studio sessions have also served as private tryouts, helping him figure out who to invite to play the fest.
This year’s lineup draws heavily from the Chicago and suburban indie-pop, punk and folk-rock scenes — including Fauvely, OK Cool, Burr Oak, Morgan Powers, The Weekend Run Club, Lo-Friendo, Dead Freddie, The Darling Suns and Arguelles’ own band Lithia — but it also brings in acts from Nashville, Cleveland, St. Louis, Milwaukee and other spots across the Midwest.
And while the music is the weekend’s focus, the art component of the fest has grown, with 15 to 18 artists selling their products each day along with DZ Fest-branded merchandise. Bands are also invited to sell their merch at the festival.
Arguelles said he supplies water bottles for the event, but food and drinks will be for sale from vendors and food trucks, including Strange Brew Cafe, sandwich options and other treats.
And judging by past experience, Arguelles said the fest could draw up to 1000 fans to the event.
“It’s a lot of community coming together,” he said, which is the true spirit of DIY.
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When: Noon to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 25-26
Where: 8548 S. 85th Court, Hickory Hills
Tickets: $20 per day at the door; proceeds will benefit the Chicago Public Schools’ All City Performing Arts scholarship fund. Proof of vaccine or a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours of entry are required. Find details and the full lineup at facebook.com.