Unsung Heroes #281

VersoFest 2023 is in the books.

The Westport Library’s 4-day music-media-and-much-more event may be unique in the US. It’s hard to imagine another library anywhere that produces concerts, offers workshops on songwriting and fashion and rap, and displays Alice Cooper artifacts and a scale model of the Grateful Dead’s sound system.

Thousands of people enjoyed different aspects of VersoFest. They saw a seamless web of activity, spread over 4 days.

Producer Steve Lillywhite and Talking Head’s founder Chris Frantz, on the VersoFest stage. (Photo/Dinkin Fotografix)

But it didn’t just happen.

The Y’s Men donated cookies, bagels and coffee for the record fair. Restaurants contributed food for the staff, talent and sponsors. Over 100 community members helped plan VersoFest, and make it go. It’s impossible to name them all.

Volunteers manned the lights at VersoFest. (Photo/Chad Anderson Photography)

Of course, huge kudos go to the Library staff. It all started — and ended — with them.

Executive director Bill Harmer was extremely proud of them this week. He was also exhausted. But he took time to offer shout-outs to a few of the men and women who put the “fest” in VersoFest.

Library director Bill Harmer welcomes attendees to VersoFest. (Photo/Chad Anderson Photography)

Alex Giannini (associate program director), and his team of Jennifer Keller and Kerri Gawreluk, managed programming and events. Alex coordinated every concert, keynote address, panel discussion and workshop. He’s a masterful problem solver — which is why he solved everyone, before attendees noticed.

Melanie Myers (chief of operations) managed everything besides programming. She developed all staffing, security and all facility plans. Details and logistics ranged from parking and room arrangements to keeping bathrooms clean. Like Alex, she too is a seasoned problem-solver.

EJ Crawford (marketing director) and his team handled the website, social media, magazine, advertising, promotion, brochures, programs and signs. EJ was hyper-focused on details. And every night he pitched n with staff to clean trash, stow chairs, and make sure the building was ready for the next day.

Robin Powell (administrative assistant) was VersoFest’s glue. She helped mastermind food and hospitality. She ran hundreds of errands around Fairfield County, pulling everything together. She did it all with a smile (and a pep talk to whoever needed one), keeping the energy level high always.

Ashley Hyde (social media) is a creative force. She set a high standard for libraries everywhere, with dynamic, interesting, fun, energetic and engaging posts.

Julie Bonington (graphic designs) created innovative graphics, the logos, signage, banners, posters and more from scratch. Her attention to details ensures that the Library looks professional, clean, and brilliant to the world.

Brendan Toller (marketing manager, Verso Studios) created every interesting promotional piece, short clip, interview and featurettes. He also played a massive role curating the talent, from the record fair to the hip hop panel. His connections in the worlds of media and music are immense. He also documented events with his camera and video camera.

Everyone’s job was challenging. But Travis Bell (audio engineer) had to ensure that all the technology and logistics were carefully planned and  perfectly executed. He spent long days and nights mixing and mastering audio and tech for the live concerts, plus each panel and keynote address. “No one else can do what he does,” Harmer says. “Without Travis’ audio engineering and brains, there is no VersoFest.”

Audio engineer Travis Bell, at work. (Photo/Chad Anderson Photography)

Video manager – Verso Studios David Bibbey manages the entire visual experience, directing it with staff and volunteers. He and his team filmed, captured and recorded every event. They also produced all the supporting content. It’s rare for a venue the Library’s size to have such tehcnology — and David and his team takes it to the next level.

Agata Slattery is the Library’s fundraising expert. She worked with Harmer to secure sponsors. She helped manage the VIP experiences, and made every guest feel special. She even tended bar and served food.

Jennifer Bangser helped create and curate panels and exhibits. She managed the stunning Alice Cooper museum and Wall of Sound. :She pumps everybody up with her positivity and gratefulness,” Harmer says.

Kathleen Malloy and her team at Patron Services oversaw all of the monitors and maintenance staff. She also saw that “regular customers” were attended to, in the midst of a massive festival going on.

Robert Aubrey, Patrick Carey and Mike Treadwell (building monitors) were the last to leave each night. Always friendly, thoughtful and helpful, Robert always thanks staff and talent for their hard work before they go.

Jesus Torrealba-Aular (building maintenance supervisor) made sure the building worked — and worked well — every second the doors were open. Maintenance wise, there is nothing he can’t do.

Matthew Mandell (volunteer – Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce director) was as essential as any staff member all festival long. He, Robin and Kevin Cordero managed all the food, beverage and hospitality. He took care of the talent in the green rooms, and made all VIPS, patrons, guests and staff feel welcome. (He also saw that everyone was well hydrated.) Matthew also worked with Harmer and his team managing the concerts, and coordinating with bands.

Sunflower Bean backstage at VersoFest, with Talking Head and Tom Tom Club’s Chris Frantz (far left) and Tina Weymouth. (Photo/Matthew Mandell)

Kevin Cordero (volunteer hospitality) coordinated and ensured that everyone was happy. He did a massive job well, from start to finish.

Meryl Kaplan, the Library’s finance director, had been on the job for only 2 weeks. Still — in a great trial by fire — she managed all the money. It was quite a trial by fire.

“It would be impossible to thank the entire staff but everyone contributed something to make this festival a success,” Harmer says. “From youth and teen services to reference librarians, everyone helped.

“I’m so proud of our staff for bringing this festival to life. Our community loved every minute of it.”

(If you know an Unsung Hero, email 06880blog@gmail.com. And if you are able to support “06880,” please click here. Thank you!)

Volunteers helped make VersoFest a success. (Photo/Chad Anderson Photography)

Leave a Reply