Emerge is a thoughtfully curated annual event for emerging thoughts and voices in music and social impact spaces. It’s a pop-up crucible for the kind of passionate, intense interplay between art and agitation, between beats and movements that pushes culture. It’s a fantasy dinner party discussion between leading figures and thinkers ...
Rehan Choudhry spent a year thinking about festivals, their models, and why most of them seemed to fail to present emerging perspectives and sounds in a compelling way. The tendency to present thousands of little-known bands without curation or context has become ineffective. The digital revolution had transformed the music business, yet the festival model remained the same.
There was something missing. “It struck me that over the last 80 years of music history, every time emerging music spiked in popularity, it was tied to social unrest,” Choudhry relates. “Think about the explosion of rock and songwriters like Dylan and Joplin in the ’60s, the rapid development of hip hop in ’80s when city communities faced crises. This is the best time ever, now; the social movements suggest it. I realized the emotional tie, that sense of personal relevance was missing at many events.”
This epiphany brought him to create Emerge, a thoughtfully curated annual event for emerging thoughts and voices in music and social impact spaces. It’s a pop-up crucible for the kind of passionate, intense interplay between art and agitation, between beats and movements that pushes culture. It’s a fantasy dinner party discussion between leading figures and thinkers from across time and space, writ large and made wickedly fun.
This year’s festival revolves around four themes--Self, Protest, Fear, Sex--meant to drive conversations and discovery. For two days (May 31-June 1, 2019), festival goers will get a chance to focus on these themes at the Hard Rock Hotel. Though music and ideas form the foundation, Emerge will offer a range of immersive experiences and explorations, from the gritty to the charming. Eschewing scattered, clashing stages or tents, Emerge invites those present to sink deep into the topics one at a time, sometimes for as long four hours--and to find for themselves the new voices making vital connections between grassroots movements, social change, and musical expression.
The performers and speakers are a counterpoint to festivals that only consider career moments, follower data, or nebulous notions of “influence.” It’s about substance and wonder, not popularity. “Though we like to invite a few headliners to anchor the experience, we make it a point to incorporate a lot of perspectives and voices who wouldn’t play at a major conference or festival. Talks aren’t TED slick. They may not have the audience to drive a slot somewhere like Coachella, at least not yet. These are not the who’s who of glitzy influencers about how to get attention. It’s visionaries, regardless of career phase, talking about how to create a better world.”
This isn’t Choudhry’s first festival. Though he never thought he’d go into entertainment as a career--he worked for years in emergency management IT at the Department of Homeland Security--he wound up switching gears and running entertainment initiatives for an Atlantic City casino hungry to bring younger crowds to the city. Choudhry put together hip music, celebrity chefs with help from the Food Network, and other cool happenings. His success caught the eye of a major investment bank, and he ended up working as the opening Director to Entertainment for The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
After years of working with big names at big venues in places like Las Vegas, Choudhry took the plunge into the festival world and became the founder and driving force behind Life is Beautiful. Sparked by Choudhry’s interest in building an event around the theme of shifting our concepts of mental health, the Vegas festival morphed into a major music, art, and food event. Choudhry wove together his past experience in high-energy, crowd-drawing entertainment to make a bold, engaging statement. The festival won Pollstar’s Festival of the Year Award and was named Best Musical Event by Forbes.
Yet Choudhry wanted to get back to his original vision, so he parted ways. He knew he wanted to create a platform for emerging voices, and he knew he wanted it to be about much more than a few days of intense enjoyment once a year.
Choudhry built a new team and launched an online magazine, A Beautiful Perspective, to create a home for deeper, globally-minded engagement with pressing issues and ideas. And with this team, he launched Emerge.
Its first edition saw a glittering enactment of the history of transgender people’s contributions to the culture of Harlem. It saw YouTube phenoms ranging from the android-like pop star Poppy to the liberated raunchy, sex positive rapper Cupcakke, alongside performers like redneck, terrorist drag queen Christeene and Dylan Marron, creator of the podcast “Conversations with People Who Hate Me.” A highlight of the festival was The Fairytale Ball, which celebrated the history of voguing, runway walking, and waacking, while dropping historic facts and demonstrating their impact on mainstream pop culture.
Instead of scattering attention, the festival focuses it. Instead of many shallow brushes with thousands of performers, Emerge offers a chance to go deep, to really listen.
This year, the need for inspiring beauty, cogent discussion, and meaningful action feels more urgent than ever. The myriad emerging challenges call for a chorus of new voices, and Emerge is giving them a platform to support their impact. “We want everyone involved to feel they have this uplifting, exciting opportunity to come together for a better world,” says Choudhry. “We can make things better, create a more hopeful world, not through pessimistic annoyance, but with artistic integrity. We want to leap from this moment in time, and work to really create sustainability.”