A few months ago, as he was getting ready for what was to be this summer’s sixth-annual Richard Dreyfest, a punk-inspired music and arts festival in downtown Billings, Phillip Griffin had a chore to do.
Organizers of 2017 festival had ordered merchandise, including T-shirts and wristbands, bearing the likeness of Richard Dreyfuss, the Hollywood actor for whom the festival was named. Griffin had just mailed a big envelope full of festival swag to Dreyfuss when he heard from Ty Herman, who was helping prepare for Dreyfest VI.
Herman told him that Dreyfuss had been accused of sexually harassing a female writer for several years. Nothing had been proven, but the allegations were ugly and the #MeToo Movement — wouldn’t a better name be #NotHimToo? — was in full swing.
So Griffin returned to the post office and was allowed to retrieve the envelope that was supposed to go to Dreyfuss.
“I’ve still got the envelope full of merch, along with all the other useless merch” they’d ordered, he said.
They also had what Griffin called “a pretty interesting problem” on their hands. They needed to end the event’s association with Dreyfuss, with whom they’d managed to score an extended interview last year, and who had promised to try to attend this year’s festival.
They thought of simply shortening the name to “Dreyfest,” but that didn’t quite cut it. Instead, they came up with some new possibilities and put them on the Dreyfest Facebook page, asking people to vote for their favorite.
Nominations included Wastefest (named for Waste Division, a Billings-based online arts collective and magazine) and Emilio Estefest (inspired by the actor Emilio Estevez). But the clear favorite was Julia Louis-Dreyfest, named for “Veep” star and “Seinfeld” alum Julia Louis-Dreyfuss.
Griffin said Julia Louis-Dreyfest got 34 percent of the votes, more than twice as many as the second-place pick, Wastefest. “The people had spoken,” he said.
He said the name also seemed to make sense, in light of why Richard Dreyfuss was dumped: “She’s a woman, and a pretty cool one at that.” Or, as organizers said on Waste Division, “We felt this was the perfect opportunity to honor a badass woman while still keeping part of the original name.”
The festival was co-founded by Austin Finn, who was visiting Devil’s Tower in Wyoming years ago when a friend suggested it would be a great place to stage a festival and to name it after Richard Dreyfuss. He had starred in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” a movie that reaches its climax in the shadow of Devil’s Tower.
It was all a bit disappointing, given Richard Dreyfuss’ willingness to attend this year’s festival — and disappointing because of all that now-useless swag — but Griffin hopes the appeal of the offbeat festival might be as intriguing to Julia Louis-Dreyfuss as it was to Richard Dreyfuss.
When he and Brie Ripley team up again this year to make a podcast promoting the festival, Griffin said, they’ll reach out to Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, hoping she’ll consent to an interview.
“We’ll email her and cross our fingers and see if she’s interested in something that weird,” he said.
Meanwhile, festival organizers have put out a call for submissions from musicians, comedians, poets and visual artists who are interested in performing at this year’s Julia Louis-Dreyfest, set for Aug. 10 and 11. They are also looking for craftspeople for the Dreyfest Bazaar-B-Que.
Griffin said they are still working on a list of venues and are seeking sponsors to help bring in some national acts. Last year there were nearly 60 artists or bands performing at eight venues.
Another key organizer is Eric Toennis, who does a lot of online processing for Waste Division and Dreyfest from his home in Eugene, Oregon. Griffin said they are looking for other volunteers who want to help get ready for the event and then lots of volunteers during the two-day festival itself.