While most juniors in college spend their summers interning to build up their resumés, Aditya Surana decided to go in another direction: creating his own music festival, Have U Heard Fest.
“It all started back in February 2020 when I wrote about Weston Estate for The Daily Tarheel,” Surana said. “Through that, I became friends with the members of Weston. They then introduced me to other local artists.”
Three months later, Surana, along with his friend Abhi, decided to take their interest in music journalism to the next level by launching Have U Heard?, a “music discovery platform that spotlights rising artists and tells their story.” The first video published by Have U Heard?—“The Story Behind Stunnin' with Curtis Waters”—garnered over 70,000 views on YouTube.
“Doing a festival was always on my mind, but it wasn’t possible with the pandemic,” Surana said. “But when everyone started to get vaccinated in June, I realized it could actually happen.”
Over the summer, Surana worked independently to plan the Have U Heard Fest. The most difficult part, he said, was getting people to take him seriously.
“When I called these professionals, they’d start off by asking me about my age and my experience. So when I told them I’m a twenty year-old with no experience in throwing a musical festival, many hung up. They didn’t think I could pull it off.”
But Surana didn’t take no for an answer. During July and August, he poured all of his time and energy into proving them wrong. He located a venue, secured a permit and found sponsors and vendors to make it financially feasible.
When I asked him about how he got the artists to perform at the festival, he explained that was actually the easiest part.
“We all knew each other and wanted to make it happen. It was the first ever show for most of the artists, like it was Maasho’s first show, YSB Trill’s first show, Weston Estate’s first show, and a bunch more,” Surana said. “It was incredibly exciting to see these guys have their moment and perform for a real crowd.”
When Have U Heard? first announced its festival, the original goal was to sell 500 tickets. However, as word spread and tickets sold rapidly, it quickly became 800 and then 1,000. The sold-out show ended up selling 1,200 tickets total.
On Friday, Durham Central Park became crowded with college students from across the Triangle wearing their nicest fits. People lounged on the lawn, snacked on grub from local food trucks, and shopped at a pop-up thrift store. A sizable crowd formed around the stage and grew continuously as the night went on.
“It’s still surreal to me,” Surana commented. “Even the night before, I kept asking myself, ‘Is this actually going to happen?’ It was well into the festival before it hit me that it was really happening — that I had pulled it off. It was like seeing my Spotify playlist come to life. Crazy.”
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Outside of a few technical difficulties with the sound system, the festival went off without a hitch.
“The performers gave it their all and I think the crowd really responded to that. There’s a lot of room for improvement with the behind-the-scenes, logistics side of things, but I’m just happy it went well and that everyone seemed to have a great time.”
When asked how it feels to have successfully pulled off a music festival at only twenty, Surana laughed, describing it as “really crazy.”
“I feel weird about it, like I’m not used to getting compliments and praise. It’s really fulfilling,” Surana said. “Being on stage arm-in-arm with all the artists after the concert ended and hearing the crowd cheer — it was such a great feeling.”
Following the festival, Have U Heard? hopes to hit the ground running.
“Right now, Have U Heard? is very NC-centric, but I hope to expand it out of the state. I want to grow the platform and build a team,” Surana said.
For now, the plan is to do “smaller, more exclusive pop-up shows,” focusing on showcasing local talent while expanding the platform, according to Surana.
“I want people to know that there’s something really special going on in our own backyard. A lot of North Carolina artists are about to blow up. It’s really exciting to witness and be a part of,” Surana said. “Through Have U Heard?, I want to bring the community together and support local artists.”