By the time this year’s LAUNCH Music Conference and Festival is over, the event – which debuted in 2009 – will have brought more than 2,700 musicians to Lancaster to perform.
Some of those acts, like rock band Twenty One Pilots and pop singer Meghan Trainor, have gone on to become household names.
In addition to its concerts, the festival provides educational and networking opportunities for musicians looking to jump-start their careers.
Did you know that LAUNCH is an initialism? It means that each of the letters represent another word, but you pronounce it as one cohesive word, like NASA and sonar. LAUNCH stands for Logical Advice and UNique Career Help.
LAUNCH will return April 13, and when it does, it will celebrate a milestone: its 15th anniversary.
Here are 15 important moments from LAUNCH’s 15 years.
Talent buyers and organizers Jeremy Weiss and Rick Gadd kicked off the LAUNCH Music Conference in 2009. The event was solely a music conference complemented by a few national-scale performers, like rock bands Virginia Coalition and Audrye Sessions.
Many venues that hosted LAUNCH performances are no longer in business, like the Village, the Chameleon Club, the Ad Lib Cafe, Hotel Brunswick and more.
The music conference kicked off right as Lancaster Square — now known as Ewell Plaza — reopened after six months of construction.
More than 5,000 people attended the first LAUNCH event.
Before Meghan Trainor, known for hits like “All About That Bass” and “Made You Look,” became an international pop star, she started off small, like most artists.
Trainor performed inside the Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square.
“She had an absolutely remarkable voice,” Weiss says. “No matter how many thousands of times you find yourself in a position where you’re listening to someone who’s very young be exceptional, it never fails to amaze you.”
Weiss says that around 18 months after LAUNCH, Trainor’s career path skyrocketed. He says stories like this give credibility to events like LAUNCH, and that while not all artists will rise to superstardom, the potential is there.
Before Twenty One Pilots became an internationally known, Grammy-winning duo, they too made an appearance at LAUNCH. By this time, the band had only released two EPs, “Twenty One Pilots” and “Regional At Best.”
Twenty One Pilots is now known for chart-topping songs like “Heathens” and “Stressed Out.”
Weiss knew they’d be popular, so he sandwiched Twenty One Pilots’ performance between two regional acts that he knew would draw large crowds, he says. The band performed at Senorita Burrita, which is where burrito shop Roburrito’s now resides.
“I was smitten immediately … Just such an exciting live show,” Weiss says. “It was packed. The whole room was just awestruck.”
The Pittsburgh-native rock band Rusted Root, known for songs like “Send Me On My Way” and “Ecstasy,” headlined LAUNCH in 2012, alongside acts like metalcore band Texas in July and folk-rock band Felice Brothers.
The Rusted Root concert was special for one local girl, however. The then-12-year-old, April Marion, joined Rusted Root on stage at Freedom Hall, and they all sang happy birthday to April’s mom, Lisa Rector.
Also in 2012, “Malcolm in the Middle” actor Frankie Muniz joined the York-based rock band Kingsfoil. They performed at Marion Court Room.
Some of the performing acts at this year’s LAUNCH include rock band Foxy Shazam, Lititz-native indie rock band The Districts and singer-songwriter Holly Williams, granddaughter of Hank Williams Jr.
Weiss says that Foxy Shazam’s performance is one of his top-10 concerts of all time — a weighty statement, given that Weiss says he’s seen more than 10,000 performances.
“I felt like I was seeing a mixture of Iggy Pop and Queen,” Weiss says. “It was just a sight to see.”
Weiss is also a huge fan of The Districts.
“The Districts are on par globally with some of the greatest Americana/indie rock bands of all time,” Weiss says. “Any time I have a chance to book that band live, it’s an honor. I love them.”
Fans of emo rock band Panic! At the Disco crowded Freedom Hall. The concert itself was a collaboration between LAUNCH organizers, Millersville University and a few talent buyers, Weiss says.
Previous reporting from LNP|LancasterOnline says that singer Brendon Urie came out in an explosive fashion, wearing black leather pants and a gold blazer.
“Everything about it, I think, was just aces,” Weiss says. “They just blew everyone away.”
While LAUNCH is a multi-genre music conference and festival, it sometimes leans more into genres like rock and metal. In 2016, LAUNCH debuted hip-hop headlining artists, including Yazz the Greatest and PnB Rock.
PnB Rock, whose name was Rakim Allen, was killed in 2022. He was 30.
Fest Friday kicked off in 2017, adding a component to the event that served as a festival within a festival. The first Fest Friday featured 15 bands over the course of 4-and-a-half hours.
Performers included “Star Wars”-themed metal band Galactic Empire, rock band Stonewall Vessels, singer/rapper Nakuu and rock band Balkun Brothers, among several others.
Before their 2017 LAUNCH performance, one of the band members of Galactic Empire went through certification to become ordained.
“Star Wars” fans Skyler Giordano and Ashley Huff decided to tie the knot in Binns Park during the band’s performance.
“I thought that was very extraordinary,” Weiss says. “Someone actually got married with a ‘Star Wars’ theme at the ‘Star Wars’ show at the space-themed conference. What’s better than that?”
(Since its inception, LAUNCH used space-themed iconography on its festival and show promotions).
LAUNCH and metalcore band August Burns Red often go hand in hand. It all started when then-teenage guitarist JB Brubaker started working at Weiss’ independent record label and store CI Records.
Brubaker gave Weiss a demo for his band, August Burns Red.
“I remember exactly what I said, I said, ‘If you’re this good now, you’ll be one of the top 5 metal bands in the world if you stick together,'” Weiss says.
August Burns Red performed its anniversary at the Lancaster County Convention Center, in tandem with LAUNCH’s 10-year anniversary.
Weiss still frequently collaborates with August Burns Red, and is the showrunner behind the annual Christmas Burns Red hometown shows.
Talia Bennington, widow of Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington, spoke with a group at LAUNCH about the importance of mental health. Chester Bennington died by suicide in 2017.
Anna Shinoda, wife of Linkin Park cofounder Mike Shinoda, as well as touring director Jim Digby, accompanied Talia Bennington for the chat.
Instead of cancelling LAUNCH when the COVID-19 pandemic called for nationwide shutdowns, Weiss improvised. He created an online-only LAUNCH event that featured panels and concerts.
“We really went for it feeling live, like you had to be somewhere,” Weiss says.
Despite LAUNCH going virtual in 2020, there are no streams of it available online — that’s intentional. That year, Weiss mailed out LAUNCH shirts and passes for people to wear during the video performances and panels.
“It felt good. It felt different. You had to do it or you missed it. It felt like the world pre-shutdown,” Weiss says. “I was really proud of that. It took a lot of buy-in from people.”
LAUNCH was slated to return in spring 2021, though a rise in COVID-19 cases prevented that from happening. It was delayed until September.
LAUNCH returned in full swing that fall, however, with 115 musical acts, featuring headliners like Soundcloud rapper Smokepurpp, metal band Ice Nine Kills, metalcore band Currents and more.
“A lot of almost-sleepless nights, but the end result … I think it’s worth it,” Weiss said in an LNP|LancasterOnline article in 2021.
Despite LAUNCH having a late event in 2021, Weiss brought back the festival a little more than six months later.
Fest Friday did not return, but Weiss did set up the conference and festival’s first Americana stage and highlighted a curated hip-hop and R&B stage. Headlining performances included rock band Set It Off, metal band I Set My Friends on Fire and indie rapper Guardin.
LAUNCH also hosted its first Screaming Infidelities Emo Night, a touring dance party featuring an emo setlist, which expanded its programming beyond concerts and panels.
With headliners like metal band Killswitch Engage, rock band Clutch and indie rock band Harbour, LAUNCH is returning to its roots in a big way.
Fest Friday will not return this year, Weiss says, citing the new residential buildings across from Binns Park.
But, besides that, this year’s LAUNCH will feel similar to events held pre-pandemic. Weiss expects attendance to be upwards of 12,000-15,000 people this year.
Weiss thinks the pandemic helped people figure out what was important to them, and what types of events they value.
“We need art, man,” Weiss says. “We need to be entertained. We need to throw down and party. We need to have a good time. We need to get lost. We need to escape.”
What: LAUNCH Music Conference and Festival.
When: April 13-15. Performances start around 5 p.m. each night. Panels go from around 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Where: Several Lancaster city locations, like the Lancaster County Convention Center, the Marriott, Plough, Isaac’s Craft Kitchen & Brewery, Penn Square and Tellus360.
Cost: $119 for an all-music pass, $149 for admission to panels and non-headlining music performances, $219-$269 for VIP passes. Tickets for each performance will also be available at their given venues.
More info: launchmusicconference.com.
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