Blissfest Music Organization Transition Update
Why are we hiring a Transition Director?
The BMO Board of Directors voted unanimously in March to begin the search for a Transition or
“Interim” Executive Director as Jim Gillespie, our founder and current executive director, is
retiring after nearly 39 years at the helm of the BMO. Jim’s retirement isn’t really new
information — Jim and the board have been discussing his retirement for several years and, in
anticipation of this, Jim reduced his working hours to 75% of full time starting in 2018 and also
brought several of his key staff members on full time. BLISSFEST 39 will be Jim’s last festival
as the Executive Director, which means it’s time to bring in new leadership to start the
transition in earnest.
What is a Transition Director?
A Transition Director is somebody who joins an organization to bridge the gap that often exists
between exiting leadership and new leadership. Using a Transition Director will be especially
beneficial for Blissfest because it is a founder-led organization and has only had one leader
during its entire 39 year existence. While the Transition or “interim” director CAN be
considered for the permanent director position, his or her primary objective is to insure that the
organization is set up for a successful hand-off from one leader to the next.
How are you going to replace Jim Gillespie and all that he does?
That is a question that has plagued the board and several boards that were in place before this
group of 10. The answer is — we can’t! One of the Transition Director’s first responsibilities is
to determine what to do with ALL that Jim does today and insure that is is properly covered by
the new director, another member of the staff, or an outside contractor. This will allow us to
conduct a more realistic search for the next BMO Executive Director.
What does this mean for 2019?
Jim, the staff, and the board have been working diligently to make improvements in processes,
policies, and workflows for 2019 and we are confident you’ll like the changes you see. As far
as leadership and chain of command, we are making NO changes in 2019. We plan to have
the Transition Director present at the 2019 festival as a guest of Board President to observe
festival operations first-hand, but he/she will not be a part of producing the 2019 festival.
What will change after 2019?
That’s a tough question to answer with specifics, but here are some things that AREN’T going
to change. For starters, Jim isn’t going anywhere! While he wants and deserves his retirement
and may spend more time away at his favorite vacation spots, he will still be in the area and will
remain a key resource for the organization he created. And even though he will not be in
operational leadership at the 2020 festival, he will most certainly be at the festival and hopefully
enjoying the many tributes that we will have planned to honor him and to celebrate the 40TH
YEAR OF BLISSFEST.
One of the other things that ISN’T changing is the mission of the BMO and the principles upon
which it was founded. The Board went through a discussion around the things we wanted to
make sure we preserved as we approach the founder’s retirement and that list will be one of
the first things presented to both the Transition Director and, ultimately, the new Executive
Who gets to pick the music at the festival after Jim retires?
We get this question a lot…in fact it is probably the number one question we hear! One of the
many things Board members learn as they get involved with BMO oversight is the complexity
around picking the music we all get to enjoy at the festival. While everybody has a favorite
musician or group, the process of selecting the right acts, negotiating contracts and riders, and
managing the logistical issues that arise as artists are trying to book THEIR summer gigs is
very complex. It often starts a year or more before the annual festival and always involves a lot
of changes, cancellations, and disappointments. We don’t yet know how that process is going
to work going forward, but it is increasingly clear that this task may be handled by more than
one individual in the future. Please stay tuned as this evolves…keeping in mind that the
selection process has already started for BLISSFEST 40.
What if I have further questions or am interested in applying for a job at Blissfest?
If you have further questions about the transition, please send an email to
BMOFuture@blissfest.org. If you are interested in applying for any open position at Blissfest,
the openings are posted on INDEED (link to our positions). We also continue to seek
volunteers for both the festival and the many year-round committees that assist in the
governance work of the BMO. Please reach out to us if you’re interested!