Alec Jhangiani: The Brains Behind Fortress Festival

This Fort Worth entreprenuer hopes to broaden your music tastes by bringing new sounds to the city.

For a guy who’s in the business of loud music and lively crowds, Alec Jhangiani is surprisingly soft-spoken. He works behind the scenes as co-founder of Fortress Festival, developing the three-year-old event’s business model, overseeing logistics and strategizing for growth.

That’s not to say he isn’t in tune with the fun parts of the job, such as discovering new artists or having close encounters with famous names, to name a couple. In fact, due to the nature of his gig, Alec says Fortress Festival, which this year takes place April 27–28 in the Cultural District, has affected his personal taste in music.

And he hopes it has the same effect on Fort Worth.

Q. You used to be director of the Lone Star Film Society, which runs the Lone Star Film Festival. What was the transition like going from film to music?

A. One of the biggest learning curves is programming and curating the music, which you think would be the most fun and easiest thing, all of a sudden becomes the most difficult because you’ve realized what you have to do is step outside of your own very limited world and generation of music.

But then, you have to take it more seriously. Ultimately, you find things that you like and also external factors like budget. We really like this band, but they don’t sell any tickets in this market. Then we like this band, and they’re perfect, but they’re not touring right now, or they have a radius clause and they can’t play this market. That’s by far the most challenging thing — putting together the right lineup.

Q. What was the trick to getting Leon Bridges onboard this year?

A. We actually started talking with Leon’s management when we were about to launch the festival. The first year, the timing just wasn’t right. He had just really come out onto the national scene. At that point, I don’t think they were planning on doing any major local shows until he went around the world. Then, for our second year, it was just not right for his touring cycle. It just lined up this year. Obviously, [winning a Grammy] helps immensely. It just seems to work as a homecoming show, versus the previous years.

Q. Do you get to interact with a lot of the artists during the festival?

A. I haven’t honestly. It’s been kind of weird in that sense. Last year, I don’t think I met anyone. My biggest regret was not meeting Courtney Barnett. I would have loved to chat with her. I’m always really bad in those moments, especially if it’s not somebody that I am really familiar with. I’m always hesitant to just go up to somebody and say, “Hey.”

I loved meeting Killer Mike the first year from Run the Jewels. That was definitely the highlight. I got to give him a big hug and talk to him about Heim Barbecue, which he went to twice while he was here.

Q. What are you currently listening to?

A. A lot of Sharon Van Etten — I’ve just been digging everything that she is doing. A lot of hip-hop. A lot of rap. I like Travis Scott. The new James Blake album, I really like. Honestly, one of my favorite things to do is just listen to the Spotify Discover Weekly playlist. I always find new stuff on there.

Q. You do a lot of going outside your comfort zone when curating artists. How has Fortress Festival affected your personal music preferences?

A. It’s broadened my tastes. One thing [I learned is] how biased we really are and how much nostalgia plays into our tastes. Everything new that’s happening in rap that a lot of hip-hop purists would dismiss, like mumble rap — you don’t have these acrobatic lyricists like you used to, but there’s also a beauty to what’s happening now.

What I like about music is that it’s just never ending. You can just always be consuming something new. That’s a totally different indulgence than just listening to your favorite song over and over again.

Q. How do you feel Fortress Festival is changing the perception about music in Fort Worth?

A. I think in a deeper sense, to a certain extent, the majority of the population here is minority, immigrant and non-white, so to dismiss Fort Worth as a country music town or a specific-kind-of-music town just ignores all that. That’s why hip-hop and rap is so important to us. There’s a strong hip-hop and rap startup community here. It’s the biggest music in the world. For all those reasons, it’s like, yes, we are connected. We do what’s going on in the rest of the world. We do recognize that there are minority populations here that might want to see their culture represented on stage, and it’s not just this homogenous, one-dimensional scene. Hopefully, that’s what we’re doing.

Q. Where do you see Fortress Festival going in the future?

A. Definitely adding the art component … For example, Solange, Beyoncé’s sister, does site-specific performances. She did it at Marfa. She goes to museums and does performances. One of the original directors of Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” is a video artist that also did a lot of work for Kendrick Lamar. There are all these intersections. We would always want [Fortress Festival] to be focused on the art side of things. We’re not going to launch any apps at Fortress.

Q. Do you have a dream artist you’d like to see play Fortress Festival one day?

A. I think everybody wants Beyoncé to play at their festival. I adore her. Kendrick Lamar for sure. There are dream artists, and then there are ones that we think that Fortress is made for — I think Kendrick’s definitely one those. Outside of that, we’d love to have some of the iconic folks like Nick Cave or, before he passed, Leonard Cohen. I would love to have just a big rock show too. Radiohead would be awesome.

1. Fortress Festival hat.
2. Headphones. Connects with his phone, so he can easily switch from listening to music to answering a call.
3. Lacrosse ball. Doubles as a back massager against the wall.
4. Stag jacket. Stag is Alec’s favorite store.
5. Running shoes. Alec used to run a lot of marathons, but he’s doing “shorter distances these days.”
6. Q Clothier suit nametag. Found inside his first custom suit.