Return to Form
After taking a year off, XOXO returned in 2018 looking very different from how it looked before. Most noticeably we increased in size from 1,200 to just over 2,300 attendees, and moved to a larger new venue where we could host our entire weekend of programming under one roof.
We've always referred to XOXO as an experiment, because we like to reserve the space to try new things every year. We used our increase in size to give 20% of our passes away for free in our subsidized pass lottery, add all-new events like Art+Code and Comics to our festival programming, and to invite speakers and performers who would have previously been out of reach. (We're looking at you, Lizzo!)
It was very much an experiment, and we're glad we tried it. But we've decided to return to our previous size and venue this year, and we wanted to talk a little about the reasons why.
For the first five years, we held XOXO in our own neighborhood, a very walkable area of inner SE Portland that's dense with cafes, restaurants, and bars, and well served by transit.
To accommodate more than 2,000 people, our venue options were limited. Any venue that size is in an isolated part of town, making transportation more difficult and with little to recommend in walking distance.
With nothing nearby, the on-site food options are critical, and we continually dealt with issues of long lines, sold-out vendors, and limited options for people with dietary restrictions.
Early in XOXO's life, we always emphasized how much of the character of an event comes from its venue and location. We made that tradeoff, and the event definitely suffered as a result, especially for the majority of our attendees traveling from out of state or visiting Portland for the first time.
Over the years, we grew XOXO from around 400 attendees in its first year to over 1,200 in 2016. We grew the festival slowly and deliberately, making sure to prioritize comfort, accessibility, and intimacy.
At 2,300 people, that just wasn't possible. It was a sea of people in an enormous venue, making finding and connecting with new people much more challenging. It was entirely possible to go all four days of XOXO without seeing a friend you knew was there, unless you actively sought them out.
For its first five years, we loved hearing stories of people making new friends, new relationships, and new collaborations. Despite many more people, last year's size (counterintuitively) made making meaningful new relationships more unlikely.
Supersizing XOXO was fun, but it was also an anxiety-inducing experience. We've always heard that people feel heavy FOMO at XOXO, but despite our best efforts, that was amplified with bigger size, even as we added new events.
Critically, it was much more stressful for our team. We always expect XOXO to be a lot of work, but we always have a good time and it's always rewarding. This was the first year where the scale made it actively unpleasant to work on: we were too busy putting out fires to find the fun.
Last year's XOXO shared the same values, but it felt like a very different event — not bad, just different. We might try it again in a few years, knowing what we know now.
But for now, we're headed back to Revolution Hall and Washington High School, a size and scale that felt optimal for XOXO in a neighborhood we love.
As always, we're planning a bunch of surprises, and incorporating what we learned from last year to make this year better than ever.
We're really excited to see you there.
— Andy & Andy.