Tom Tom Founders Festival Director Paul Beyer laughed when asked what he is looking forward to most about this year’s event.
In examining what the festival has become, you can understand his reaction.
In 2012, the debut festival had 20 speakers.
This year, it will have 500, including news icon Dan Rather and comedian John Cleese.
In all, the seventh annual festival, which runs from April 9 to 15, is expected to draw more than 20,000 people from across the country.
“There’s just been a quantum leap each year,” Beyer said. “Last year, we had 334 speakers, which was nothing to sneeze at. But I think it has really fleshed out this year into something that has a broad focus on Charlottesville and then it also has a very wide national and even global focus on the future of industry and much bigger conversations.”
The festival is anchored by two multi-day conferences, the Hometown and Founders summits, which gather civic and entrepreneurial leaders, respectively.
Rather, who currently anchors a newscast on YouTube, will give a talk centered on patriotism.
“He’s obviously a legendary and iconic figure who has been at the forefront of many different tumultuous times in American history,” Beyer said. “He was one of the first television and mainstream television reporters to cover the civil rights movement. Especially in the wake of Aug. 12, when this community has been at the forefront of fake news and all kinds of changes in the journalism landscape – having this iconic figure talk about the history of media and of journalism and how it impacts American society is pretty astounding.”
Other speakers include Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Amy Goldstein; New York Times bestselling author Elisabeth Rosenthal; Honest Tea cofounder Seth Goldman; MacArthur “genius grant” recipient Greg Asbed; Melody Barnes, former domestic policy director under President Obama; Reddit cofounder Steve Huffman; and Washington Post CFO Stephen Gibson.
Large-scale keynote speeches take place in the Paramount Theater, with smaller-scale workshops and roundtables happening at various locations on and around the Downtown Mall.
With nearly 200 UVA students and 25 faculty members from more than a dozen schools and various departments participating, the event, as usual, will have a UVA flavor.
“So much of industry innovation and understanding how we interact with media, interact with culture, interact with history – it’s all part of the conversations that take place at universities,” Beyer said. “Universities are driving these conversations.”
This year, the Kauffman Foundation, which focuses on projects that encourage entrepreneurship, is on board as a sponsor and will co-host events at the Darden School’s Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the McIntire School of Commerce.
Like Beyer, David Touve – the director of UVA’s i.Lab and a Tom Tom board member – said so many things will be happening at this year’s festival “that it’s almost impossible to decide” what he is most looking forward to.
“Every great city or compelling city needs a great happening in town – something that brings the community together and even people from outside of it to collaborate, connect and think about what’s possible,” Touve said. “And to me, that’s what’s important about Tom Tom.”
The festivities begin Monday at 3 p.m. with a pair of cooking workshops, which will be followed by a community potluck at the IX Art Park at 5 p.m.
Other noteworthy events:
Tuesday: Charlottesville Identity and Design Competition with Bushman Dreyfus Architects. Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, 233 4th St NW, 6 p.m.
April 11: “An Evening with John Cleese.” A never-before-performed, one-man show with the iconic comedian. The Paramount Theater, 8 p.m.
April 12: “What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism with Dan Rather.” The Paramount Theater, 8 p.m.
April 13: Friday Night Block Party. Various musical acts, a craft beer garden, tech and art showcases and more. Emancipation Park, 101 East Market St., 5 p.m.
April 14: Iron Chef Competition. Contestants must come up with dishes that are 100 percent locally sourced from the Farmer’s Market. 100 Water St., 10 a.m.
April 15: Porchella, Pop-up acoustic performances on porches throughout the Belmont neighborhood, 7 p.m.
A full schedule of events is available on the Tom Tom website.