Ask Manny Phesto how he got on the lineup at any given festival. He'll give you a charismatic smile and tell you the first step was to ask.
"One of the big things I learned this year is closed mouths don't get fed," says the rapper whose 2015 tour itinerary included shows in Cuba, Mexico, and Hawaii in 2015. "And I was a lot more conscious about asking for things that I want, and then following up with 'em too."
The young emcee from Minneapolis' Southside estimates that he applied for roughly 15 festivals in 2015. He got into about five. That's impressive enough for any upstart act, but even more for an artist who just dropped his first album, 2014's Southside Looking In, and still even more yet for a guy who's doing it all independently.
In a short time, Manny Phesto has assembled a complex one-man publicity machine. He began work on it before his first album dropped, making lists of venues to play and watching others' tour schedules, making notes about festivals where he thought he might be able get in. A year and a half later, his list spans multiple cities, states, and countries.
He realized early that press savvy is a game changer, noting that a lot of music writers just aren't that hungry; a lot of press just isn't trying that hard to seek out new music. "Nobody's gonna go to see some random kids on a bill that they've never heard," he says, "unless you tell them that you're worthy of their attention."
Already in with the local music scene — he helped organize Twin Cities hip-hop festivals in 2012 and 2013 — Manny Phesto kept sharing, bringing fellow artists out on tour whenever he could. In 2015 he traveled and played with Frank Castle, Axel Foley, Mike the Martyr, Baby Shel, and Chance.
On his own and with friends, Phesto played Denver's Munchie Cup, brought the house down at Soundset, performed in Iowa once for Summerset, and again a few months later at a festival headlined by Aretha Franklin. Add too many block parties to count, four islands of Hawaii, Havana, and a festival on the edge of a volcano near Mexico City. There's barely a corner of the continent the up-and-coming rapper from South High School left untouched.
He went to Havana in November through the U.S. Cuba Artist Exchange, a local nonprofit. For 10 days, he networked, recorded, played, and explored the city.
"I didn't know what to expect because I didn't see any posters or flyers, and nobody really has internet out there for the most part," he says. That is until he got to the show at Fabrica de Arte Cubano. "It was a wall-to-wall packed house. I think it's just the place to be," he says of the converted cooking oil factory, now owned by the Ministry of Art and Culture, "so young people just go out there and kick it on the weekends."
Phesto is quick to acknowledge his out-of-town success, but he's aware his sound won't win over fans at every stop.
"There are some places that really fuck with me," he says. "But some places, you know, I'm not really their flavor. In Hawaii, most of what they listen to is island-infused music, like reggae, and that's pretty far from what I make. Even their hip-hop out there has very little resemblance to what I make, but the reception was pretty good."
While hibernating back at home, Phesto is also working on new music with an array of producers, including longtime partner Mike the Martyr and first-time collaborator Andre Mariette.
He's also lining up the next season's worth of festivals, waiting on confirmation from Cuba again, looking toward SXSW, and hoping to organize an extended tour of Mexico. "You can tour 30 dates without driving more than an hour a day because Mexico City is so big," he notes.
Phesto will leave the house just a couple of times in January, opening for Krayzie Bone of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony at the Triple Rock on January 16, and judging "The Best Damn Beat Battle" at Honey on January 19.
He knows he won't get in everywhere he wants, but that's not going to stop him from trying. Getting declined is a part of the game.
"It's either I get no response, or it's politely declining. I can't be mad."