BPMI Gearing Up for 2017 Festival Performances

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From the left: Benjamin Burns, Holly McGarry, David Walker, and Chris Bloniarz of the student band Honeysuckle perform at the 2016 Lollapalooza Festival in Chicago.Berklee student Haley Haerr-Hartmann (second from the right) assisted young musicians in the “Kidapalooza” tent during the 2016 festival.The Berklee 2016 Lolla team. Front row: David Walker (red shirt) and Benjamin Burns, back row, left to right: Haley Haerr-Hartmann, Holly McGarry, Chris Bloniarz, Kyle Dean, Harley Tonelli, and Aly Sarafa.

It’s amazing to watch philanthropy manifest in new learning opportunities for Berklee students. When those opportunities emerge via one of the largest gifts in Berklee’s history and take place on stage at some of the world’s largest music festivals, it’s something truly unique. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the Berklee Popular Music Institute (BPMI). Fueled by a transformative gift from the Abrams Family Foundation, BPMI provides unparalleled experiential learning opportunities for Berklee students interested in performance and music business.

As spring turns to summer each year, live music shifts from indoor venues with local audiences to large, high-profile outdoor festivals, which by nature attract crowds from all over the world. With attendance at festivals like Chicago’s Lollapalooza exceeding 100,000 people per day, these festivals offer large-scale opportunities for new artist development, learning, and networking for Berklee students. The BPMI students work directly with venue staff and stage crews, receiving the same treatment as touring acts and headliners with high levels of access to the festival world, both onstage and backstage.

In the case of Lollapalooza, Berklee students also staff a Berklee-branded “silent concert” in the “Kidzapalooza” children’s area of the venue. BPMI students build a small band setup including electronic drums, guitar, bass, and keys, all of which is routed into headphone amplifiers enabling children and parents to hear the music being created. They work closely with event staff, arriving at the venue a day early, giving them exposure to the inner workings of the festival.

Festival performance gigs are highly coveted, with established acts and well-connected managers all vying for a small number of available slots. BPMI and its board of directors—especially Gerry Barad, the chief operating officer for Live Nation Global Touring—have been remarkably successful at securing these slots. In the summer of 2016, BPMI sent Berklee artists to several festivals in the United States and abroad. So, while most college students were taking a summer break, BPMI students geared up for performances at various well-attended festivals.

The following audience attendance numbers paint the picture for the profile of these festivals and the exposure they present for the Berklee acts and BPMI students involved in the program. Lollapalooza, Chicago drew 400,000 attendees over four days; Lollapalooza, Santiago, Chile, had 100,000 over two days; and Lollapalooza, Buenos Aries, Argentina, saw 100,000 attendees in two days. The Osheaga Festival in Montreal topped 130,000 during its three-day run; Philadelphia’s Made in America Festival drew 140,000 over two days; Electric Daisy Carnival in New York had 100,000 over two days; and during its three-day run, Cumbre Tajin in Veracruz, Mexico, attracted 50,000.

These events are preceded by an orchestrated public relations effort, with press releases sent in advance to various media outlets. The press response was substantial, with BPMI band Honeysuckle and artist Symone both receiving significant media attention, interviews, and endorsed social media posts.

Thanks to the Abrams Family Foundation, plans for 2017 will include expansion to six bands that will attend festivals and travel in a Berklee-branded tour bus. The momentum is strong and word of BPMI has spread throughout Berklee’s student body. More than 100 students applied for just 18 available seats in the program, and nearly 400 Berklee bands submitted music for BPMI consideration.

“When I developed the plans for BPMI, I knew that it would take commitment, perseverance, and support from the college,” says Jeff Dorenfeld, Berklee professor and BPMI’s founding and managing director. “The gift from David and Amy Abrams put us on the fast track, making it a reality and a dream come true for the students who will benefit from the experiential education BPMI offers.”