Festival Fun in the Summertime

Danielle Dreilinger
October 7, 2011

Plenty of fans flock to music festivals in the summer. Whether you like metal, hip-hop, bluegrass, jam bands, or rock, you can listen to your music of choice sprawled out on a blanket in the hot sun surrounded by fellow fans slurping smoothies and chilling out.

If you're a musician, lucky you! More than fun, festivals constitute career development.

This summer, dozens of Berklee students and alumni hit the festival circuit. Three of them talk about their experiences.

Andrea Belanger Band: Bonnaroo

In 2010, Andrea Belanger had tickets to Bonnaroo, the massively popular festival in Tennessee—but her ride fell through. This year she landed a better kind of ticket: an all-access performer pass.

The opportunity came through a contest on SonicBids, the band promotion website founded by Berklee alumnus Panos Panay '94. Bonnaroo organizers would take the top eight bands in the contest and choose two to appear at the festival on a small, solar-powered stage.

As the deadline approached, Belanger's band started slipping down in the standings. The final night of the contest was their album release show. The band put a laptop in the venue lobby and asked attendees to vote. They squeaked into contention—and Bonnaroo thought Belanger was tops. (As did SonicBids, which had the band give an in-office performance.)

At Berklee, "everyone flipped out," Belanger says. "I'm standing on the Berklee Beach. . . people are almost falling down on their knees [saying] 'You're playing Bonnaroo?'"

The experience lived up to expectations. "Bonnaroo is the best thing that's ever happened to me in my entire life," Belanger says. The show drew 300–400 people, she estimated, and maybe 100 came backstage afterwards to say hi. "That's really good for the small tent," she says. A photographer found them so inspiring, he followed the band around. "I sold so many CDs. [It was] the first time people really got up and danced to my music."

It was a great experience from the fan perspective as well. The band got free drinks, free food, and a campsite right by the stage area next to the band Deer Tick. "I'm standing a foot away from Ray Lamontagne, who's one of my favorite musicians ever," Belanger says. "Some of my bandmates were right on stage for Robert Plant."

And you can't beat the bragging rights: "There's my name. My name is on the Bonnaroo 2011 T-shirt. How cool is that? It's really freaking cool."

Julia Easterlin: Lollapalooza

It sounds easy: Berklee decided to partner with Lollapalooza for a scholarship, so a member of the Berklee community got to perform at the famed rock fest.

It wasn't easy.

First, Julia Easterlin almost missed her chance without even realizing it. She had planned not to appear at a winter 2011 concert to promote the student label Heavy Rotation Records, due to illness and the recent death of a bandmate. HRR faculty advisor Jeff Dorenfeld urged her to at least come to the show. In the end, she mustered herself up on stage and sang a song—unrehearsed. The audience loved it. After the curtain fell, Dorenfeld said he'd decided to give the Lollapalooza gig to the performer who drew the biggest crowd response that night.

"It really was a pretty incredible opportunity. I'd never performed in a major festival before and," she adds, "I'd actually never performed with a band before."

That was the second challenge. Normally Easterlin performs solo, building up layers of vocal sounds and effects on a loop machine. It's pretty spectacular—but, she suspected, maybe not suited for a big outdoor stage in the middle of the day. She asked Bobby McFerrin, a Berklee artist-in-residence last year, what he thought. His advice? "You really do need a band."

Easterlin's expectations were measured and realistic: She was a complete unknown with an early set time. "I was hoping to take away from the festival sort of a renewed sense of purpose and direction. And I was also hoping to receive some positive affirmation from people I didn't know," she says.

She got exactly what she wanted. Her audience grew to a few hundred people as her set progressed—and no one left. The sound guys complimented her.

"I can show up where I'm a nobody and pull people in," she says. "It really bolstered my confidence."

Easterlin's music has taken on a new direction, as well: The band is still working together. That would be a wild story for the liner notes, "having Lollapalooza be our first gig together."

Tubby Love: Life Is Good (and more)

Alumnus Tubby Love is a true festival devotee. How many has he attended this summer? As a fan, with his own band, playing with friends' bands: "I really don't even think I can count," he says. He played one festival, left at 3 a.m., slept an hour in the van, and spent the whole next day hanging out at a different one. The fatigue was worth it: "I got to sit in with John Brown's Body," he exults.

Love's advice is to build your career at festivals by hanging out at them. "It's a family scene. Bands jam with other bands," he says. "Make friends everywhere you go. The festival scene will come to you when it's ready." He's now appearing with Spiritual Rez, Dub Apocalypse, and Dopapod, and has performed guerrilla parking-lot gigs with mandolinist Eric Robertson. "To make it into the festival scene you have to have some sort of following," he explains.

He's also performed around Boston as part of Berklee's Summer in the City concert series for three years running, and credits coordinator Michael Borgida for his support. Spiritual Rez came out to see him at the Institute of Contemporary Art, for instance, which helped him get the sideman gig.

Borgida also put Love in touch with the Life Is Good store on Boston's Newbury Street. After two successful in-store performances, the company asked him to perform at its festival this fall. (True to form, he had to leave the Blackwater Music Festival right after performing there with Spiritual Rez in order to make Life Is Good.)

With so many nights in tents, Love has developed a festival coping strategy involving healthy vegan eating and a tolerance for scruff. "I haven't shaved in a while," he admits. "But that's in!" What's in his survival kit? Coconut water, flashlight, face paint ("always a necessity . . . gets people interacting"), a big super-soaker, and his stuffed cow "Steaky," who doubles as a travel buddy and a pillow.

Love may need to restock his supplies soon. By next summer, he thinks, he'll be ready to play daytime festival slots with his own band.