From One Music Fan to Another: My Conversation with Andrew Stahl
It's a rare experience to realize that what you love, music, still has some integrity behind it.
I want to start by saying I am an avid music fan just like most in this scene. An opportunity arose to talk to Andrew Stahl, the head of Gamelan Productions. Gamelan is a small music promotion company, employing only a handful of people. Despite their size, they promote numerous concerts in the Boston area. They are on their sixth year of the highly successful Berkshire Mountain Music Festival and first year of the Mid-Atlantic Music Experience.
This all happens because of Andrew Stahl and the talented group of people he has surrounded himself with. Andrew would be the first to stop me here and say how he relies heavily on his team. I think about this and also realize that without inspiring team leaders such as Andrew, we wouldn't have a scene.
Going into the phone conversation, I was a bit unsure of what kind of person was going to be on the other end. I have learned in a short period of time that there are many different personalities within the music industry. Many want little or nothing to do with you unless you can offer them something large in return. Literally, from the first moments of the call, I realized that Andrew is a music fan like myself. He has just trudged much farther ahead than most normal fans do, but at heart he is all about the music. His creative inspiration is fueled from putting together genres of music, creating a diverse audience, and providing a framework for the event to gel.
Andrew reminisces with me about a Marley birthday show he threw a few years back. He had pulled together three completely different artists: Living Daylights, Lettuce, and the Abyssinians. People in the crowd recognized a few faces, but not as many as they would if going to a show consisting of only their favorite artist. Andrew explained, "As I watched the music take over, midway into the first band, the three groups of fans had meshed together becoming one." These moments are what we go home with after the show is done. They're the ones that live in your memory for years afterwards.
This summer will be the sixth annual Berkfest. New to the fest block is the Mid-Atlantic Music Experience. My curiosity pushed me to ask him what he had the most difficulty with in running a festival of this magnitude. He explained that the most difficult part is just keeping everything organized. The detail that goes into setting up a festival is tremendous. "You really have to rely on your team, because nothing comes easy." Yet, he admits he enjoys the programming aspects the most. "It all has a natural flow, Jazz into Hip-Hop, Hip-hop into Reggae, Reggae into Rock, but not always in that order…" He is excited as he tells about the formation of blended genres. Once the festival is underway anything can happen. Andrew remarks, "Come game time, being out in the trenches, and seeing it all happen is amazing."When asked about who he is looking forward to seeing musically at either festival, Andrew is quick to say the Flaming Lips at Berkfest. He pauses, thinks about the Mid-Atlantic, and eventually pulls out Steel Pulse. He quickly adds that since it's such a new festival he doesn't know how much time he will have to enjoy the music. Berkfest on the other hand has grown to a point where it somewhat runs itself. "...this is the festival that I can take in more of the music without worrying too much about who will be where…"
Our conversation turns as I say it would be hard to talk about festivals without bringing up the Rave Act. Andrew sighs, as most fans do when discussing it. Instead of giving a canned answer, he goes right into his true feelings. He talks about it being overly broad and unreasonable, piggy-backed in on the child abduction bill called "Amber Alert." I thought that it might have led to some uncertainty on his part but Andrew stood strong. He explained, "You have to dot every I and cross every T." With many years of fan and promotion experience under his belt, he knows what to expect.
The Rave Act led into talk about Safevibes. Andrew and Gamelan formed Safevibes to counteract the negative elements that have slid into the music scene. Safevibes is a coalition of people who through discussion, want to promote a safe festival environment. "You don't want to be preachy or pushy, you just want to plant the seeds of knowledge and let them take over." Safevibes is in its growth stage. Due to lack of funds, he admits that he has regrets about it not getting stronger. He is adamant about safety and he discussed how there are so many factors to think about. "...From the local fire dept, to ambulances, to police… you have to be ready for any possible situation and expect anything can happen…" This has become increasing apparent to Andrew after years of planning festivals. Situations might not get easier, but you become more able to handle them from having already dealt before.
As a music fan, Andrew's favorite large festivals were the Phish gatherings, "...they really revolutionized the scene, and had the financial ability to make it something really unique." On a smaller favorite festival note, he talks of "...when High Sierra was in Bear valley." This prompts him to think forward and say positive things about the Telluride festivals.
He delves back to his youth and says that his love for music stems from an earlier festival experience with his parents. That festival was Woodstock, and perhaps, even at two, it changed his life. There are other moments that he pulls out, like last year at Berkfest. He had a bit of down time and had shut his walkie talkie. He was out in the field watching Robert Randolph finish up and Spearhead take the stage. The sun was shining and he was surrounded by family and many old college friends. He knew that this was it, he had nailed it, a perfect moment. Like you and I, he also lives for those moments. We all live for those perfect sunny days when the music gleams it's so good. He goes on to say that Robert Randolph was supposed to sit in with Spearhead, but once Spearhead was on stage Robert Randolph was nowhere to be found. "...Ahhh what could have been…"
An hour on the phone with Andrew goes by in a few seconds. We exchange stories and I hear how he is filled with a thousand ideas and goals. He shares an impressive goal of eight large festivals a year around the country and perhaps around the world.
I came to respect how he has gone about what he does in the industry. Andrew Stahl is obviously a busy person, but never once did he put me on hold or have a rushed tone. He was relaxed and talked freely about the festivals and music. There was even room to share ideas of my own with him. This was very satisfying. How many chances do you get to say "Hey, how about Toots and the Maytals at the next Festival," to someone who can make it happen. It's nice to talk with an influential music lover pushing, expanding, and helping our scene in ways that are well thought out and ultimately positive.
I am excited to see Gamelan Productions latest creation the Mid-Atlantic Music Experience and hope that you can make either to the Mid-Atlantic or the Berkshire Mountain Music Festival. The fact that The Mid-Atlantic is billed as an "experience," and not festival, should peak all music lovers curiosities.
The Mid-Atlantic Music Experience is in Lewisburg, WV July 11, 12, & 13.
The Berkshire Mountain Music Festival is in Great Barrington, MA August 15,16, and 17.