Langerado: The Little Festival That Could
Since its inauguration as a single-day event in 2003, Langerado has blossomed into one of the most unique American music festivals around. In a market that has rapidly over-saturated, Langerado has managed to keep its head above water, and develop a reputation as being the unofficial kickoff to the festival season. Its March date has made it popular for Spring Breakers, and its South Florida location has made the festideal for what Ethan Schwartz, one of the festivals founders, describes as a unique opportunity for people to dig themselves out of the snow and see some great music.
Langerado has seen gradual growth in size, length and lineup. In its first form, Langerado hosted acts such as G. Love, Medeski Martin and Wood and initial-headliners moe.. However, Ethan Schwartz and Mark Brown, the founders of Langerado, are significantly upping the ante for this years event. Langerado has moved from its previous home at Markham Park, a public facility thats been outgrown, to the Seminole Tribes Big Cypress, home of Phishs famous Millennium concert. This time around, the festival is being billed as a four day, full blown camping festival, featuring on-site late night acts, in addition to arena-status headliners such as R.E.M. and The Beastie Boys.
With all the developments Langerado has undergone over the years, one has to wonder what makes the tiny festival that could stand out. Brown emphasizes that a key to the festivals success is its intimacy and that it has the best sound, lighting, and attention to detail that one would expect at the largest festivals in the world. He adds, Langerado represents the latest trends in music, introduces great and new eclectic bands to the scene, all in a way that shows the diversity of South Florida.
With all the hype behind this years growth and recent development, its important to take a step back and garner a foothold on where things began. According to Schwartz, he was living in South Florida and it was not a hotbed for jamband music. Id been seeing the [Disco] Biscuits, moe. and Phish for years, and when one of those bands would come through Florida, theyd just grace the skirt through Gainesville or Tallahassee. So a buddy and I, who always went north to see shows, finally asked, How do we get these bands to come down here? We started calling up bands and somehow convinced them to come down to perform. We got moe. and a few Keller Williams shows and more and more people started coming each time. Eventually, this reinforced the notion that a South Florida Music festival could succeed.
Schwartz had been promoting blues shows since 1999 when in the summer of 2002 there was a blues festival in Ft. Lauderdalethat was interested in getting acts like Robert Randolph and the North Mississippi All Stars on board. They contacted me to see if I had any ideas about it, and I told them I thought it would be great to expose the jamband crowd to the blues and vice versa. One of the writers around here wrote an article saying it would ruin the spirit of the blues festival to fuse jambands that had nothing to do with the blues. So I wrote an article to the editor saying that a festival should be about exposing people to new music. Fans who came to see Robert Randolph would be exposed to the blues, and a lot of blues fans would see some new music and everyone would gain exposure. Anyways, the writer wrote me back privately saying If you want a jamband festival, then put one yourself. And from that bitter challenge, Langerado was born.
Its first year catered to 3,500 attendees. Ever since, Langerado has seen an annual attendance growth of roughly 50%. Last years event drew Markham Parks maximum capacity of 15,000 people, and when the county refused to raise the bar on attendance, Schwartz and Brown began the move to Big Cypress, where they plan to welcome a record 25,000 attendees to this years event.
When asked what problems he anticipates facing, Schwartz is quick to comment, The biggest concern people have this year is traffic. But [the event] Phish had [at Big Cypress had] 110,000 people, and we only expect 25,000, so it shouldnt be too bad. Weve already got plans in the works so it shouldnt be too problematic.
Amongst longtime Langerado attendees, the parking situation in 2006 was notoriously mismanaged, and it seemed as though specific steps were taken last year to avoid reliving their previous mistakes. However, as much as standard logistical problems can be improved upon, an event of this size is always bound to come across problems that are unstoppable. We always run into problems, Schwartz explains. Weve always got bands showing up at the last minute. Last year Rodrigo y Gabriela had trouble getting a working visa so they had to cancel their performance at the last minute. The year before Steel Pulse had visa troubles. Over the last five years weve built a great team and its starting to run like clock work. Obviously, going to a new location this year will provide a new set of logistical concerns. But weve got guys who work for Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Vegoose guys who work at festivals all over the country. As things grow, the team gets tighter and things flow smoother. Weve got a couple of people on board who worked for the big Phish concerts [to help make things run smoothly]. A lot of the people who worked for Phish work for these single [festival] events, because as big of an industry as it is, its still rather small, so a lot of the same people are working the same handful of events.
Following the first year at Markham Park, regulations regarding admission to and from the parking lot were tightened extensively due to police concerns of illegal activity. Recent years saw no reentry policies that hindered a lot of the Shakedown Street-esque culture seen at camping festivals such as Wakarusa and Bonnaroo. Given Langerados switch to a site and format closer to their camping-festival brethren, one has to wonder how that will effect the culture and behavior of the audience. Although plenty of folks are already starting to speculate that there will be partying-a-plenty, Schwartz feels that the event will be orderly and law abiding. I think people just have to be responsible for their own actions. Were putting this on for people to enjoy themselves. When you put 20,000 people together, the most important thing on our mind is safety. The tribe has their own police department to keep things safe, and its in the best interest of the peace. I wouldnt want to be anywhere where there were 20,000 people and there werent any police. I just wouldnt feel comfortable.
Even with the annual growth the festival has experienced, Brown and Schwartz are both adamant that their festival cannot, and will not, be the next Bonnaroo. Schwartz affirms, I dont think Langerado could ever get to the size of Bonnaroo given the location and time of year. Weve been happy with our steady growth over the last five years. We started with 3,500 people, last year we got 15,000, and so its grown at a nice pace of 50 percent each year. If we could get to 22 to 25,000 people this year, that would bode really well for the future. Brown comments, Each year the festival gets a little bigger, and yet still remains loyal to the intimacy that makes Langerado so unique. Schwartz also feels that Having the Beastie Boys and REM on [the bill] this year allows bigger bands take notice. Hopefully, who knows, well get into the Radioheads and Pearl Jams in a few years if they take notice and see what an amazing event it is for them to play. It is a great event for these bands to play. As long as The Beastie Boys and REM go home happy and tell their agents what a great time they had, for me, that is as good as anything, because their agents will be excited to get their other bands on board.
Even as they gear up for the 2008 event, it seems as though Schwartz and Browns sights are not far from March of 2009. And as they look towards the future, it seems as though they have actively kept the festivals cultural history at heart while they face significant growth. Brown gets to the core of this by saying, As a festival, the more we express the voice of the fans, either by supporting non-profit organizations, by being conscious of who we bring in as sponsors, or by selecting diverse bands that stand for something positive, the more we can continue to grow and be a place that people come back to experience year after year."