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Published: 2010/09/10
by Sam Davis

Life Is Good This Weekend

Life Is Good Festival, taking place this weekend in the Blue Hills of Canton, MA, is about two things – helping children who live in the worst conditions in the country, and enjoying high-quality live music. The line-up includes: Ben Harper & Relentless 7, Guster, Mavis Staples, Jason Mraz, Corinne Bailey Rae, Ziggy Marley, Galactic, Ozomatli, Sierra Leone Refugee Allstars, Brett Dennen, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, Donavon Frankenreiter, Dr. Dog, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue and Toubab Krewe are all on the bill. In addition, the Laurie Berkner Band, Dan Zanes and Friends, They Might Be Giants and The Sippy Cups will perform on the “Good Kids” Stage. We had a chance to speak with Bert Jacobs, one of the two brothers who started Life Is Good clothing company back in 1989. Bert seemed to embody his company’s name as he spoke passionately about his work with children, told us about breaking Guinness world records and chimed in on Joe Pisapia’s departure from Guster following this weekend’s performance at Life Is Good.

You guys started making T-shirts back in ’89 and now you’re running a two day festival featuring some of the top acts. Can you talk about how the idea for the festival started and how it became a reality?

Well we’ve been running Life is Good Festivals since 2003 and music has always been a component, but not the centerpiece. We made a decision two years ago that we were going to invest much more heavily in music. I guess we feel as though it’s probably the best vehicle for building community. And, the cause of our kids foundation (Life is Good Kids Foundation) is helping children overcome life-threatening conditions. Looking at the landscape of fundraisers we felt as though the majority was all about the long difficult walks or marathons etc. and we felt it might be a little more brand appropriate for us if our event was really fun and enjoyable and involved live music, but was also a fundraiser. We didn’t see anything happening nationally in that area so [we] thought that was open space. We also felt that the place that was open in the area of live music or festivals was that it was an either or, with being kid-friendly or having killer music. It was kind of like you can do something family friendly, with families with young kids, but as soon as you do the music’s kind of a drag. So the theory was, hey just because someone has a kid doesn’t mean they don’t love great music now. So a lot of people in the industry told us “hey dude, you got to go one way or the other, you can’t do both because as soon as you got those kids there it’s about them.” So, we’re attempting to do both and we think that it’s going to be just fine. We’ve chosen artists from all different genres and feel like we’ll get music fans that are not family centric and we feel like we’ll get music fans that are totally focused on the family.

How did you guys become involved with Superfly, who are widely-known for putting on the Bonnaroo festival?

My brother and I got wound up on this idea about two years ago and we spent that time travelling around to all the major music festivals and kind of had some fun. It’s good work if you can get it, you know, and we hung out and enjoyed the music and knocked some beers along the way. But we really focused on kind of trying to decide whether we could get in this business or not. And so, what happened along the way sort of is the type of thing that’s happened to us all along the way. We’re not really the smartest guys in the world, we don’t really have everything figured out, but we’re pretty good at making friends. And, before we talked to any business we kind of just hit it off with the Superfly guys and we were intrigued by their business and everything they’d done, and we got talking and they got interested in our business and everything we’d done, and sort of coming at it from different angles. So first we just kind of hung out and there was good chemistry and we got to be friends and after hanging out a few times finally those guys invited us to Manhattan and we sat down and kicked it around, and you know, after one day we said “OK, let’s try one together.” You know, they liked the concept of the open space where no one is doing kids and adults for music fans and families, and also liked the idea that it was a hundred percent for charity. So, they’re really helping us to take a big step with that once they gave us – tremendous access to artists that we probably wouldn’t have had for our first major festival and they’re also giving us a huge amount of expertise in logistics. You know, with this into that I think there’s a lot of cache that comes with the Superfly name which gives us more credibility in the music industry.

Oh, I’m sure. How were you involved with festivals before? You mentioned that you’ve been involved with festivals since 2003, but outside the music scene. What was it that you were doing?

Well, we did a lot of bizarre things. In 2006 we broke the Guinness world book of records for the most lit pumpkins at one time.

Wow. [Laughs]. We had 31,000 lit pumpkins on the Boston Common and they were carved by Boston citizens and we raised over half-a-million dollars for our kids foundation. So that was a big one. Another year we rented Fenway Park and we had something, a competition called “The World’s Greatest Backyard Athlete”. And, it was kind of a joke, I mean most of the world’s greatest backyard athletes had big fat guts [laughs], you know but they were good people and they entered contests to spit watermelon seeds and eat pie and play wiffleball out in the outfield and you know they raised a lot of money. They had to raise five thousand dollars each to compete in the competition, but the hook was that they got to compete on the hallowed grounds of Fenway [Park]. So, they were out in the outfield playing Bocce, or one of the events was they had to whip Frisbees off the green monster and see who could come closest to second base.

So, for us it was like a life-long dream ‘cause we’re Boston guys and we’ve always had the fantasy of Fenway so we got to take over for a day and, you know, we raised a heck of a lot of money that day too. But, most of these things were sort of, as you can imagine, not really sustainable. I mean, after you break the world record for pumpkins what are you gonna do, light 32,000 the next year? So, we didn’t think through it that well we were just sort of winging and now, one of the things we really like about getting involved in music is that we’ve started building relationships with all these artists. I don’t think involvement in the music industry has to stop with a live festival. We want to do that as an annual, and maybe have several, but there’s a lot of other things I think we can do to promote those artists and, you know, have those artists promote Life Is Good to their fan base too and sort of continue to make friends with these guys.

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