Q’s With Levitate Music Festival’s Daniel Hassett: From Skate Shop To Anastasio

Levitate Festival
Red Eye Media
– Levitate Festival

Levitate Music Festival co-founder Daniel Hassett runs Levitate skate/surf shop and has turned a backyard BBQ-type event into a major two-day festival in Marshfield, Mass., which this year features the Trey Anastasio Trio, The Head And The Heart, Slightly Stoopid, Rebelution, Lake Street Dive and hometown favs Stick Figure among many others July 7-8.
The event speaks to art and music fans of all walks of life, and includes a kids’ section with an onsite Germination Station where kids can get down and dirty with some horticulture. He and his wife Jessica run the event together, where she also hand-paints all the artwork for posters, website and advertising. 
“Levitate is a surf and skate shop and our biggest strength was the ability to bring people together through our business,” Hassett told Pollstar. “We ended up throwing the first Levitate Music Festival as a 10-year celebration of the Levitate business as a whole. That that was in 2013, and it’s taken off since and become a big part of what Levitate is today.”
With the festival’s capacity at 15,000 per day and growing in each of its now-six years (nominated for Pollstar’s Festival of the Year in 2016) — Hassett talked to Pollstar about Levitate’s beginnings, curating the lineup (and knowing when to let an artist booking go), competition in the market and the festival’s sustainability efforts which have led to eliminating the the need for more than 31,000 single-use water bottles on site. 
One June 29 the festival announced it had officially sold out.
So you still operate the skate shop too?  

Daniel and Jess Hassett
– Daniel and Jess Hassett

Yes, so I  have two full-time jobs (laughs).
How do you go about curating the lineup?

We have an ever-growing list of bands that fit our event, we have a way we curate it with different acts from different genres, and we adhere to that.
The selection of the bands is key, and at the end of the day you need to have enough options because you can’t be reliant on just getting that one or three bands you want, because frankly it’s a big world — these bands are on the move and there’s no saying they’re going to be in Massachusetts on our weekend.
We make sure we have plenty of bands that fit our curation. I have a partner in Thomas Cussins who does the talent buying and does a great job locking down the bands we’re pursuing.
How about this year’s lineup?

I’m excited about all of them. It was our dream to have Trey as a headliner. It’s amazing, it’s the perfect fit for our event, the fans are ecstatic, he’s been great to work with, across the board it’s great.
The Head and the Heart — amazing. And honestly it’s crazy,  there are so many bands we’ve wanted forever — Slightly Stoopid we’ve always wanted, this is the first year it’s worked out. The fans are ecstatic, management is ecstatic. Lake Street Dive and Stick Figure and Twiddle — those are three Boston bands — Ripe as well, an upcoming, unbelievable band. 
Stick Figure is a hometown band and they’ve played all six years. They’ve kind of growth with us so it’s kind of a cool story and exciting to have them back.

Does Levitate focus on a particular genre of music?

This is the first year we’ve headlined a jam band. We’ve had reggae bands, blues bands, rock bands — and we’re kind of a mix of jam/reggae/rock.
The years we’ve had the reggae headliner, people say we’re a reggae festival and the years we have jam bands they say we’re a jam festival but the reality is a we’re a mix.
What’s it like being an indie festival in a difficult market?
For us it started years ago where you create an event that fans want to be a part of and artists want to be a part of. At the end of the day, both the artists and the agents want more successful events they can play at. I find that there’s actually support for these sort of events. 
You’ve got to be able to pay the fair price but, in terms of the talent buying, we haven’t found it to be a major issue and we feel it’s because we treat the artists right and we hope that they want to play our event because it’s a good time and they’re looking for new venues to play.
That’s our approach. Of course there’s going to be times when there’s competition, that there’s another event or venue they want to play more, for whatever reasons — regardless of curation or vibe, people throwing it, money.  
But there’s enough acts out there on tour that want to play great events and we provide a great event and it’s been successful in getting the acts we want that way — frankly, without worrying much about the competition at all.
Is it hard when you can’t get who you want?
As a festival you need to be willing to let go of bands when it’s not the right fit for them. When your event’s not the right fit for them you need to let it go and find an act that it does make sense for.
Financially, you can’t chase it to no end or you might end up getting the act you want but you’re in a position where your event is not financially sustainable.
What kind of platform does Levitate provide for acts lower on the bill?
We try to treat them fairly and give them a good set time, and we work hard to get fans there early. 
Ultimately we think our festival specifically is a great play for them because they have this potential to gain so many fans. Additionally we do extensive advertising so even though their name might be small on the poster, we’re getting them out there a lot more than let’s say a club show.
They see it as an opportunity and we see it as an opportunity because a lot of festival fans want to go and discover new bands as well as to see the headliners. It’s an attraction and, in that regard, the smaller acts are selling tickets too.

What makes Levitate stand out?
Our event’s successful because it’s basic — it’s a good easy flow, festival in a grassy fairgrounds. We do a really cool kids area, the Germination Station teaches kids how to plant seedlings and how to garden and live in that world, and we have an entire sustainability mission to produce an environmental impact report every year. 
We try to use our event to enhance and educate in certain initiatives that we’re interested in. Beyond that we do a really interesting, local, New England-only artist and craft area and homegrown beer tent which is all Massachusetts breweries. We want to be a nationally recognized event but want to cater to our area.

Can you talk more about the sustainability mission?
What’s really amazing is how much waste there would be if you weren’t making a diligent effort to conserve. It’s cool because it’s a multi-front thing. You have to invest some time and effort and money in it to do it right but in reality it’s not only something that helps the environment and educates future generations but it’s actually, business-wise, a good move. You end up saving quite a bit of money if you use less. 
You have to wrap your head around it, have to invest some time and thought. And I get it when you’re a business moving fast and it’s hard to slow down and reassess how you do things. But it’s nice when something like that lines up with business interests as well.