Suwannee Hulaween Festival Spotlight on:
Michael Berg – Silver Wrapper Productions Manager Partner/singer-songwriter Van Ghost
Interview by Kaylee Zielinski
What is the most stressful part of throwing a festival?
The stress is rooted in a multitude of ways mostly caused in general by such a giant undertaking and everything that goes along with planning to host a party with so many people and bands at it. Tireless hours of work, dealing with people’s opinions online, and most importantly hoping enough people show up to make it all work out. It ain’t a party without the people!
What inspired you to start throwing a festival?
Once I started promoting full time about a decade ago two goals of our team were to open a club and throw a festival. My crew and I had been hitting the Phish festivals for years and were immersed in the festival culture that boomed in the early 2K’s after Bonnaroo sparked it back up in America. I love festivals and so it only made sense to start producing them.
Are you a musician or artist yourself?
I would loosely call myself a musician but am definitely an artist whose medium is songwriting.
What made you choose this location?
I first came to the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, FL about 4 years ago when I had the privilege of performing at Bear Creek. I had recently visited Rothbury Festival in MI and saw the install they call Sherwood Forest. As soon as I walked onto this site I thought to myself, wow this could be something very similar and special here. I became friends with Paul (Levine, our partner on Suwannee Hulaween and the promoter of Bear Creek) and kept in touch coming back the following year to play Bear Creek again. At that point Paul and I started talking about pooling resources to do an event there at some point. On Jam Cruise (the world’s greatest floating party) last year our interest level ramped up as we brainstormed and talked more about this. Shortly thereafter Suwannee Hulaween was born and we were off to the races. We love this site and it is by far the premier location on the East Coast to present a party/festival of this magnitude.
Who chooses the artists/musicians/performers? Do you have a special process?
Paul, Leif (my partner at Silver Wrapper) and I choose all the bands with some help curating from SCI and their team. We didn’t have a scientific process because for an event like this, the options fairly easily presented themselves. We are thrilled with this line up, especially for a first year. We plan on going bigger down the line, should we be fortunate enough to get to continue doing this in future years.
What is left to do with talent this late in the game?
Nothing… we just announced the last addition to the lineup unveiling the “SUWANNEE BLUEGRASS SURPRISE” to be iconic bluegrass act and longtime friends of SCI and their community: Leftover Salmon, as well as Larry & Jenny Keel. The only thing left to do is show up in your Halloween costumes with your Suwannee Hulaween crew and enjoy every minute of the no overlapping sets we have scheduled all weekend!
How soon after HULAWEEN ends do you start planning for next year?
Nov 3, 2013. Good things come to those who wait, but only what’s left behind by those who hustle.
Is there a point during the festival where you can sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor?
I will crack a huge smile and hug my partners if and when we look across the main field or amphitheater and see thousands of people dancing to the music and having a good time. There is no better feeling for a promoter or event producer than seeing it all come together and offering that outlet for people to leave it at the door and forget about all the bullshit of daily life for a weekend. I will also enjoy the fruits of our labor when we stroll through Spirit Lake and see the forest glowing with lights and fire breathing sculptures among other beautiful pieces of eye candy. I do plan on hanging out with everyone on Saturday night after STS9 comes off stage and of course I get a few minutes of shock and awe of cathartic release when Van Ghost gets to perform. We’re really looking forward to doing a few sets and getting our music back in the Suwannee Park and Spirit Lake. Those will be the best moments for me for sure.
Favorite artist you are currently listening to?
wow… I listen to a lot of music and the styles vary a lot but have been in an Americana/indie rock phase lately. My favorite songs of the month are:
Michigan – Mike Carton Kids
O’Be Joyful – Shovels and Rope
4th of July – Little Hurricane
Keep it Moving – Deep Sea Diver
What are you most excited for this year?
I am a huge Big G fan. They are some of the greatest people I’ve met in this industry and musically something I am really looking forward to musically at this year’s events. Of course the same goes for Conspirator. That being said of course the SCI/STS9 sets will be highlights as well as Future Rock & Manic Focus. I’m honestly excited for all of it. This is going to be one hell of a party!
How do you balance festi-life with regular life?
They are one in the same.. you know that phase: “Live the life you love and love the life you live”? Well… It’s easier said than done at certain times but thankfully it is kind of the way life is going right now.
What sets HULAWEEN apart from other festivals?
The gorgeous park, the positive excitement from the fans, the team behind it truly caring about the festival experience for every act & patron, and the fact that it is over a holiday weekend like Halloween where people are encouraged to go one step ahead of the norm with costumes and a theme, but most importantly SPIRIT LAKE!!! You’ll see once you’re there but we promise you’ll never see the Suwannee Forest the same way again.