Gather Round for FOOLSFEST: Interview with Mark Levine

Going to concerts is one of my favorite things to do, and it’s more than just the music. The community that emerges between people who love the same song is something very special. Concerts are a chance to synchronize with strangers without necessarily exchanging words or even making eye contact - large groups of people thinking of the same thing, at the same time, in the same space, to the same rhythm - where else in life does that happen?

Several years ago, a frequent festival attendee by the name of Mark Levine started an initiative called FoolsFest where his goal has been to create an American music festival in Houston, Texas that promotes the same sense of community that he experiences at European festivals. There’s only one catch, FoolsFest needs your support on Kickstarter to get off the ground!

Here’s an interview with Mark Levine where he talks about his vision for FoolsFest, his favorite festival, his ideal lineup and more! -Keba RobinsonPHOTOS TAKEN FROM RYAN MCGINELY'S IRREGULAR REGULAR SERIES

Keba: When did you decide that FoolsFest was something that you wanted to do?
Mark Levine: I have been wanting to create a music and arts festival similar to what is done in Europe for about 15 years (since I attended my first UK festival in 1995). In 2005 I really began the formulation of what a music festival needed to make it the best experience. From that point forward I started writing up the documentation that became a business plan. Within 4 years I had come up with most of what I thought FoolsFest would contain. In 2009 & 2010 I worked on budgets and in 2010 forward I began to work on finding funding for the festival.
K: Why the name FoolsFest?
ML: In 1995 I was the driving force to create a one day music festival at my University. It took place on April 1 and was a great event created under the name Fools Festival. The name stuck in my mind because, while most music festivals occur during the summer, it isn’t practical in Texas, yet a spring event is perfect. In the spring everything is blooming and March & April are the best months of spring for Texas. I shortened the name to FoolsFest after working with a branding firm, so that the name was more palatable.

K: In your mission statement, you say that you’ve traveled the world and gone to many festivals and have noticed that American festivals lack the sense of community that you feel overseas – What do you plan on doing differently with Fools Fest that you think will promote community?
ML: Most (not all) music festivals in the US take place in cities and do not have camping and are therefore more disconnected from the revelers attending the event. Whereas, the festivals in the UK & Europe that have the strongest sense of community are camping festivals where 90% of the attendees are onsite for the weekend. By physically being around other people that are at the festival for the entire time the community develops. For instance, you’re more likely to be friends (even if for only a week) if you rely on them to watch out for your stuff in your tent.

K: Do you think the lack of community you have experienced is based on the festivals themselves or preexisting cultural paradigms in America?
ML: Certainly because of the strong history of festivals in the UK & Europe there is a culture that is more open to that communal paradigm; but I don’t believe that this cannot be duplicated in the US. Americans have deep roots in this type of culture…just look at the Deadheads of the 70’s and forward. FoolsFest is simply building on that type of example and creating a festival that has similar openness.

K: What’s the best festival you have ever been to and why?
ML: My favorite (and least favorite) festival is definitely Glastonbury. I attended Glastonbury in 2009 and I camped with over 150,000 strangers. Within an hour, I had been adopted by a small group of people who were meeting random friends (and strangers) at the football (US soccer) game that took place the day before the first day of music. The teams were England versus the rest of the world. Everyone who wanted to play was allowed, the festival owner even came down and watched some of the game. The community adopted everyone the moment they stepped foot on to the grounds. The best thing about the festival was there was always something to do, I even met people who didn’t go to see any of the 500+ bands playing at the event. Some people were there just to hang out. That’s the dream! The reason that it also is my least favorite is because there was so much happening onsite that there was no way for me to experience everything. There were acres and acres that I never even got to see. I think that’s the American in me that wanted to experience everything that was offered; but as a festival lover, I realize that there is always “next year,” and I still had an amazing one of a kind time even if I didn’t see it all.

K: What sorts of bands are you interested in including & what would be your ideal line up of bands?
ML: My personal taste is somewhat eclectic, but I’m not booking the festival for me. For FoolsFest, I want the artist roster to include some big name acts that you could see at an arena or stadium show to headline the festival, with middle sized artists that are just starting to get hot within the indie-rock/country music community, and the smallest acts would be bands that no one around has heard of, but are amazing performers that need an audience.
If I were being selfish and booking bands for myself, I would probably have these performers at the festival: The Beastie Boys, Editors, Maxïmo Park, Johnny Cash, Green Day, A Tribe Called Quest, Lyre le Temps, The Dandy Warhols, Blur, Pixies, Stevie Wonder, Grandaddy, Amy Macdonald, Lana Del Rey, Zac Brown Band, Spoon, and Caravan Palace; among hundreds of others.