Chris Rotolo: Let’s start at the beginning…How’d this whole idea came about?
Jeff Mahajan: We’d been traveling for years playing festivals all over the Northeast. We were driving four and five hours away to play these sets because there was nothing around here. So we drew from certain promoters that we worked with who were doing events like this, taking aspects of their events that inspired us and brought them together to create Soupergroove.
CR: Can you elaborate on some of those focus points that Soupergroove will try to improve upon?
JM: Internally we’re doing some things differently, most notably the deals for bands and how they’ll be treated. I tried to make it extremely generous because as a member of a band that’s played the festival circuit, if you want to play with bigger names you make the monetary sacrifices. We don’t want our bands making those sacrifices here.
We also wanted all acts to be within an hour or so of the festival. Making it mostly a local thing is special in bringing to light that we have this much talent in such a confined area to merit this kind of event…plus we didn’t want bands being spending large amounts of money to travel here, to be strapped for cash and stressed about playing. That’s not the feelings we’re trying to invoke.
We’re also making sure to take care of the staff. A lot of people have volunteered to make Soupergroove happen, a lot of people who are veterans festival workers so you listen to them, you hear what they have to say, what problems they had in the past, what worked for them in the past at other fests, you listen, and utilize what they have to say.
JM: My festival experience started with Phanphest, they hired us to play on a couple of occasions and it really inspired us to do Soupergroove. Phanphest recently went through some financial issues and didn’t host its big event this year, so we had to act. As well as losing a great event, we lost a gig, so we had go through with this and do it for ourselves…This is so much inspired by Phanphest and all the amazing times we had their, and also in spite of it not being there.
CR: How about as a fan?
JM: Another major influence for Soupergroove was Jamcruise, a jam festival on a cruise liner. Michael Franti asked me to jam with him during his first night set. And the next night he asked me to come back for the entire set, and Kris Myers of Umphreys McGee came out on drums, it was great. After the jam we all hung out and that’s sort of the improvisational vibe we’re trying to create this weekend. We want people to feed off each other, to work together, to create with one another. I wanted to import that type of Jamcruise experience at Soupergroove.
CR: How about the grounds? Festival creators tend to have a special relationship with the place they choose to hold their event? Soupergroove was scheduled to take place a Camp Zhender in Wall, now you’ll be at the Priedaine Latvian Society in Freehold…what can you tell me about the festival site?
JM: The thing about Camp Zhender is that its a day camp for kids and this Festival was never meant to grow to this size. It started out as a family barbeque with Turtle Soup playing for friends and family, and grew into this event with 30 bands. Eventually, the township and the folks at Zhender deemed that the grounds couldn’t handle the magnitude of Soupergroove. ‘We can’t have bamboozle on our lawns.’ That’s what they said to us. Hopefully we grow it be that size someday, but they didn’t understand what they were dealing with.
As for Priedaine [Latvian Society], this place was built for a Festival. We were going to have to import stages at Zhender, where Priedaine already has a set up. And what’s interesting is that we came full circle. This is where we wanted to hold Soupergroove back in January when planning commenced, but were told the date was booked. Something happened since then, and when the trouble arose with Zhender I called the Priedaine reps and they said “Yeah, we’re open.” Zhender was gonna be cool, but it wasn’t set up to be a festival grounds. This place can handle what we’re offering.
CR: When I invite people over my house for a BBQ, I’m cooking, I’m serving drinks, I’m making sure everything is running smoothly. This is a music festival and you’re the host, the curator, the headliner, among other things…do you think you’ll have any time to actually enjoy what you’ve created?
JM: My plan is to run around as much as possible in advance and just jam with people when I get there. I have a staff set up that knows its responsibilities and bounds. I trust them because they’re great at what they do. I know they can handle what I’ve assigned them to do, and I know everyone involved, including myself, will have a great time.
CR: Talk to me about the music, what went into the selection process? How did you choose the bands?
JM: There was a varied process, but it all basically started with a facebook post I made before band practice one day that said, ‘Turtle Soup is having a festival, message me if you want to play.’ Its amazing actually, that Soupergroove as we know it to be now, grew out of a simple Facebook event. It was Trading Places, how something simple like a $1 bet or Facebook event can evolve into something extravagant. At first, all I did was text friends who played in bands, most said sure, which was great because we wanted to keep it local. Eventually we stretched the borderlines a little bit and asked some groups we’ve played with and really respect.
CR: I guess the idea of “The Music Festival” began with Woodstock and has evolved into the summertime culture as we now know it to be, where everyone and their grandmother seems to put on a festival every weekend of the year? As a guy who’s about to put on his first festival, who’s been to his fair share, what are your thoughts on this so called “Festival Culture”? Do more fests make for parody and boredom? Do you see them as money making events that’ll eventually alienate the concert goer? Or is this growing number a good thing, generating more opportunities for bands and musicians?
JM: Bands like Turtle Soup need to get out and travel if we’re going to build an audience, so in that sense, the Festival circuit is a good thing. But you’re right, this culture has hit the mainstream. 10 to 15 years ago I was playing in bars and if I saw an older guy in there I’d feel like shit because that’s not who I was trying to reach. But a huge change has occurred in the mainstream of pop culture. Those baby boomers are a huge part of the culture now. They have the income to go out to shows and festivals. They’re as much a part of it as anyone else, and what’s more, you come to realize that they helped start this festival culture. They were at Woodstock. This atmosphere is ingrained in their generation just as much as it is ours.
However, what’s changed from the days of Woodstock is that now the “Festival” is a business model, much like the precedent set by The Grateful Dead. They said ‘we’re not gonna sell records to generate revenue. We’re gonna tour.” It’s a business model now. Its all hit the mainstream, and lots of people are jumping in the pool. You don’t have to explain yourself to sponsors anymore because it’s hit the point where festivals are everywhere. So, although there is parody, although quantity sometimes outweighs quality, it’s still important to the bands, it’s important to popular culture, and these festival atmospheres still act as an eye opening experience for most people in attendance.
CR: With that said, what are your plans for Soupergroove beyond this inaugural event? What are your plans for its growth and evolution?
JM: In it’s early stages, I think this is the exactly the type of festival that could travel from state to state. There’s so many sick bands in Pennsylvania, and it’s in such close proximity to Jersey, that you could take the core bands on any given bill, put them together with a selection of Pennsylvania acts and move it there for a weekend. This is a very viable option for Soupergroove, especially in its infancy. We definitely want to grow this brand and aside from landing a major headliner, moving locations and hosting multiple events is another way for us to enhance its scale.
It takes time to grow a festival and there’s a couple of ways. You can keep it grounded in one location and wait until it becomes a yearly tradition for fans and families, in which word would spread and more tickets would be sold, in turn attract larger acts, or it would have to travel.
You can’t play The Saint every week, you need to play in Pennsylvania and New York. In the same sense, you can’t keep throwing Festivals in the same location without major funding and expect it grow the way you envision…That being said if we find this niche works for people and the bands, we’ll drive a stake into Priedaine and build it up from there.”