A couple weeks ago, we sat down with Rick Farman, co-founder of Superfly, co-creators and producers of hugely successful festivals such as Bonnaroo and Outside Lands, to discover how he approaches festival production and what fans can expect at Lost Lake, their newest festival venture taking place in Phoenix later this month.
Front Gate Tickets: Did you always see yourself in the entertainment industry? In the scenario that you could retire right now, what’s the next move?
Rick Farman: I had a significant learning disability, and I was sort of told around high school that it would be difficult for me to get through law school with the particular disability I had. In some way that got my wheels turning about other options and around that time is when I got really into music and started to actively pursue that path. In many ways I seized an opportunity. As for retirement, I’ve always thought about being a professor at a university on subjects related to my career: whether it is business, entertainment, or something like that. I currently do a little investing in young companies and enjoy being in that role of helping young entrepreneurs, whether it’s through investment, consulting, or advising, I think that would be a fun thing to do in retirement.
FGT: What are your thoughts on the growing trend of “boutique festivals”? Ones that invest in not just the lineup, but the whole experience?
RF: I certainly think the lineup matters, but differently at different times in the festival’s lifecycle – but ultimately, the events that are really successful transcend the lineup itself and becomes more about the overall experience and about what people have come to trust about the brand itself and the reputation.
Festivals are a great vehicle to express the assets and attributes in the community, and I think it’s a really interesting part of the American festival story in contrast to the European festival story where psychographic communities come together. The American story, in my opinion, is well represented by the best, oldest festivals out there. The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Music Festival is one of the most impactful and important in America. That model took all the elements of New Orleans and Louisiana and expressed it through an amazing cultural event—it becomes an iconic representation of what that culture is about. City festivals that have done really well, in my opinion, have followed that particular pathway.
FGT: Jumping into Lost Lake, what about Phoenix specifically made it an attractive host city? This year alone we have seen a ton of festivals pop up there, and it was interesting to see it become such a desired location. What goes into tapping cities for events?
RF: There is an interesting evolution of culture and demographics playing out in Phoenix. It’s not that different than what you see in other progressive cities like Seattle, Portland or Denver where a lot of people are moving to the downtown part of the city, the city is investing smartly, and there’s a sort of Renaissance that’s occurring.
The biggest advocates for Phoenix were the people at Walter Productions. Walter was created out of the sort of love and passion of the founders of Burning Man and they have been a part of Bonnaroo, their sort of first creative foray outside of Burning Man, for many years. We’re huge fans of what they do and when they told us there were a lot of interesting cultural and creative things going on in Phoenix, it gave us a vision and feeling of what a festival there could be. It’s more than just these elements of the local culture, there’s also a great creative force there that can help us bring this to a whole other level. The most exciting thing about Lost Lake is that it really is Superfly and Walter Productions coming full circle to create something new in their hometown, and that’s an amazing opportunity for us.
FGT: For Lost Lake, what can fans expect – what are you drawing from your other festival successes like Bonnaroo and Outside Lands? What are some things that will be done differently to set that apart?
RF: At Superfly a lot of what we are really good at is creating or mining community, and finding all of the cool facets to put in place there. We’ve created a lot of interesting partnerships connected to each place we go, focused on the creative life, and who is doing interesting things.
For example, we have this amazing relationship with Chris Bianco, who in many ways helped create the deep culinary scene that exists in Phoenix, to make sure we were going in the right direction in order to get that culinary scene built into this event. Same thing on the beverage side. One of the specials we are doing is creating a whole agave area — obviously we are in the southwestern desert and the agave plant’s use for making mezcal and tequila runs deep in terms of the cocktail culture.
We also found that Phoenix is a place where people really like to have a good time. You go places and they have bar games and lawn games; that whole aspect of having a drink and doing something active is really prevalent. One of the really fun things we are doing with Walter is building oversized games. Some of it you’ve seen out there where some places have oversized Connect Four or oversized Jenga—we are taking that to another level. We are building an oversized billiard table where you are actually playing pool with bowling balls; there is a whole experience of games like this.