Boston area gets onto the rock festival map
CANTON — The site is normally not much to look at — just 44 acres of open field and a placid pond, ringed by a dormant horse track and nestled behind an office complex. But Prowse Farm, with the Blue Hills Reservation looming in the distance, will soon be home to Greater Boston’s first two-day rock music festival — one that could draw as many as 40,000 people to this little town next weekend.
The Life is good Festival, organized by the Boston-based apparel company famous for its T-shirts, aims to make Massachusetts a major player in the national festival market, on par with Tennessee’s Bonnaroo and California’s Coachella. Closer to home, Newport has its jazz and folk events, and in Maine the Nateva Music & Camping Festival debuted in July.
But the Boston area has never had anything like this.
“It’s about time,’’ said Adam Gardner, lead singer of the Boston-bred rock band Guster, which will play the festival. “I understand why it’s taken this long for a rock festival to come together; there’s already so much music happening around the city. But if Boston can have a chowder festival, why wouldn’t we have a music festival?’’
There’s another notable aspect to The Life is good Festival: organizers are envisioning a family-friendly rock extravaganza that, they hope, will net $1 million for the Life is good Kids Foundation charity.
“The point of the festival is to raise money for kids. The other point is to build a music event where 8-year-olds and 20-year-olds can live harmoniously,’’ James Macdonald, the company’s director of good vibes (that’s his official title), said recently on a private tour of the property. “It’s a rock ’n’ roll concert you can bring the kids to.’’
Spread over two stages, the festival will feature a lineup ranging from pop musicians (Jason Mraz, Brett Dennen) and soul singers (Mavis Staples, Corinne Bailey Rae) to rock bands (Ben Harper and Relentless7, OK Go) and world acts (Ziggy Marley, Sierra Leone’s Refugee Allstars). A separate family area will host children’s activities and popular entertainers such as Dan Zanes and Laurie Berkner, along with hometown heroes They Might Be Giants.
The event has a distinctly New England flavor. Several of the acts — including Zanes, Guster, Will Dailey, Eli “Paperboy’’ Reed, and Grace Potter & the Nocturnals — have local roots.
Like an extension of Life is good’s demographic, the roster is intentionally broad but united in its vision, said Bert Jacobs, who cofounded the company in 1994 with his brother, John.
“We carefully chose every artist, and while they’re all from different genres, the common thread is that they all celebrate life,’’ Jacobs said. “These bands tend to focus on what’s right with the world rather than what’s wrong. That’s kind of what our brand is about.’’
The company has staged Life is good festivals in various locations since 2003, but never anything of this magnitude. It’s also the first time the festival is charging admission ($90 for an adult two-day pass, $50 for a single-day pass, $10 a day for children 6-12, and free for children under 5). Superfly Productions, which puts on Bonnaroo and other national music festivals, is producing the event.
Jacobs said his business does not stand to profit from the festival, because all net proceeds will be donated to programs that help children in need. Even if it doesn’t break even, other revenue streams — merchandise sales, proceeds from an online fund-raising campaign, and corporate contributions — will go to the Life is good Kids Foundation. Jacobs says no matter what happens, the festival will return in some form next year.
In a twist on VIP treatment, the festival will reward folks who raise money through an online fund-raiser. Participants will solicit donations for the Life is good Kids Foundation. The top fund-raisers will be rewarded with VGP (Very Good People) status, which entitles them to a premium seating area and meet-and-greet sessions with some of the entertainers.
The size of the festival, however, is posing traffic and parking logistical challenges. Life is good expects 15,000 to 20,000 visitors each day. The Newport Folk Festival typically draws 7,000 to 9,000 visitors daily.
Life is good has arranged to use parking lots at nearby businesses, including Reebok, and shuttles will run frequently between various pick-up points. Additionally, Macdonald advises attendees to take the commuter rail to the Route 128/University Avenue station on the Providence/Stoughton line; the MBTA will increase train service on both days to accommodate extra crowds. Even though Prowse Farm could comfortably hold a much larger volume, Macdonald said the festival will sell a maximum of 20,000 tickets each day.
For their part, Canton officials don’t seem worried that the town’s population could potentially double during the festival.
“We’re absolutely ready,’’ said Lieutenant Helena Findlen of the Canton Police Department. “It’s the first year, so I’m sure there will be things to iron out a little bit.’’
The town is excited about the festival, she said, and police are ready for the traffic.
Macdonald admits there might be last-minute snags, but he said he is glad Boston is finally getting its moment in the festival spotlight.
“The closest thing to [a rock festival] for us was WFNX putting shows on at the Hatch Shell when I was in high school,’’ Macdonald said. “I’m just happy that we’ve finally got one inside of 128. I don’t think people expected the T-shirt guys to be the ones to do it.’’