The Harvest Music Festival on Mulberry Mountain near Ozark, Ark., is just as home-grown as its summer counterpart, the Wakarusa Festival. However, there are more differences between the two festivals than the change of seasons. To get an inside look at this smaller, more intimate festival taking place in the Ozark National Forest, Pollstar spoke with Pipeline Productions co-owner Brett Mosiman.
Billed as Yonder Mountain String Band’s Harvest Music Festival, this will be the second year the bluegrass quartet headlines the Oct. 13-16 event, playing three of the four days. The lineup also includes Béla Fleck & The Flecktones, Railroad Earth, 7 Walkers Feat. Papa Mali & Bill Kreutzmann, Corey Smith, Peter Rowan, Trampled By Turtles and Todd Snider among the 65 or so acts scheduled to appear.
We first met Mosiman when Pollstar spoke with him a couple of weeks before this year’s Wakarusa festival in June. However, this time around Mosiman was a bit more laid back than he was when he was preparing to greet more than 20,000-plus festivalgoers.
But regardless of the size of the lineup, Mosiman promises he and his crew will keep things intimate and personal.
How does the fall weather influence your decisions regarding the Harvest Festival?
You don’t know year to year, but last year, for instance, it was in the mid 80s during the days. We were looking at film footage from last year and people were still in their bikinis. That might not be regular or normal, but typically, the days are warm and the evenings are cool so you can put on cut-offs and a tank top in the afternoons, sometimes, and maybe jeans and a hoodie at night and it’s beautiful. In the Midwest fall is absolutely the prettiest time of year and best weather by far.
You have Yonder Mountain String Band as one of the headliners. Who else is playing the festival this year?
Béla Fleck is playing. Railroad Earth, Seven Walkers… 60, 65 bands playing about 95 sets.
How many acts are Harvest Music veterans?
Probably about two-thirds. Maybe between half and two-thirds.
So like Wakarusa you get a lot of artists returning.
Now that we’re going into our ninth year, it’s harder and harder to have [acts] that have never played the festival before. Since last year, out of 100 bands, at least 50 had never played the festival before. Less than 20 percent of them had played the year before. We try really hard to keep it fresh and bring in new talent each year. I think that’s what most of the festivals are kind of known for. They’re festivals to go to to find new favorite bands.
Of the Yonder Mountain String Band performing at the 2010 Harvest Music Festival.
Does the title “Harvest Festival” merely describe the time of year, or are there elements of an actual harvest such as food concessions or activities that are unique to the season?
Mostly the part of the year. We do get vendors that might give you real corn or pumpkin soup, or whatnot. A lot of the vendors like to use fresh and organic stuff. There’s kettle corn, caramel apples and such but for the most part it’s centered around the beautiful fall foliage in the Ozark National Forest.
Are most of your vendors local?
Most of them are national. Same with Wakarusa. I’d say over three-fourths of them are from out of state.
What’s one of the biggest challenges in preparing for Harvest Festival that you don’t see with Wakarusa?
Rain, I think, people take in stride. Again, mid-October highs are 78 to 82 degrees. It really is beautiful. Wakarusa has been really warm the last two years, kind of unseasonably warm, actually. One of these years we’ll get back into the mid 80s where it should be. There’s nothing particularly difficult about Harvest. It’s a smaller festival, more intimate. To our staff and crew it really is what we look forward to. A lot less intense work and we can enjoy the music and the vibe. A lot more relaxed all around. Wakarusa has gotten big enough now that it’s a real workday for everybody. The round-the-clock thing, it kicks our butts. This one, you can find crew members having a glass of wine and putting their feet up occasionally. It’s quite enjoyable for everyone because we’re all music fans and we’re passionate about the music we book.
Yonder Mountain String Band's Harvest Music Festival 2010
When we spoke earlier this year, you mentioned that Wakarusa attracts approximately 20,000 people. How many people do you get for the Harvest Festival?
We’re expecting 5,000 to 6,000
So you’re not going to have the 1,000 volunteers that you have for Wakarusa.
No. A couple hundred, probably. The whole vibe is that it’s one of the last festivals of the year. Winding down the year and savoring warm days and cool nights. It’s a spectacular setting. When you look at some of the aerial photographs of Wakarusa, it’s hundreds of miles of national forest surrounding us in all four directions. The drive in, the fall foliage and scenery is spectacular this time of year.
Is camping tougher to sell for a fall festival compared to a summer event?
A lot of kids are in school and that probably does contribute to the lower numbers. The lineup and the scope of the event, we want this to be an intimate event you can bring the kids and grandkids to. We have quite a bit of children’s activities at this event that we don’t have at Wakarusa.
For a lot of people, it’s the last chance to get the tent and the camp chairs and head out for the wide-open spaces. That should be the appeal. Obviously the world-class Americana music. It is a time when people have activities like sports or are back in college, so we probably won’t hit 20,000. We like it to have its own identity separate from Wakarusa – more laid back, more room to spend out, less chaotic. It’s really a chill environment.
How many stages do you have for Harvest Festival?
Four stages. There’s a mainstage, a big indoor tent, there’s a backwoods stage on the side of the mountain and a regional stage.
Of the acts on this year’s lineup, do you have a personal favorite, one that’s a must-see for you?
Of course, I like them all. I get to book it. There’s a band, Gleny Rae Virus & Her Tamworth Playboys, from Australia that I’ve never seen. I tend to want to see acts I’ve never seen. So there’s a few like that on the list. I love Papa Mali. So the Bill Kreutzmann, Papa Mali 7 Walkers is something I’m looking forward to seeing.
With the festival attracting a smaller audience than Wakarusa, are your marketing efforts somewhat smaller than what you apply to the summer festival?
We still do a lot of Internet marketing, but for the most part we treat it more like a regional rather than a national event. Probably 80 percent comes from between 300 and 500. Obviously there are Yonder fans who travel. They have another festival in June called “String Summit,” about the same size and scope. A lot of those fans are buying tickets for this one, too.
We adopted [YMSB] as a strategic alliance last year. This is the second year it has been officially known as Yonder Mountain String Band Music Festival. They’ve done their “String Summit” for 10 years. They came to us with the idea last year and we liked it.
Is YMSB more involved with the festival than just appearing and having their name on it? Do they work with you on building the lineup?
I do give them a lot of opportunities. They gave us an emcee this year and some ideas for a staff after-party. We’re doing a real fun thing on Sunday, basically kind of a cast wrap party where staff and crew will do tailgate games with artists.
“For the most part it's centered around the beautiful fall foliage in the Ozark National Forest.”
What about the “Fiddlin’ & Pickin’” contest? Will YMSB be involved with that?
I think they’ll probably help out with some workshops and judging, as many of the artists will. Béla Fleck is doing some of that. Some of our other artists are judges. A lot of artists are involved with it.
What are ticket sales like three weeks before the event?
We cap attendance at 7,500 and we impress upon the fanbase that we’re serious about keeping it intimate. I suppose we could sell out this year. We did about 5,000 last year and we’re ahead of that this year.
You sound much more casual than when we spoke earlier this year about Wakarusa. Everything sounds really laid back.
The energy, the wildness, the all-night music and everything about Wakarusa is just a lot more frenetic. There are a lot of bands that like to come to both.
Like all the festivals, I think it’s an incredible value to see 100 sets of music over four days and to have camping included. You don’t have to spring for hotel rooms or anything else. The food is fantastic. It’s an incredible way to unplug, get away and to recharge your batteries with Mother Nature and great music. It really is a transcendent experience up on that mountain. Everybody should give themselves that opportunity.
“[Harvest Festival] is quite enjoyable for everyone because we’re all music fans and we’re passionate about the music we book.”
Tickets are still available for this year’s Yonder Mountain String Band's Harvest Music Festival, ranging from the $55 event & camping pass for Oct. 13 to the four-day pass priced at $155. For more information, visit YonderHarvestFestival.com.