The Double JJ Ranch in Rothbury is quiet these days. The ravages of winter are being replaced by green. Leaves are returning to the trees, and fl owers are blooming in the foliage.
It’s a quiet time, in other words, usually waiting for the imminent arrival of summer campers and tourists.
The campers are still coming, but in July it will be a different breed of them.
From July 3-6, the Double JJ, near Lake Michigan in Oceana County, will host the first Rothbury Festival, one of the new additions to the burgeoning music festival market in the U.S. Come the first week of June, trucks will begin rolling in to construct the seven main stages, the side area and support structures that will dot the 48-acre festival site for the hoped-for 50,000 attendees.
Billed as “a music festival revolution,” Rothbury will not only feature plenty of music — more than 70 acts on seven stages, including the Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, Snoop Dogg, Widespread Panic, Modest Mouse and Jakob Dylan — but also yoga, low-key theater, circus side-show style performers, an open mic stage and what producer Jeremy Stein describes as a “think tank” of scholars and political and industry leaders holding sessions and workshops on climate change and environmental responsibility.
“I wanted it to be much more than some event that happens every year; it should be a cultural movement unto itself, and a giant art project,” says Stein, who works with Boulder, Colo.-based Madison House Presents, which is producing Rothbury along with the concert promoter AEG Live. Stein adds that part of what makes Rothbury unique is that it’s one of just a few full-scale festivals that allow ticket holders to camp on-site and create a sort of “community” within the grounds — the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California and the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee being the other major events of that ilk.
“A lot of folks have trouble differentiating; they think festivals are all the same,” Stein notes. “There’s so many different categories and sizes. The programming varies so much. A city festival like Lollapalooza (in Chicago) is a completely different environment from a four-day, fullcamping festival, which is a real community issue.”
Stein — who manages acts such as Drive-By Truckers, the Fiery Furnaces, Los Lobos and String Cheese Incident, and has produced a number of smallerscale events — says he’s spent four years looking for a site on which to hold a “large scale” festival like Rothbury. He visited some two dozen sites before discovering the Double JJ. “This one is such a unique place with the woods, very large and nice campgrounds, a lake for swimming,” he says “After seeing so many places, it was very obvious this was the one.”
The site also helped sell managers and agents on having their artists on taking part in a firsttime festival with no track record.
“Unquestionably, our explaining took longer than normal phone calls — ‘You want us to come where and do what?’ At least everyone listens and, if you have the right situation, jumps on board,” says Stein, who nailed down Rothbury’s headliners within the same week earlier this year.
“ you or top bands playing, it’s pretty easy to talk to another 70 bands when they ask ‘Who’s headlining?’ and you have good answers for them.”
The acts playing at Rothbury do fall under a loose kind of umbrella, Stein acknowledges, but not, he contends, by design.
“I don’t know if there was any consensus other than myself and the folks who worked with me, we have our certain tastes in music, like anyone else,” he explains. “We like to believe that everything we wanted on the show is full of integrity. It’s not the center of the target of commercial music by any means.
“We were trying to say, ‘What’s a rootsy American music scene? What is that?’ And then we went after bands in all genres who have incredible talent, super-high integrity and were supportive of our general mission.”
For the Dave Matthews Band, a veteran of festivals of all kinds around the world, Rothbury of an inaugural event.
“I don’t think we’ve ever launched a festival before,” says violinist Boyd Tinsley, though he doesn’t anticipate it will be much different than the other festivals the group, which performs on July 5, plays.
“The cool thing for us is just checking out other music. We don’t get a chance to do that a lot of the time, ‘cause we’re doing our own thing. And (festivals) are exciting, a whole vibe of people there listening to all kinds of different music, and you get to go up and add your music to the mix.”
Rothbury’s goal, however, is to fill its patrons’ heads with more than just music. With the bands slated to play noon to midnight, the producers will fill the morning hours with alternative activities and focus primarily on its environmental component. Dr. Stephen H. Schneider of Stanford University is curating the Think Tank sessions, And an Energy Fair will display cutting-edge greening technologies and products.
Stein and company have pledged to make Rothbury a zero-waste event, with a fulltime Greening Chief overseeing those efforts. Festival-goers can even choose to spend a few extra dollars ($3 or $7) on their $244.75 tickets to purchase carbon-offset credits and to help fund Rothbury’s Solar Schools fund, which this year is putting solar power into Shelby High School in Shelby.
“We’re excited to make Rothbury almost a research and development lab of ‘What does it mean to be a large-scale event, and sustainable?’” Stein explains. “It’s this kind of a town hall forum we’re creating and making an effort to really connect people to discuss it. We’re hitting a kind of watershed moment on this issue.”
Stein and his partners are hopeful people will buy into the issue. He’s anticipating a surge in ticket sales after Memorial Day Weekend, but he says “interest has been amazing,” and Rothbury has already sold out of its VIP tickets. Most buyers so far are from Michigan and the Chicago metro area, but they’re also coming from Indiana, Ohio, Colorado, California and New York, with “big contingents” coming from Seattle and Atlanta as well.
“We certainly have national interest,” Stein says. “And as we grow, it becomes that much more national. I couldn’t personally be more excited, because it gets to the roots and intent of a lot of the music we put on and why we all got involved in music, which is to be a cultural center. That’s very exciting to me.”
The Rothbury Festival takes place July 3-6 at the Double JJ Ranch in Rothbury, Mich. Tickets are $244.75 and include parking and camping for the entire festival. Information is available at www.rothburyfestival.com.
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