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Preview: Revival Returns with New Host Useful Jenkins

Useful Jenkins
Photo: Christian Spraungel

Memorial Day is approaching and that can only mean one thing: The beginning of summer, and all that comes with it. For casual and avid music fans alike, the start of summer brings festival season, a time of celebration, fun and, most importantly, a time to hear great music in the sun with your friends.

While there are many festivals happening in and around town in the coming months, few promise to be as interesting as The Revival Music Festival. Revival, located about an hour and a half south of the Twin Cities at the famed Harmony Park Music Garden, is a three-day festival over Memorial Day weekend hosted this year by bluegrass mainstays Useful Jenkins.

The 2019 offering boasts a typically eclectic lineup that has a little something for everyone, with rock bands, string bands and jam bands billed alongside funk acts, rappers, one-man bands and more.

Though there are high-quality national headliners on board (Including festival returnee Keller Williams, hard-edged funksters Tauk and roots-minded Fruition), the lineup is also notable for the top-shelf local and regional talent it contains. This ranges from established festival favorites (Frogleg, Kind Country) to up-and-coming acts (Armchair Boogie, Space Monkey Mafia) to talented veterans (Erik Koskinen, Smokin’ Joe).

Even beyond the lineup, there’s a lot to love. Harmony Park is known for its unique pace and energy (some would say it has its own unique vibe), and many festival goers consider themselves to be not only regulars, but family.

 It’s a venue known for its sense of community, and the strong connections forged between the bands, fans, and the park. Put simply, it has everything you could want out of a festival experience. It promises to be an excellent kickoff to an excellent summer of live music in the Twin Cities.

Below are highlights from an Interview with one of the festival’s directors, Ben Karon. Karon works in many capacities for the festival, including as a talent buyer.

On finding bands with “festival” energy:

BK: I guess there’s no one right answer for that. I manage [Useful Jenkins] and handle the festival so I’m very familiar with the energy they bring, their role in this scene and how its developed in the last 12 to 14 years. Just kind of being a part of this scene, and seeing how a lot of these things work, you’re aware of some of the other bands that are doing the same thing. There’s no real process. If you live in this world, you sort of know the bands that are running the circuit, so to say, that are doing a lot of the festivals and these types of events and that are bringing an energy that sits alongside and similar to the energy that a band like Useful Jenkins Brings.

On connections:

BK: Connections are important.  All of the local stuff I would say pretty much has multiple connections to Useful Jenkins– has played shows with them over the years, has traveled with Useful Jenkins in some form. The whole lineup in general has a [strong] connection to Useful Jenkins.

On supporting the local scene:

BK: By having the platform that Useful Jenkins has with this festival…bands that might not otherwise have an opportunity- get in front of seven or eight hundred people and have their band name next to these larger, more established acts. That means a lot to Useful Jenkins. We really love the opportunity that we have to provide that to those lesser known acts that we know because we live in this scene. We see those names and musicians all the time. To put those names next to those more established names is a pretty special thing.

On some of the exciting local acts on the bill:

BK: Smokin’ Joe, Joe Scarpellino, has been a prominent and active member of the music scene here for a long time with a multitude of different bands; he’s got a live streaming show he does every Thursday, and he’s constantly trying to draw attention to other bands besides himself and is really a helpful participant in the local scene in a lot of different capacities. He also has his own festival called The Galactic Get Down. Its really great to give him an opportunity to play.

The Bob Pat Band (Bob Patrick), is another name that has been on this scene forever. He’s a consistent force, consistently playing music, and is just a presence.

On being handed the reigns to the festival with 100 days remaining:

BK: There’s no one thing that has to happen first. It can be so overwhelming because as soon as you say you’re going to do this, the list of things that has to happen is 100 miles long. Simultaneously you need to start curating the lineup and figuring out your budget points and how to get the business up and running. At any given time, it felt like, there are 5 or 6 things that need to be happening for us to take the next step.

Its been incredible to be able to staff this with peers and others on the scene and get our staff in place and see it all come together as quickly as it did. I’ve had multiple moments where I step back, not in awe necessarily, that’s too strong of a word, but I was very proud of these people I’ve had the opportunity to work with, and that we were all able to stand up and get this done in such a quick amount of time. I don’t know what necessarily had to “happen” [first], but the fact that we were able to put a team together and everybody knew their role and stood up and got it done allowed this to happen.

On the challenges and the importance of band hospitality:

BK: For me, one thing I didn’t consider until we started really getting into it was band hospitality. As a band manager, when I send my bands to an event like this, I have the needs of my band that I make known to the festival. From the viewpoint of a band, if I have just one band coming in, it seems like a very small thing. But then suddenly, when I’m on the side of the festival, the venue side, we’re looking at twenty-three different bands with varying schedules of arrival and departure and their varying needs, dietary restrictions, or what they like to have in their greenroom before they play-what makes the band comfortable. That became much more daunting than I think I expected.

It was a much larger coordination effort than I originally thought it would be. Given my manager role, I know how important those things are to the band that’s coming in from out of state, or even down from the cities to play a show. It’s important they have what they need to be comfortable.

On the support of the Useful Jenkins Fanbase:

BK: The fans of Useful Jenkins are lovely people. They go to every show they can, and they keep coming out to shows. They’re vocal in their support, and the energy that comes off of that fanbase is pretty powerful. It’s pretty amazing too to have that kind of a response year after year, continuously building.

For us to step up and host this festival and put Useful Jenkins in a position where they’re now sort of the glue that’s tying all of these other bands together, that’s fabulous, and the cornerstone of all of this is that their fanbase is so supportive. You can come in to something like this, which is a pretty big undertaking, and you never know how a general demographic is going to react to a lineup.

You spend a lot of time trying to put together a lineup that’s really entertaining and provides a good value for the ticket price and you could roll that out and be met with negative feedback. Every step of the way that we’ve rolled out anything, be it the lineup, or our decisions on when we want music to start, what days are we going to have this, where are the stages going to be, all those little elements, every step of the way have all been met with nothing but support from this fanbase. That, in my experience in the music industry, is extremely uncommon, but that’s a testament to Useful Jenkins fans.

On Connecticut band Goose:

BK: Everybody that sits around me too much hears me say these words a lot but I’m constantly looking for what I call the “tomorrow band”-you want to have these elements in a lineup that are going to be growing into bigger things. Goose, for me, is a band that I think is going to, in a few years, be totally unobtainable for us to get into a festival like this. I see them as a band that is going to be growing. They make really accessible music and they’ve got their heads in the right place, I really see a lot of success in their future. To be able to bring them up here and introduce them, to me, is really exciting.

On what separates Revival from other festivals:

BK: Part of that is the venue, of course. Harmony Park holds such a special place for so many people, myself included.  My first ever festival I attended as a high schooler was at Harmony Park. For so many kids growing up and discovering the festival scene, or whatever you want to call it, for so many people in this region that’s where they first dip their toe in the water. For so many people, Harmony Park holds a special place as where it all started.

With Revival, with a continuation of already what so many people hold special with the venue, Revival with Memorial Day weekend is just that, a revival. Trees have leaves on them again. Winter’s officially gone. It’s really spring. By the time Memorial Day happens, it’s the first long weekend of looking ahead to an amazing summer, for so many of these types of events for people, or just lake season for Minnesota.

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