Interview With Phases of the Moon Fest Founder Sam Shear
As a seasoned festival goer, it’s not so easy for me to get ridiculously stoked on up-and-coming festivals. Don’t get me wrong, I’m madly in love with the festival community, but after 15 festivals in one year (and upwards of 50 in my lifetime) it takes a little more than a decent lineup to get me scheming months in advance. That’s why I was surprised when Phases of the Moon Fest crossed my radar a few months ago; the festival instantly had me hooked.
What I find most exciting about Phases of the Moon is that it effortlessly blends some of the greatest parts of all cultures together to create one unique gathering full of awesome live music, inspiring art and transformational workshops. The festival started in the Midwest, but is moving to Mulberry Mountain in Arkansas this year. Phases’ new location will be the same place iconic Wakarusa is held, but the lineup is unique in that it is all live music, primarily jam bands. (That’s right, not one DJ set.) Although heavy on the jam, the festival’s other offerings reminded me of what I’ve found at many West Coast, bass-heavy transformational festivals; Phases is planning to hold a sanctuary space complete with yoga, workshops and healing arts.
I had the opportunity to chat with Phases of the Moon Fest founder Sam Shear and learn about his many inspirations that have come together in the planning and creation of the festival. We discussed Phases of the Moon moving to Mulberry Mountain, the blending of jam band culture with transformational culture, and our excitement for STS9’s Axe The Cables set.
Sensible Reason: I’ll start with an icebreaker. What is your favorite phase of the moon? Why?
Sam Shear: I’d have to say the full moon. I’ve always been fascinated with the moon. I had a telescope when I was little, and the face of the moon has always been a beautiful site to me.
SR: I completely identify with you there. I actually go by Jacki Moon, because I’m so fascinated by the moon. What was your original inspiration to start a festival?
Sam: The original inspiration for the festival came from having a love for music and art. I went to school at Sierra Nevada College, which is right on the border of Nevada and California. I received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, which I’ve always been fascinated by. Being so close to the West Coast [while attending Sierra Nevada College], I was able to see some amazing music that was coming out of the area. I also grew up listening to great music; my mom was the Dead Head of the family and my dad was the blues-jazz guy. When I graduated I wanted to figure out how to merge my love of music and art into one idea, and that’s where the festival came from.
SR: Since you were raised by a Dead Head, did you ever get to see the Grateful Dead live?
Sam: I would have killed to have seen those guys as a whole band, but I never got the opportunity [to see them]. I’m only 25. Although, I have followed the other guys as long as I could, and as long as I’ve been around to see them. Again, that type of music is where a lot of my inspiration comes from and what they’ve been able to create. It’s really cool stuff.
SR: The Lunar Landing Conspiracy sounded like it was wild last year. Any hints on who is going to be a part of that epic jam sesh this year?
Sam: I can’t give anything away on that, but it is a multi-sensory set that we like to do that highlights one artist in particular that gives them the opportunity to pick and choose between the wide range of Phases musical artists, as well as visual artists to create a unique set, whether its moon tunes, or just something unique they are performing. It really is open for interpretation and gives the artist a challenge more than anything.
SR: Will it be a Phases headliner showcased for this year’s Lunar Landing Conspiracy?
Sam: It doesn’t have to be a headliner in particular. Last year the String Cheese Incident curated the LLC.
SR: How do you go about selecting the artist showcased for the Lunar Landing Conspiracy?
Sam: We think about an artist in particular that we want to feature or that we feel would be able to take on the challenge and create a stellar show. The other end of it is that the artist has to be interested and want to do it. So it works on two ends, they have to want to do it and we have to want them to do it as well.
SR: The lineup is loaded with incredibly talented bands. Who were you most excited to get locked in this year?
Sam: There are tons of great artists on the lineup this year that really span all types of genres, and that’s where our idea of feel good music really lends itself well, in that we can bring in all types of music. I don’t play favorites by any means but I must say I am particularly excited about the idea of a Sound Tribe’s (STS9) Axe the Cables show. Just because it’s a rare type of show; they are really excited about it and so are we.
SR: I couldn’t agree with you more; I’m a huge STS9 fan. I’ve seen then over 20 times and have yet to see an Axe the Cables set until Phases. Have you seen STS9 play with Alana Rocklin yet?
Sam: No, but I’ve heard a lot about her. My brother, who is also part of this project on a smaller scale, is a big STS9 fan. He has been showing me a lot about them, but I have not seen them live yet with Alana. I’m really looking forward to it.
SR: I read through the festival website and noticed that there will be a Sanctuary on festival grounds for the healing and transformational arts. This is a unique addition to a more “jammy” festival. Was there a Sanctuary area at the festival last year?
Sam: Yes, so a big part of what the sanctuary is a lot of the inspiration that I took from when I was at school and attending a lot of these transformational festivals, and it was something that I connected with. I wanted to bring this kind of transformational experience back to the Midwest, because I felt like it wasn’t really touched on here. We wanted to make sure that our festival not only focused on feel good music and awe-inspiring artwork, but that it also brings in the transformational music experience. We wanted it to be more than just music on the schedule, but an opportunity to go to a sound healing workshop, or get a personal massage, or take part in a conscious workshop, or be a part of a tea ceremony. There are all types of different things happening within our Sanctuary.
SR: The festival originally took place at Kennekuk County Park in Illinois last year. Why did y’all decide to move the festival over to Mulberry Mountain, in an entirely new state?
Sam: That’s a big question. Last year the festival was a great success in the eye of a festival-goer, and we had a lot of fun doing in in Illinois…the people there are an amazing group of individuals. It was a bittersweet decision for us to have to move. We were hit with some pretty nasty rainstorms, and the site wasn’t conducive for what we wanted to do. We are still working with the park in Illinois, but we decided that we wanted to find a new partner. Pipeline Productions, a great company, reached out to us and asked us if we were interested in moving to the mountains. They used to have a bluegrass festival during the same time called Harvest Festival that was coming to a close. Between our company and their company, we felt like this was a great opportunity to keep Phases alive, and to give Harvest Festival fans another festival to call home. We made sure, especially with our lineup, that this was a true merger of these two events. We wanted Harvest Festival fans to still feel like they had a home in October. We also wanted to make sure that our friends who joined us in Illinois give us the chance and come back this year.
SR: That sounds like a win-win situation for everyone. There are many festivals that take place on Mulberry Mountain throughout the year. Have you attended any other of the festivals that take place there?
Sam: Yes, my partner Tara who works with us here first got me interested in the site. She was told me all about Harvest Festival, and the beautiful site. I had made one site visit prior to Wakarusa, but this year’s Wakarusa was the first time I’d had the actual festival experience. We are so excited to have a chance to bring Phases to this mountain and call it home this year.
SR: Did you enjoy Wakarusa?
Sam: Oh yes, Wakarusa is a fantastic festival and that’s really a big part of why we were so excited to partner with Pipeline Productions. We think they were just as excited about our event. Between both of us, I think we really are excited to have this opportunity.
SR: I also love Wakarusa, but I’ve got to admit I’m excited to spend time on Mulberry Mountain when it’s not the heat of summer.
Sam: And just to add to this, Wakarusa being an amazing festival, and Phases of the Moon coming to the same location from Illinois, we wanted to make sure that festival goers who go to Wakarusa every year and have come familiar with the site get to experience something new. We are really working on recreating and rearranging the site, so that when a festival goer who has been going to Wakarusa for the last 5-7 years can still have that new experience in October at Phases. We really want to differentiate ourselves, as well as being a partner.
SR: Is there anything else you would like to add about yourself, the festival or the lineup?
Sam: We’re really excited to be coming to the mountain. We are working our butts off everyday to make sure we create a fantastic event. We hope that people look at us, see what we’re doing, and join as in October for Phases of the Moon Festival.