There are plenty of good reasons to be at major music festivals: too corporate, too expensive, not laid back or family friendly enough. Then there’s Levitate in Marshfield, which may be the perfect festival for people who hate festivals.
Levitate began nine years ago, when the surf shop of the same name held an event for its 10th anniversary. It has now become the three-day festival taking place at the Marshfield Fairgrounds this weekend, headlined on Sunday by Jack Johnson – probably the most fitting artist to headline a surf-related event. Other headliners this year include Detroit funkateers Vulfpack, Chicago jam/prog band Umphrey’s McGee and second-generation reggae star Stephen Marley. And in the ultimate nod to good community music, they have Grateful Dead member bassist Phil Lesh headlining Saturday.
“It’s a fun outdoor festival in a seaside town,” founder Dan Hassett said this week. “The concept brings together the whole community between music, the arts and the outdoors. And we’re proud to put local artists in the mix, so people can come for one band and check out a few more.
The festival has gained a good reputation with artists who appreciate its philosophy; Talent director Thomas Cousins proudly remembers Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio (who performed with his solo band in 2018) as one of his favorite festivals.
“We book based on mood rather than gender,” Cousins said. “We strive for a high-energy, family-friendly vibe – so there will be reggae, there will be jam bands, there will be indie rock. We try to capture the vibe of the surf shop and the people gathering there. Artists’ green spaces are built with local materials; you go behind the scenes and see people shucking oysters. It’s that kind of event.
One of this year’s star bands, Stick Figure, also headlined the first Levitate in 2013. At the time they were based just down the road with frontman Scott Woodruff having grown up in Duxbury . They are now based in Southern California and are one of America’s top reggae bands, having completed a successful amphitheater tour.
“We’ve been around since year one, and it’s been fun to watch this festival grow,” Woodruff said this week. Growing up near a beach, he naturally gravitated towards reggae. “I started getting into bands from Jamaica and Southern California when I was young, and I always try to stay true to my roots and make music that feels good.”
In recent months, the group has collaborated with Bermudian reggae artist Collie Buddz and Californian band Slightly Stoopid.
“Our music stems entirely from the original roots music of Jamaica, but I’ve also been influenced by bands like Sublime and Slightly Stoopid. We take everything and try to put it into something that feels different. It’s always reggae but there are a lot of new things in it.
Although the festival is likely to sell out, Levitate takes the incredible step of webcasting the event from start to finish, and not charging for it.
“I think we can grow reach more significantly by not charging,” Hassett said.
This year, Levitate will also launch its charitable foundation, supporting a number of arts and community-related causes.
All of this is a far cry even from other popular festivals like Bonnaroo, which aim to get bigger every year.
“There comes a point when you start saying, ‘Let’s make as much money as possible,'” Cousins said. “Instead of doing that, we’re trying to create something lasting for the community, where 8 and 80 year olds can be together.”
For more information, visit levitatemusicfestival.com.