Down and Dirty with G. Love: Festival Rules

My long time drummer, Jeffrey Clemens, aka The Houseman, and I are on the plane from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Nashville, Tennessee. We are sitting in the Business Class cabin.

Jeff got the upgrade and I just sat down next to him. That's why I always board last. I'm a self-proclaimed opportunist -- and I mean this in the best possible way. When you board last, there's always an opportunity to sit your ass down in an empty Business Class seat.

Opportunity: Don't miss out on it it. To quote Q-Tip, "Be alert, look alive and act like you know … ." Trust me, this mantra will get you far. As a result, I'm chilling up front in 4A, drinking a Tanqueray & Tonic headed to Nashville, Tennessee, to make my 12:30 p.m. set on the main stage at Bonnaroo tomorrow. Awwww, yeah.

Yes, it's that time of year: festival season. All across the world, the hipsters, hippies, freaks, road tripsters, musos, fashionistas, geeks, partiers and music lovers will gather in fields, forests, mountains, deserts, parking lots, amphitheaters and stadiums, all coming together for the sake of live music. Ahhh, yes, it's festival time.

Houseman and I have always had a saying about performing at festivals, and it's called "Festival Rules." Festival Rules means you have to throw it down, pull out all the stops, bring your A-game, give 150 percent, come looking sharp and leave sweaty as hell and, above all else, leave it all on the stage.

You see, festival performances are some of the most important and career-defining performances you can give in your career. Many iconic festival performances solidified rock 'n' roll's iconic figures. Dylan at Newport; Janis at Monterey; Jimi Hendrix at Monterey; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young at Woodstock; the list goes on.

That said, until recently, the U.S. festival scene has been lacking, to say the least. I performed at the disastrous Woodstock '99, and at that time I was certain that, although the European festivals like Glastonbury and The Lowlands had been bringing together huge crowds successfully and peacefully since the 1960s, the U.S. simply couldn't pull it off. Woodstock proved me right. What a mess!

When festivals such as Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, Coachella and others emerged in the early 2000s, I ate my words. Finally a successful festival circuit had sprung. This summer, there are so many festivals coast to coast, it's hard to keep track of them.

All these festivals really helped to define a generation of touring artists and build a musical community. We had been touring for almost 10 years, playing clubs in every big city and small town across the country. When the festival scene hit, all these musicians finally got the chance connect, all in one place.

Road dawgs, unite!

It was a good feeling. The festival circuit made you realize you were part of this community. All these bands out there paying their dues, making their money, road tested and weary, were finally getting a shot playing in front of large crowds on the big stage in our own country.

As a band, I realized early on that the festival hits were very important. When you play a festival, you have the opportunity to play for old fans, new fans, haters, people who've never heard of you, music industry suits, promoters and other bands. The demographic is so wide that it is always a tremendous opportunity.

Make the most of your chance. Festival Rules!

You have to make your hit count. You must be inspired, prepared, know your hits, be able to play your hits, pull out all the stops, be engaging, draw the crowd in and give people a reason to watch your set.

  • For me, it’s always a unique opportunity to play for people who have never seen you and are fully open to being turned on. You must be wildly energetic and sincere to overcome the crowd’s fatigue. The party people have been in the sun, guzzling who knows what and seeing literally hundreds of performances. You have to be great.
  • How do you do that?

As a performer, you have to adjust. You have to consolidate your two-hour club set into a compact 45- or 60-minute festival set. You have to adjust to everything happening on the fly. Usually, the production is great at the bigger festivals, but just realize that production may be a problem. There may be feedback; adjust. Backline amps and the drums may suck; adjust.

It has the potential to throw you off your game. Guitar gets smashed by your buddy at United Airlines; adjust. Don't get a sound check; adjust. Band that was on before you ran over their allotted time, screwing your crew out of setup time; adjust. Need to be at the stage exactly on time or your set will be cut down; adjust! No hotel or bus to chill in; adjust! 103 degrees or pouring raining; you got it, ADJUST!

Anything can happen, and it usually will. Festival Rules.

This year I'm going back to Bonnaroo. I haven't been there in about five years, and I am extremely excited. Bonnaroo has always done an excellent job bringing together the live music world, the jam band circuit, world music, Americana, hip-hop and the indie rock circuit, as well as delivering huge classic rock headliners. To me it is a very complete festival and one I'm always honored to play.

Tomorrow I get my crack at being a part of it, opening up the main stage on Sunday. It's my job to set it off right, you know? Tonight I'm gonna get to site at midnight, get some rest and get ready to have the time of my life at noon-thirty in the 90-plus-degree weather. I hope they're ready.

So, to all my friends and musicians alike, make your festival hits count. Don't take any prisoners, and whatever you do, bring it on.

Good luck out there!

Post Script

Well I'm now on the way back to Boston. Bonnaroo was simply amazing. My band set and my solo acoustic sets were siiiiiick. The crowds were off the chain. I have to say I love Bonnaroo more than ever. Here are some pics I took. See y’all soon!

G. Love, aka Garrett Dutton, has been the front man and founder of the alternative hip-hop blues group G. Love & Special Sauce since their inception in 1993. Widely known for his upbeat hits "Cold Beverage," "Baby's Got Sauce" and "Hot Cookin'," G. Love returned to his blues and country roots on his latest release, Fixin' To Die (Amazon, iTunes), produced by Scott and Seth Avett. A road dog if one ever existed, G. Love performs roughly 125 shows a year all over the world including Australia, Japan, Brazil, UK, Canada and the U.S. G. Love teamed up with Gretsch to create his own signature model, the Gretsch G. Love Signature Electromatic Corvette, which features a pair of TV Jones Power'Tron pickups, deluxe mini-precision tuners and a cool Phili-green color scheme with competition stripe that would make ANYONE from Philadelphia proud! Check it out here.

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