LaureLive looks for performers over hitmakers

Elevation Group President Denny Young believes a music festival needs a certain kind of act.

“If you’re coming to a festival, it’s more important that your bands put on a great show rather than have the biggest radio hit,” Young said.

That’s the kind of lineup that Elevation Group tried to assemble for the second LaureLive, which returns this weekend to the Butler Campus of the Laurel School in Russell and Chester townships.

“We had great performers last year, and we’ve taken it a step further,” he said. “Michael Franti comes back after he stole the show last year. The Head and the Heart, Gary Clark Jr., NEEDTOBREATHE, Young the Giant, St. Paul (& the Broken Bones), the Strumbellas, the Revivalists — these are some of the great live performance bands on the road right now.”

Michael Franti & Spearhead is one of the only acts returning for the second year. Last year the Pulse nightclub shooting, where 49 people were killed in Orlando, occurred between the first and second day of the festival.

“Michael walked around the Butler Campus and picked a flower from various parts of campus to commemorate each one of the people killed in Orlando and places them at the front of the stage,” Young said. “He gave a very moving speech before his show started — very somber, very personal, very passionate — and ended it with key messages of peace and love and happiness.

“Then it was game on. He was supposed to put on a performance of 75 minutes. He went two hours and was out in the audience for half of his performance. I fell in love with Michael Franti that day … He came off said, and I said, ‘I’ll take you back any day of the year.'”

This year, in addition to his performance, Franti will lead a morning yoga class on Sunday with three northeast Ohio instructors.

“Yoga is a big part of who he is and how he lives his life,” Young said.

Young believes The Revivalists, best known for its adult album alternative radio hit “Wish I Knew You,” could be this year’s breakthrough artist.

“I see so many of the things in them that moved me in 1982 when I was exposed to U2,” he said.

A multi-day music festival is something The Elevation Group had been contemplating for awhile because Young and his partners felt there was a void for one in northeast Ohio. It didn’t become a reality until the Laurel School, a private all-girls school with campuses in Shaker Heights and Russell / Chester townships, approached the promoters about creating an event to increase the school’s name recognition and position it as a leader in the arts and education.

The partnership gives the festival a unique setting — the 140-acre Butler Campus — and creates an educational opportunity for the children. Students in the older grades work on different aspects of staging the festival and learn about event promotion.

It also has a different vibe with an audience that skews both older and younger than other festivals. Last year’s crowd mixed seasoned concertgoers and parents and grandparents accompanied by young children, children who were as entertained by making giant soap bubbles on the field between the two main stages as they were by the performers on those stages.

“We work closely with the Laurel School to target 35-to-50-year-old married couples with children,” Young said. “Of course, you have to have other people, but at the end of the day we want an event that speaks to families, parents who might consider Laurel School as a place to send their daughters.”

Young was happy with the inaugural event, but returning concertgoers will notice some changes for the second year. One of the two main stages will be moved from a hill to field level.

“We thought that would be a great view, but others didn’t like that it was on the hill,” he said. “The performers didn’t like the distance between them and the people. Now both main stages are on the main field.”

LaureLive will keeps its third stage, but a remote fourth stage that primarily feature local acts has been eliminated. Young said he was lukewarm about the food available last year, so catering will be provided by 13 different food trucks and specialty food vendors offering Mexican, Italian, Asian, American, barbecue, vegan and dessert menus. An an expanded craft beer lineup also will be available.

“This year I’m very bullish on the food, from northeast Ohio and beyond, some really cool food trucks with all different kinds of food options.”

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