Phases of the Moon Festival take two: An Interview with Founder Sam Shear

Billi Jo Hart

Staff Writer


In 2014, Phases of the Moon Music and Arts Festival made their first appearance in Danville, Ill. at Kannekuk County Park during the month of September. The inaugural event had a few issues you might expect from a first-time festival, with bad weather and unfamiliar layout making parking and camping much more difficult than expected. Despite the rough start, Phases of the Moon pulled off a successful, albeit wet, event that brought people from all over to enjoy the four days of “feel good music, awe inspiring artwork, and a transformative festival experience.”

After some tough decisions by founder Sam Shears and Terrapin Ridge Production, the festival has been moved to Mulberry Mountain in Ozark Arkansas and will take place October 16-18, 2015. Shears also announced that they would be merging with Pipeline Productions, the same producers who put on Wakarusa, which also takes place at this location.

I had a chance to catch up with Shears to get a look behind the event last year, the decision to change location, and what festival goers can expect for Phases of the Moon 2015.


– Do you think last year was successful? Is there anything you wish you would have done differently?


Yeah so personally I felt that Phases was a great success, but it can looked at in two different ways – obviously the financial side and then there’s the side of what people thought about it, how people reacted to the event. Starting the festival we had to deal with some issues, you know, in that we had a nasty, nasty rainstorm that kind of took over for a few days that we had to deal with, a lot of festival goers were stuck outside due to the weather and due to the camping field being so saturated that we couldn’t get them camped, but by mid-Friday afternoon, you could really feel the environment change, really feel the vibe of the festival goers change, and it seemed by Saturday late night everyone was having a fantastic time. I can say that the festival wasn’t the world’s best financial success by any means, which has some of the reasons to do with why we’re moving it, but if you’re simply looking at it from the festival goers standpoint I think it was a great success, and I’m really looking forward to being able to continue that venture.


– You touched on the move, and this year you’re switching to the Ozarks. Is this the same venue as Wakarusa?


Yeah so it’s on the Mulberry Mountain site, in the Ozarks of Arkansas on the same, time-tested site as Wakarusa and harvest festival.


–  What was the biggest reason for the switch?


I think, obviously It takes a lot to put on a music festival, and there are a lot of parts and elements that go into it. I think what we’re really excited about is the fact that we’re partnering with a great team of people, Pipeline Productions, the guys that put on Wakarusa and harvest, so we feel really confident in our new partnership on this time-tested site that we can cut some costs here and there and more importantly is that this site has been time-tested for many years, and we feel confident that we can put an event together


– So do you think you’re pretty prepared for some of the issues you ran into last year?


Yes, I mean you cannot control the weather, but I have been told, and obviously I know that Wakarusa has had issues with the weather in its past, but that’s in June, but we’re in October, and Harvest Festival, the previous festival that used to be on the site during this time, has had a pretty great track record for beautiful weather during this time, so we feel really confident that we’ll be good, and it should be beautiful during that time. As far as getting people into the site, having an established site really helps with some of those issues. And you know there could always be something that comes up, but I think the focus is that we have a new team, new site and we’re feeling really good about it.


– What will the camping situation be like?


Last year we created a couple of different options, and this year we are doing something very similar in that there will be a few different camping options. But I think your standard camping for Phases this year will be simply next to your car. The other options will be in the forest, or tent-only, or RV.


– Do you think you’ll have a similar support base/attendees from Phases 2014 to 2015 with the location change?


Now that’s a difficult question, and I know you’re in Champaign (Illinois) which is very close to the old site, and it’s very hard because we are creating an event that was in one point in Illinois and is now in Arkansas. So we know it will be on the radar of people here in the Midwest, but it might take a little bit more for people to pull the trigger and come down to Arkansas. But again, you know we are in a new market now so we are also marketing the festival to new areas. So I think that you will have individuals from all over like last year. Yeah, I do think some individuals from that area will come down. It might not be the exact same demographics and individuals, but yes we are creating a very similar event just a couple of states down south.


– So new location this year – are there any other big changes you’re excited about for the 2015 festival?


Yeah, so when I first started putting this festival on it was very important to me that Phases of the Moon was very unique, and stood apart from all the others, in that what we wanted to create during the festival needed to be different from other festivals. So even though we’re partnering this year with Pipeline Productions who have put on Wakarusa for many years now, and it will be on the same site, a festival goer that goes to Wakarusa and then Phases of the Moon will have two completely different experiences. We are working very hard to make the layout of this site very different from other festivals that have been here. So if you’re used to the main stage being over in the far left corner, this year it might be in the exact opposite side. It will be a completely different layout, which should bring some of that excitement for those who have been going to that Mulberry Mountain site for some time now. We have a lot of different ideas for how to make it unique in its own right.


– Are you still going with the “%100 organic, no DJS/EDM” theme that you had last year?


(Laughs) Well, yeah, and obviously I can’t go too far into the music just because we haven’t released anything just yet, when we started this festival it was very important to me that we had a few themes: feel good music, awe inspiring artwork, and a transformative festival experience. So feel good music really lends itself to a wide range of music, anything from Jack Johnson, to Widespread Panic, Disco Biscuits, Yonder, there really is such a fantastic and wide range of music. It lends itself very well to a nice blanket of different genres, and so I think more importantly we’ll focus on the fact that we want feel good music this year and progressing on, but we will have a focus on jam, rock, funk, bluegrass that we did last year. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t change.


– When will the lineup come out?


I think that our lineup is going to be coming out within the next two weeks. It will most likely be coming out as one wave, you know, one big announcement. We may come back over the next couple of months and add additional artists but for the most part it will be one big announcement.


– Who is your dream artist/band you would like to see play at Phases?


(Laughing) You’re talking dreams?


– Yes, dreams! So it doesn’t actually have to be plausible.


OK, well if it doesn’t have to be plausible, I would say the Grateful Dead. That was the music I grew up listening to. My mom was the Deadhead in the family, and my dad was the blues and the jazz guy. And, without going too far into it, I grew up listening to the Grateful Dead, jazz and all of that, and when I decided to go to college, I picked a school right on the border Nevada and California, on Lake Tahoe, so going out there, getting an education in art, which was my other passion, being that close to the west coast, having the ability to drive 2 ½-3 hours to San Francisco and see Rush and Friends, see Bob Weir, those were the characters that really influenced my music. Being so close to great casinos, and the casinos pulling in great music, my college years were filled with concerts and festivals and all that great stuff, and so when it came time to graduate, that’s where the concept came from – well how do I take my two passions of art and music and put it into what I want to do the for rest of my life. And so that’s what Phases of the Moon came from, you know, in a nutshell (laughs).


– Overall, what can we expect to be at the festival beyond the music?


Yes, yes, yes, so besides the music, which is obviously always a very important aspect, we want people when they come to come to Phases, to see that the music is not the most important part, the art is just as important to what we’re creating here, and so we really plan on stressing the art side of Phases of the Moon, and bringing in these great art installations, and we use “awe inspiring artwork,’ that’s kind of our word, you know we want people to drop their mouths when they see this. So that’s our focus on art and good music. We’re also bringing back the sanctuary again, which is a transformative festival experience, in that we’re going to offer yoga, sound healing, massage, live music, conscious workshops, tea ceremonies, certain things like that. Again the community aspect is very important. We felt really bad, you know it was a very bittersweet decision that we had to move from Danville to Arkansas, but the most important thing is that Phases of the Moon gets to continue and really gets to continue to build this community, and so we really hope that our friends that went last year follow us down to Arkansas, where we can create that community vibe and feel. There’s going to be tons of different activities, like our Crescent Moon Kids Camp, that we’re going to be putting together with Big Fun Circus, so it’s a very family-friendly and family-oriented festival as well. And other than that, there’s going to be tons of other things that we’re going to announce further down the road.


– Will the festival still be supporting charities this year?


Yes! And I’m glad you brought that up because that’s also a key part to the community aspect of what this festival is, is that we try to bring in about 10-12 non-profits, we bring in some national and some local non-profits, and try to create an interactive Community Village concept, where it gives festival goers a real reason to visit those booths, and to interact with the non-profit, and to get involved, and so we’re going to create that same concept this year. I can’t necessarily give away the non-profits just yet, but we do have a whole slew. I think we are for sure bringing back Conscious Alliance this year, and a few locals, like Native Expeditions. And we are trying for Heifer International this year, which is based out of Arkansas, which is an international non-profit that helps families bring food to the table. So, there are a bunch of great ideas that were working on.


– Is there anything else you want to touch on?


The only thing I would say, saying this directly to those reading it (in the Midwest), is that we understand people’s frustrations, and we understand that people were really looking forward to Phases being in Danville again this year, but we had to make the decision that was best for the festival, and it was very upsetting to me, and to the whole Terrapin Ridge Productions Crew that put on the festival. So I would just say that this is something that we hope that you guys will continue to follow and we hope that we see you in Arkansas with us.

Hey maybe skip some class and come down to see us! Actually I don’t know if we should say that (laughing) but we do hope you can make it down.


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