“Original Music Showcase” just doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as NEPAPALOOZA. But that wasn’t the only reason Mountain Sky changed the name of the Jermyn music festival in its third year – it’s an event that has continued to develop into something worthy of the “palooza” theme.
Friday, May 29 and Saturday, May 30 will be packed with over 20 bands on two stages and offer camping, a sideshow, food and craft vendors, yoga, a hooping class, a photo booth, games, a playground for kids, and more. Mountain Sky event organizer Chris “Kamala” Towns described the event as his “baby,” so we figured he would be the best person to talk to about the foundation of the festival, how the amazing lineup of acts was chosen, the best and hardest parts of planning an event of this scale, and the magic of Mountain Sky.
NEPA SCENE: Who came up with the idea for NEPAPALOOZA?
CHRIS ‘KAMALA’ TOWNS: We have a team of administrative board members, about six or seven people, amongst whom all of our ideas and planning get bounced around. Over the winter, while planning out our event schedule, it was decided that we would change up the name “Original Music Showcase.” Basically, the board decided to drop “Original” from the title. By doing so, it would bring more freedom to the booking end of things and would also take some pressure off of bands who might not have an hour’s worth of original music.
NS: How did you decide on the name of the festival?
CKT: Since we’d be booking a lineup of nearly all local acts from Northeast Pennsylvania, naming it NEPAPALOOZA came naturally – one of those light bulb moments. I brought it to the table, it was accepted, and I ran with it. Oh, and just to clarify, my vision is to have it pronounced as one word (knee-pa-palooza).
NS: When did the planning for this begin, and who has been involved?
CKT: I’ve said it often, this festival is my baby. A friend suggested it sounded like the old Gene Vincent tune, “Bee-bop-lua, she’s my baby,” but only “ne-pa-palooza, she’s my baby.”
But anyway, after strategically choosing the dates two weekends later than previous years, giving the weather a chance to warm up and avoiding Memorial Day weekend and some other local events, I wrote up a wish list of local bands and started reaching out for availability. This was back in January, but booking the bands was just the beginning. There’s a lot more to throwing a festival than people realize and, likewise, there are a lot of people behind the scenes pulling strings to make it all happen. To name a few, Mike and Heather Savaro, Bill Buckley, Michael “Ragu” Rogowski, Josh Van Fleet, and Mike Smith were all key in planning this event. And then there’s the Camp Rattler crew, who have been instrumental in getting the word out.
NS: How did Camp Rattler get involved, and what have they brought to this event?
CKT: After booking most of the main stage acts, I contacted James Callahan, the Camp Rattler team leader, for suggestions on who might be interested in playing the tweener sets on a possible second/side stage. After a brief back and forth on different musicians, he said, “I’d be happy to take the side stage off your hands completely,” and the rest is history.
Callahan and Camp Rattler quickly stepped in and began booking what can be described as a fest within a fest. The Camp Rattler Stage and Sideshow will be quite the spectacle, complete with full stage sound and lighting, a big top tent, the Wheel of Death and other games, vendors, theatrics – the works! Mountain Sky is thankful for this partnership, and it is expected to be the beginning of a long working relationship.
NS: How did you choose the musical acts that are playing?
CKT: At first, I had a broader variety of acts on my “wish list.” Scheduling issues are always a factor, and trying to create a flow to the lineup is important to the overall musical experience. I couldn’t be happier with the way the lineup turned out. The bands are cohesive but appeal to different crowds at the same time. I wanted something a little less hippie than most fests out there, but still skating the border of jam band. There are a lot of really great bands in our area, most of which just haven’t been fully discovered yet. Part of Mountain Sky’s mission statement is to support local artists and provide a platform on which they can shine, and I believe with NEPAPALOOZA we’re doing just that.
NS: There are many different musical genres represented. Why is the lineup mixed like that?
CKT: Yes, there are a variety of genres, but there’s a crossover of musical taste there and overlapping of fans. To me, “palooza” means more than just a party you’ll never forget – it also means a mixing of people and culture, a smorgasbord of fun. Throw a party like that on our Mountain and the Sky is the limit.
CKT: Most fun for me is show time – seeing all the smiling faces, the field full of tents and E-Z Ups, the familiar faces, making new friends, sharing blissful freedom with everyone, away from the everyday happenings. Coming in second is watching the buzz happen on social media, checking the numbers and that feeling of, “Hey this thing is blowing up!” And lastly, I really enjoy creating the graphics, posters, and ads, which I take great pride in, the Cinderella ad being my favorite.
As far as challenges go, I can only speak for myself, so I’d have to say the hardest part is turning bands away. Once the festival is announced and things start picking up, there are always musicians contacting wanting to get on the bill, and unfortunately the amount of bands we can host is limited.
NS: Describe a Mountain Sky event for those who have never been to one before.
CKT: It is a strong belief among the Mountain Sky Family that if we can get you here once, you will be back. The vibe is friendly, and the folks who frequent Mountain Sky truly become family. Upon arrival, the feeling soon sets in that this place is something special and good times are straight ahead. You’ll be directed by the gate staff to a few different areas of your choice where you can either park or set up camp for the duration. Once you carve out a piece of the mountain to make your home, you head out to the Main Stage and vending area to find a lot of happy people of all ages settled in for the show, mingling, having a meal, shaking hands, sharing some laughs, etc.
Live music is obviously the main focus, but there are plenty of other attractions to satisfy your needs. Food and craft vendors, kids’ activities, room for sidewalk chalk, old friends to greet, and new friends to be meet. The view behind main stage is surreal, with the beginning of the endless mountains on display. Because Mountain Sky sits atop a 117 acres of pristine nature, at a certain time in the evening, the sun and moon can be seen simultaneously on opposite sides of the horizon, framing the venue in a way that is a rare sight in NEPA.
The permission and comfort of B.Y.O.E. (bring your own everything) makes for a very economical and free range experience. It’s not often you can attend a music concert and bring your own grill for an afternoon cookout or take your cooler of desired beverages right down to the stage (no glass please!), set up your camping chairs, and make the venue work for you. You can go big or keep it quiet – whatever works for you.
NS: How does this festival stand out from other music festivals?
CKT: The main difference is no fences. You don’t have to walk through a gate to get to the stage and be patted down by security, only to have your bottle of water and granola bar confiscated. A weekend at Mountain Sky is what I like to call “Free Range Fun.” Of course we do not allow any illegal activity, drugs, or underage drinking. But if it’s legal, within reason, and within respect of your neighbors, by all means, enjoy. We also pride ourselves in being a family-friendly venue, where you can feel comfortable bringing your children and even your grandparents, if they’re still rockin’. Unfortunately, we have recently had to eliminate the allowance of dogs on the property due to changes to our insurance policy, which was another great aspect.
NS: So with yoga, hooping, and other activities, how do these tie in with the rest of NEPAPALOOZA?
CKT: Since the event will take place over the course of two days, we like to give patrons something to do other than the live music performances, so there will be some other activities going on throughout the weekend for a change of pace for those who would like to participate. This also stays true to the “NEPA” part of the palooza in that the parties involved, like the bands, are all from Northeastern PA.
NS: How do you feel this festival represents NEPA?
CKT: Northeastern Pennsylvania is becoming more and more diverse with each year, and I think this festival shadows that diversity. In the future, I’d like to broaden the genre spectrum even further and see where it takes us. But for now, I think the lineup comes with outstretched arms, welcoming everyone and anyone looking for a good time away from the norm.
NS: What are you most looking forward to personally about the event?
CKT: It’s our first multi-day event of the year ,so I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone come out to camp with us for the weekend and have a good time. It also seems like there will be a lot of first-timers attending, which is exciting. More people need to know about Mountain Sky, and it’s finally happening.
NS: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
CKT: I’d just like to send out a big thank you to the many Mountain Sky Family members that make this thing go round. Mountain Sky would never work without all of the people who volunteer their time, skills, ideas, and good vibes. Here’s to a great start to the 2015 festival season!
Lead photo by Earl Drevendorf
by Rich Howells
Rich is an award-winning journalist, longtime blogger, photographer, and podcast host. He is the founder and editor of NEPA Scene.