With Brooklyn’s premier live music festival this weekend, we thought it would be interesting to publish a conversation with the founder of the company organizing the event. Brooklyn Comes Alive will return to Williamsburg for its second consecutive year on Saturday to serve the city a truly unique live music experience. Unlike a traditional festival lineup comprised of established bands, Brooklyn Comes Alive features unique collaborations of seasoned musicians who typically do not perform together. The result of this innovative festival formula is marathon of live performances that cannot be emulated in a different environment. For those music enthusiasts who crave the “hunt” for a legendary jam or rare moment in live music, Brooklyn Comes Alive lays the foundation for the ideal hunting ground.
The festival was conceived over a year ago by New York’s multi-faceted music company, Live for Live Music. Founded in 2012 by Kunj Shah, Chris Meyer, and Justin Charles, Live for Live Music (sometimes stylized as “L4LM”) was originally launched as a music publication that documented the live music scene, but has since evolved into a diverse music organization that also promotes music events and manages artists. Ahead of the main event on Saturday, we caught up with Kunj Shah to cover everything from the origins of Live for Live Music to the inception of Brooklyn Comes Alive. The event is officially sold out, but for those “hunters” determined to score a miracle, I’ve seen a few passes for sale (by owner) on CashOrTrade and the festival’s Facebook event.
Sound Fix: Hey Kunj, thanks for taking some time here to answer some questions ahead of the main event. To start things off, introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your personal background.
Kunj Shah: I’ve always had a deep love and appreciation for music and art. When I was young I tried learning everything – piano, violin, tablas, saxophone, trumpet, and bass. In my teenage years I discovered the hedonistic pleasures of traveling across America to see concerts. Once I went to my first couple of shows, I quickly learned that the magical moments I experienced in the live music setting were impossible to replicate anywhere else. I instantly fell in love with the beautiful sense of community, culture, and adventure traveling to see music provided. There was just always so much excitement around every corner. Between the sights we’d see and the people we’d meet, I truly felt I was living the life I had always dreamed of.
SF: When did you start Live for Live Music, and what inspired you to launch the brand?
KS: After college I veered a different path, first managing a medical building and then day trading stocks, before I realized that making money off other people’s misfortune wasn’t something I wanted to be doing with my life. I took a deep look inside at what really made me happy: live music and the amazing cultural experience built around it. I knew I had to be a part of it somehow. In 2012, I started a small media outlet called Live For Live Music with two of my closest friends, Chris Meyer and Justin Charles. What started as a hobby and passion quickly evolved into a multifaceted music company, first taking on event marketing, then beginning to throw shows and festivals around the country, and most recently initiating a management division.
SF: Similarly, tell us a bit about the origins of Brooklyn Comes Alive.
KS: Brooklyn Comes Alive was inspired by the unique musical community of New Orleans. There’s just no place like it. On any given night in NOLA, you can find some of the best live music out there, from once in a lifetime superjams and collaborations to surprise sit-ins from locals and legends alike, all within walking distance, going until the wee hours of the morning. My partner Justin and I both returned from separate trips to NOLA feeling inspired, seeking to recreate the experience.
SF: What lead you to select Brooklyn as the setting for this unique music festival?
KS: Justin and I were both living in Brooklyn and saw the potential for Williamsburg and its flourishing music scene to foster the same sort of vibe and environment that NOLA provides. With so many amazing musicians living here and top-notch venues all within walking distance, it seemed like the natural choice to recreate the Frenchman Street experience. We started with two venues last year and have now expanded the event to Brooklyn Bowl, Music Hall of Williamsburg, and The Hall at MP.
SF: If you had to choose, what three acts are you personally most excited to see this weekend?
KS: That is a tough one! The J Dilla tribute is going to be off the hook. The All Brothers Band (Neal Evans, Alan Evans, Kofi Burbridge, and Oteil Burbridge) is something I’m not going to miss. I jumped on that as soon as I found out they had been recording an album in the studio. The Coomes Brothers set with the Shady Horns and Adam Smirnoff is going to be so funky. Jesus Coomes’ brother is actually a pretty famous hip-hop producer and a killer drummer. [Br]eaking [Bi]scuits is going to be unreal. Adam Deitch on the kit, mixed with Borahm Lee & Aron Magner on keys, and Marc Brownstein on bass is a recipe for what may be one of the best collaborations taking place at Brooklyn Comes Alive. Reed Mathis & Electric Beethoven is supposed to be unreal, Jason Hann’s world music supergroup Rhythmatronix should be special…there’s just too much!
SF: How would you say this year’s Brooklyn Comes Alive will differentiate itself from last year’s?
KS: Going from two venues to three added far more room for creativity with the amount of acts we were able to book, while also allowing us to open up the experience to more attendees. We were able to put together acts that span a variety of genres, from funk to jam to electronic and beyond. As you can tell from the previous question, I am personally excited for just about every act on this bill, and I think this year will be extra special.
SF: What advice would you impart to aspiring concert and festival promoters?
KS: It’s tough out there right now for the independent promoter. With companies like AEG and Live Nation monopolizing the market, it’s difficult to compete. Agents typically opt to book shows with a conglomerate like Live Nation over an independent promoter because they can book 20+ dates and three festivals in one shot, while also positioning themselves for something bigger down the line. That being said, there are ways for the independent promoter to survive. The bigger companies can’t focus on individual shows the way an independent promoter can. Marketing is the key. Go above and beyond and use every resource you possibly can to stand out as someone who can bring a crowd to a show. Create a unique vibe to the shows you produce and a feeling of suspense of not knowing what’s going to happen. Incorporate and engage the community in a positive way, and don’t be a dick. You’re not going to have the idea to be the next Bonnaroo or Coachella. Too many festivals are falling by the wayside because there’s nothing unique about them. Brooklyn Comes Alive, there’s nothing like it out there. We create most of the bands, highlight the musicians, and allow people to bounce around venues as if they were festival stages. Fool’s Paradise provides an affordable destination event in the beach town of St. Augustine, FL where people can hit the beach or go sailing, mini golfing or ziplining with their favorite musicians during the day, and catch funky music at night. For NOLA Crawfish Festival, we partnered with Chris “Shaggy” Davis, the most respected crawfish chef in the food or music industry, to create an event incorporating great local musicians and local food.
SF: Live for Live Music has grown as an organization quite a bit since its inception. What are your goals for the brand over the next few years?
SF: You know, I try to be flexible in my goals because if you asked me this when we started L4LM, I would’ve said I would one day like to be a media outlet that gets 100,000 hits in a year. Barely four years later, we’re getting around 2 million hits a month. If you asked me when we started to throw concerts where I saw myself in a couple of years, it would have been to one day have our own festival to work on, and now we have three. My partner Dan Rucinski and I started a management company (Plexus Entertainment Group) less than 2 months ago to manage one band, Organ Freeman. Now we already have four bands on our roster, all signed to the best agencies in the live music space.
SF: As a veteran of the scene, what three bands do you see “breaking through” in 2017?
KS: Well, I truly believe we’re working with four bands that are about to blow up. Spafford just announced a winter tour with Umphrey’s McGee, some dates with Lotus, and have a lot of hype behind them right now. Aqueous is about to really take it to the next level. Their new EP Best In Show speaks volumes about how this band is evolving into one of the best up and coming jam bands in the scene. Mungion’s technical prowess is unreal and if you take a look at their studio sessions, you’ll see how skilled these guys are. Organ Freeman, wait until you see these guys are Brooklyn Comes Alive, they’re about to blow some people away. They’re like Snarky Puppy meets Vulfpeck. Check out their last album on Spotify. Other young bands that are catching my attention are Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Turkuaz (not really up and coming anymore but I see these guys seriously blowing up), Naughty Professor, Swift Technique, The Main Squeeze, and Sophistafunk.
SF: Finally, we like to end our interviews with an open forum. Anything else you’d like to share that we didn’t cover here?
KS: I just want to give a shoutout to my team, because they’re all rockstars. You’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with. I’m not the easiest to work with and I demand a lot, because I’m always looking for new projects to take on. I owe everything to Chris Meyer, David Melamed, Justin Charles, Sara Furer, Kendall Deflin, Gideon Plotnicki, Rex Thomson, Paul Levine and Andrew O’Brien. Also, Dan Rucinski who’s an absolute boss when it comes to management and Michael Koltun who has the golden ear when it comes to finding talent.