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Thursday, May 13, 2021

BACKSTAGE ACCESS: The secrets of running a festival

Week 8: Running a Music Festival

Tara Burke, 27, is the lead on-site coordinator of special productions for a four-day, multi-genre festival for Electric Forest Festival

 The crowd dances at the Electric Forest Festival while the artist "Bassnectar" performs.
The crowd dances at the Electric Forest Festival while the artist “Bassnectar” performs.

in Rothbury, Michigan. It started in 2008, and now drew more than 30,000 in attendance its first year. It predominantly features electronic and jam- band genres and is well known for the unique art installations and crowd-based participation found throughout the festival.  

Featured Professional: Tara Burke, Lead Coordinator of Special Productions

Special productions, as Burke said, is any sort of program, contest or crowd-based engagement which involves the participation of the attendees at Electric Forest.

Burke said that special productions operates about six “plug-in programs” that allows attendees to get involved with festival.

“Essentially the plug-in program is a set of programs designed for ways that participants of the festival can jump in and create what they have been dreaming about within the forest,” Burke said.

So what are some of these ways for Electric Forest Festival-goers to “plug-in?” Burke named quite a few.

This past year at the festival, special productions operated a crowd-based event that aimed to reach the world record of largest group hug. Burke said they had 7,000 people engaged in a hug (for context, the world record is 10,554). Burke said festival attendees also have opportunities such as competing to be Electric Forest King or Queen, and they even have a program called Instrumental Forester, a battle of the bands type event for the entire festival. Attendees can even find themselves awarded a chance to ride in a hot air balloon with one of the festival’s headliners provided by participating in certain “plug-in programs.”

“The biggest thing that we like to do is provide a platform for participants of the festival to bring an idea to the table and kind of become producers of the festival,” Burke said.

As the on-site lead coordinator of special productions, Burke helps plan details for these programs six months in advance of the festival occurring. The festival happens in late June or early July, but Burke starts working on the festival around January.

Tara Burke, coordinator of special productions, dances at the Electronic Forest Festival.
Tara Burke, coordinator of special productions, dances at the Electronic Forest Festival.

Burke slightly laughed when I asked her what a typical day on-site of the festival would look like for her. Burke’s day heavily depends on what projects or programs or happening at the festival,  but here are some facts that she gave me about a day in her life at the festival and what her role requires of her:  

  • Wake up call: 7 or 8 a.m. “You’ll want to grab breakfast. They provide really good meals for us,” Burke said.
  • Mode of transportation around the festival: Golf cart.
  • Responsibilities: Working closely with the media team, ensuring smoothness of each plug-in program, credentialing, making sure resources are available to the right people [16:36. Burke’s list went on and on!
  • Length of work days: On average, 12-16 hours.
  • Length of stay on-site: 12 days.
  • Skills important to her job: Problem-solving, critical thinking, handy skills, communication, time management and resourcefulness. She also emphasized that being kind in the industry is very important. “It’s very easy to get pissed off. I think being kind is huge,” Burke said.

Burke said she got involved with festivals through volunteering. She has been attending festivals since she was 16 years-old. For the past three years, she has been paid to work at them, she said.  Burke specifically got involved with Electric Forest through her friend Lia Holland, who is the social media manager and content director of Electric Forest Festival. Holland oversees the entire plug-in program.

Burke said one of her favorite parts about her job is watching an event that she has spent time helping to create come to life.

“It’s like living in a dream when you go there,” Burke said. “There’s a chance to experience music and art. I think there’s a chance for you to experience yourself in a new way.”

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