Interview with Harefest Creator Jason Fellman – J-Fell Presents – Wild Hare Saloon – 2017

By |2018-07-17T01:25:26+00:00December 9th, 2017|Written Interviews|Comments Off on Interview with Harefest Creator Jason Fellman – J-Fell Presents – Wild Hare Saloon – 2017

With just four days until Harefest 7 occurs, Jason Fellman of J-Fell Presents sat down with MIRP and answered our questions regarding this ambitious and very loved festival. 

MIRP: Are you right on track for the Harefest 7?  

Jason: Yes!!  

MIRP: Harefest 7 takes place this Friday, July 14, and Saturday, July 15th, at Pat’s Acres in Canby.  I imagine that Harefest attendance increases exponentially each year.  What is the approximate percentage that attendance increases each year?

Jason: Our arrangement with Clackamas County puts a hard limit of 3000 per day.  We bumped up against it last year, and we’re going to hit it this year.  

MIRP: Pat’s Acres seems the perfect venue.  What is capacity, and how much longer do you think you can continue to hold the festival there?    

Jason: Indeed, it’s such a great property and the owner, Chris Egger, is super cool.
We don’t make decisions about “next year” until after we get through the current year, but we have another year on our Pat’s Acres contract, and our starting point for planning is always, “Can we produce the event we want at this venue this year?”…and then we go from there.   That said, we’re loving it once again as we roll into Harefest 7, and the venue has never looked better!    
At least for this year, we felt like we didn’t want to get too crowded, so we kept our capacity limit the same.  Plus, we would need a more extensive set of permits in order to go bigger.   We don’t actually know the venue’s capacity limits because we don’t push the envelope.  

​MIRP: Harefest offers live music, a great selection of food and drink, a large list of sponsors, and even camping.  Which of these elements is the most time consuming to coordinate?

Jason: I’m not actually sure which area is most time consuming, but we rely heavily on Truewest for much of the event planning and operations.  Marketing is the most time-consuming item for me personally, but overall, it’s probably either Production or Site Ops as the largest undertakings. Joan has to spend a TON of time dealing with permits and insurance!   

MIRP: Tell me where you were when you first had the idea of Harefest?  What specifically triggered the idea?

Jason: About eight or so years ago, my 80’s Band “Radical Revolution” had already played several times at Wild Hare with a great response…including one night that was basically an “ad hoc High School Reunion” for Canby High School Classes 1980-89.   The following year, Wild Hare owner Joan Monen contacted me to see if Stone in Love (our ‘new’ Journey tribute at the time) could play at that annual Canby High event that attracts between 100-200 people each year.   
The problem was that Stone in Love had already become really popular, and our fees were too high to justify for an event and venue the size of the Wild Hare.   At the same time, we really wanted to be able to play because, let’s face it… It’s always fun at the Wild Hare!  So, we started brainstorming together, and ended up coming up with the idea to move the reunion event to the parking lot of the Wild Hare and charge a modest admission.  We called it “Harefest” for obvious reasons.  There were three bands: Stone in Love, Radical Revolution, and Hair Assault.  Over 500 people showed up.   It was a blast!  And now it’s year seven.  

MIRP: Talk about your partnership with the Wild Hare Saloon.

Jason: Wild Hare owner Joan Monen and I are REALLY compatible business partners.   It’s one of those “lighting in a bottle” sort of things where it just works.  We never argue, we both pull our own weight, we work hard, and our skill-sets, philosophies, and CORE businesses are totally complimentary.  She is a total ace with customer service, food/beverage, planning/executing events, managing lots of people, and has the critical ties to the local community.  My area of expertise is marketing, production, booking, and I am heavily connected to our target audience.   It’s an outstanding partnership, and we’ve got some new projects in the hopper that we’re excited to roll out when the time is right.

MIRP: In addition to Harefest, your company, J-Fell Presents, also manages, promotes, books, and consults for tribute, cover, and original bands.  Please talk about how someone can go about a partnership with you for their project.

Jason: The only “for hire” service I actually provide is talent buying, and only in situations where I am certain I can deliver value for my fees.   But as far as producing events, promoting concerts, booking bands, etc., I don’t really have a formula.   I just sort of evaluate every opportunity as it comes along, and in general, I’m focused on long term potential/relationships over short term gain.

MIRP: And, I’ve always been curious, what is the difference between a tribute band and a cover band?

Jason: I’m not sure there is an official distinction, but in general, I think of a tribute band as playing music from only one artist (whether you are a look alike or not), whereas a cover band plays music from multiple artists.   But even within those two categories, there are a bunch of sub categories, exceptions, etc.

MIRP: Is it offensive to call a tribute band a cover band and vice versa?  If yes, why?

Jason: I don’t think it is offensive.   All I care about is that people show up and have a great time!

MIRP: You, yourself are a musician, playing in one of the region’s top tribute bands, Stone in Love (a tribute to Journey), as well as some other great projects.  If money was no option, and you could only pick one, would you rather be a full-time musician or a businessman?   

Jason: Money isn’t actually the reason I do the “business stuff.”  Candidly, there are much easier ways for me to go about making money.  I do the business stuff because it puts me in a great position to get killer gigs as a musician while helping other people become successful at the same time.  #winning!

MIRP: I have heard a rumor that in college you invented something awesome.  Did you always know you had the ability to think of something new and see it through to fruition?

Jason: Alas, that is only a rumor.  I have never invented anything.  I did co-found a successful integrated marketing firm in Austin, TX when I was 21 and that ended up working out well.
Overall, I tend to achieve that which I set my mind to…I’ve discovered that over time. But I am also not an “idea” guy.  I don’t really think of ‘new things’ (Tribute bands, hello?)

MIRP: There must be tribute bands in every state by now, tell me why you focus on local tribute/cover bands over national acts for Harefest?

Jason: I don’t actually focus on local bands… I focus on local audiences.  It just happens to be a lot easier to develop a feeling of community with local bands.  The fun isn’t just about going out to see a great tribute band… it’s also about enjoying the experience with the people who are around you.   

We do mix in acts from outside our market.  For example, this year we have two bands from Canada, one band from Seattle, and one band from California.   Ultimately, the ones that work out long-term are the ones that endeavor to become an active part of our local tribute community.   

MIRP: Do you manage all, many, or some of the bands that will perform at this year’s Harefest?

Jason: I actually only “manage” two bands:  Radical Revolution and Stone in Love, the latter of which will perform at Harefest.

MIRP: If you notice a hole in the tribute/cover scene here in the Pacific Northwest (I’m just going to throw out Triumph here), are you instrumental in putting a band together to cover that gap?  Do you actually put it together or do you find musicians who are already doing it on their own?  Please explain how that works.

Jason: I don’t really get involved in putting bands together, per se.  I did that once years ago and learned that it probably isn’t the best approach. I have come to believe that tribute bands need ‘chemistry’ to be truly successful, and you can’t just slap that together like a boy band.   

MIRP: My next question is, what three cover/tribute bands would you say are missing from the scene that you’d like to see be born?

Jason: Duran Duran, Run DMC, and Madonna (I may or may not be working on that one, and wouldn’t admit it if I was).  Honorable Mention: Hall and Oates.  I would also love to see a New Edition tribute where they do all the solo stuff too.   We need either 80’s pop… or 90’s bands.  We don’t need any more 80’s rock tributes unless they are amazing.  That market is already over-saturated.

MIRP: The majority of the bands that inspire the bands who will play at Harefest had a presence in the 80s.  What do you think it is that keeps people wanting to hear this genre and era of music?

Jason: The 80’s were loaded with “shout back” choruses where everyone sings along.  Pour Some Sugar, Living on a Prayer, You Shook Me, One, Free Fallin’, Don’t Stop Believin’, and the list goes on.  Everyone just knows that when those songs are played, it’s time to raise a glass and sing along!
That said, I think Harefest 7 has the most 70’s/80’s/90’s balance of any year so far.  We’re easing into the 90’s, and don’t be surprised to see more of that next year.   

MIRP: Harefest offers a wide-variety of genres of music.  From Heart to Metallica, from Beastie Boys to Motley Crue, from Led Zeppelin to Scorpions…tell me some of your favorite bands.

Jason: In terms of the “source bands,” Led Zeppelin is definitely my favorite of the bunch… and basically my second favorite band ever after Rush.  I do like Journey quite a bit, but that really happened AFTER I started playing in a Journey tribute band.  I also dig Iron Maiden, which is one of the only metal bands I ever listened to growing up.

MIRP: What do you say to the naysayers who suggest tribute/cover bands aren’t as creative as original bands?  

Jason: I don’t engage with naysayers.  It’s a fruitless debate, and ultimately, they are not my target audience.  

MIRP: To those who are curious, can you answer why Harefest is only cover and tribute bands, and not original?  

Jason: The event was essentially conceived around an 80’s reunion, so tapping into the nostalgia of the music was a key ingredient to our success from the start.   So, we built on what worked and maintained focus, which in turn allows us to reach a very specific audience.  It’s easy to explain: We’re a tribute band festival.

MIRP: Putting together a festival like Harefest must consume most of your life at times?   

Jason: It only really consumes my life for about one week or so before the event, and during the week before tickets go on sale. 

MIRP: Have you started planning 2018’s Harefest already?  

Jason: No, other than we are documenting things as we go along to give us ideas for improvement.   And I already have my eye on some new bands that I think would be super cool for Harefest 8! 

MIRP:  When do you start planning for the next year’s Harefest?

Jason: We start planning right after the event.  We capture customer feedback, debrief with our team members, and take notes for next year.  Then we usually take August off from Harefest, and jump back to it in September.

MIRP: Approximately how many staff/volunteers does it take to put on Harefest?  I’m curious to know the answer for “before the festival” and “during the festival.”

Jason: I actually don’t know the answer, I’m guessing about 40-50 beforehand and 300 during (about 100 of them are musicians).

MIRP: Have you ever considered taking Harefest on the road?  

Jason: We’ve thought about it, but haven’t really gravitated towards that idea.   It wouldn’t be hard to take a tribute show on the road, but Harefest is much more than that.  There’s a culture and feeling of community, and that would be pretty hard to replicate as a traveling entity.  So right now, we just want to create the best possible experience for the current year.    

MIRP: What is your proudest moment in the history of Harefest?

Jason: More than anything, I’m just proud of how it’s evolved into something really cool and fun, rather than any specific moment.     
MIRP: Does your definition of success change or stay the same with each year’s Harefest?

Jason: It pretty much stays the same, other than having a couple of specific areas of focus for improvement.   For example, last year we really focused on “cooling” because it was so darn hot the year before!  This year, we are focusing on streamlining our processes and taking our production up another level. 

MIRP: What will determine success for you for Harefest 7?

Jason: 1) Attendee Satisfaction/Repeat Attendees, 2) Artist/Sponsor Satisfaction, 3) Staff/Vendor Satisfaction, and 4) Profitability.
It’s a pretty safe bet that if we can nail #1 – #3… then #4 will follow.

MIRP: Would you say that Harefests 1-6 have been incredibly good planning or a lot of trial and error?

Jason: I feel like we have generally done well at planning the things that are part of our core businesses – music, food/beverage, production, customer service, and marketing.  The big trial and error has been around camping and overnight.  It’s really difficult to manager because people have expectations for an overnight experience, and we are limited in what we can provide due to the nature of the venue. 

MIRP:  What changes, if any, will we see this year from last year?

Jason: We’re aiming to have a smoother check-in process for camping and arrival in general.  There’s only one (bigger) box office this year and every line is “full service.”  So just more simplicity in the process.  At least that’s what we’re shooting for!

MIRP: Are there any “oops” moments from Harefests 1-6?

Jason: A few years back the ‘free cold water’ we had delivered turned out to be …not cold!  Other than that, we’ve been very fortunate, and we’ve got excellent partners.  

MIRP: One of the most creative ideas that I experienced at Harefest 6 was the addition of the second stage, where each band joins fans after they play to take pictures, etc.  Where did that idea come from?

Jason: We’ve had a photo-stage of sorts since Harefest 3, but the idea to replicate the main stage ‘exactly’ came when I was browsing the website of the company that makes our main stage… and saw they had a mini version of it. It was so cute!  We had to have it.  

MIRP: What motivates you to live up to the motto:  The Ambassador of Good Times, and do you still enjoy what you do?

Jason: People are paying hard-earned money to be entertained, so I just want to deliver a real value for that entertainment dollar.  Some parts of it I enjoy (people, performing, growth), and some parts I don’t (spreadsheets, communication overload, unprofessional musicians).   But when the parts I don’t enjoy outweigh the parts I do enjoy, I will know it’s time for me to do something else.   But all things considered, I can’t complain.  

MIRP: Besides running J-Fell Presents and playing in Stone in Love (Journey Tribute), you also have many other business ventures and bands that you are a musician in.  Can you list your other projects?

Jason: I break it down into two categories:   Performing… and ‘everything else.’  
As far as performing goes, I am the co-lead singer/rhythm guitarist for Radical Revolution 80’s tribute and the drummer for Stone in Love Journey tribute.  
As far as everything else goes, I co-produce Harefest, I produce Mogo Music Festival (http://mogofest.com/), and I do concert/event promotion, booking, and talent buying through J-Fell Presents.  

MIRP: In your mind, does Harefest have an expiration date?  

Jason: No.

MIRP: What if anything will cause you to stop?  

Jason: It would either be because it wasn’t financially viable or it became ‘unfun’ to produce.   

MIRP: Once the first band takes the stage on Friday, will you have time to actually enjoy the festival?

Jason: For sure.  One of my arrangements with Joan is that when the festival starts, I get to take off my business hat and put on my musician hat.  So, I do all the stuff that the musicians do – sound check, hang out backstage, walk around say hi to the folks in the audience, warm up, etc.  I do end up having to answer some questions here and there, but in general, I am able to enjoy it quite a bit.  The only time I am not able to enjoy it is if I am concerned about the weather.  But that only happened twice… one year it rained a bit (stress!!), and one year it was sweltering hot.  Fortunately, there is no rain in the forecast this year.  And we learned a ton from that hot year two years ago… and came back armed with free cold water (actually cold!), a misting tent, and a HUGE shade cover!!!  So now I don’t worry about heat either.

Jason, it has been our pleasure.  Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, and thank you for Harefest.

​Everything you need to know about Harefest can be found here:  http://www.harefest.com/

Do yourself a favor and put this on your calendar!

About the Author:

Lover of music. Lover of writing. Music is the audible form of emotion, and I have a deep need to find out what it takes to make a song, an album...a band. When a musician says, "No one has ever asked me that before," or "That was the best interview I've ever done," I know I've done my job right.