Andy Levine And Brandi Carlile Claim Mother’s Day At Miramar Beach, FL

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In this post pandemic world, the word infectious has become limited in its use. It is time to return it to the lexicon: Andy Levine, founder of Topeka Live is infectious in the very best of ways. His energy motivates the people who make the event happen and inspires those in the audience when they interact. Andy and his Topeka Live team deliver extraordinary experiences in the form of music vacations. This year they held Moon Crush followed by Brandi Carlile’s debut Mothership Weekend event over Mother’s Day weekend at Miramar Beach, Florida.

The idea behind music vacations was to create a low-key retreat at the beach, amid abundant housing options. Guests had the ability to rent condos or nearby homes, spend the day on Miramar Beach, then walk over to the event entrance gates for music which started in late afternoon. The setup is a single stage, with three or four acts playing each night.

Mothership took place on what was the driving range of a golf course which itself is part of Seascape, a condominium tower complex overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. The first inkling this event was organized differently from the norm was evident the night before it was set to start. There was an open invitation BYOB party held at the fire pits on Miramar Beach just in front of the Seascape property where the event was held. This party was a pure mixer. It did not cost money to attend. Just show up.

Andy and his team brought speakers and music to the beach. This was to create community among the fans who had gathered to be part of the Mothership weekend. And gather they did. As the sun set across the Gulf of Mexico, the party kept gathering steam. And, as the evening progressed the party moved from the beach into the bar at Seascape where it kept going well into the night.

I spent considerable time talking with Andy Levine to understand his journey leading up to Mothership Weekend, and the other shows he promotes. He approaches them all in the same way. It’s always focused on consumer satisfaction Mothership was created in partnership with Brandi Carlile and anchored by her “Bramily” the fan community surrounding her. They turned out to the show in force. In addition to the Bramily, a substantial number of people came for the lineup which in addition to Brandi included Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Hozier, Emmylou Harris, Mavis Staples, The Milk Carton Kids, Danielle Ponder, Tish Melton, Fancy Hagood and Smalltown Strings.

What was fascinating about the weekend was the ways in which Andy and the Topeka team modified the traditional music event structure by adding a series of hospitality-based enhancements.

The first innovation differentiating Mothership was the way in which the seating was set up. Seating areas were “coves” and defined by posts and ropes marking space for groups of two, four or six seats. The idea of a cove created the whisper of intimacy for those seated within. This event held 5,000, so the idea of a private space in a public event is transformational.

The second innovation was giving each cove a branded Brandi Carlile cooler which facilitated the ability to keep multiple drinks on ice during the afternoon and into the evening. The event had a dedicated serving team tasked to deliver ice for your cooler. They were also the foot power behind the app which allowed for drinks to be ordered and delivered in cans which could then live in that cooler for hours.

The third innovation and perhaps my favorite was food delivery in addition to the conventional walk-up food booths and food trucks. In partnership with the Toast app, there were menu items from a variety of onsite food vendors. Order something and it was delivered to your cove with a target time from order to delivery of six minutes. These were not off the shelf items. These were freshly cooked dishes delivered hot and ready to eat. That was something truly innovative for a live music festival. You could eat and drink well while never missing a minute of the show.

The last innovation was how the layout incorporated a standing room pit in front of the coves. This area was dug 24 inches lower than the rest of the field which meant that the people in seats behind the standing room pit could remain seated and see over the heads of all but the tallest people in front. There is nothing worse than having front row seating, then having to look through the standing room crowd in front. This small excavation solved the issue for those seated above.

Mothership allowed teachers to enter a draw for a free one-day upgrade into the pit. There was also an option to purchase a one-day upgrade. Unlike most VIP up front areas, this one was nowhere near full. Andy and his team made sure the pit was not overcrowded which made it a luxurious experience rather than an endurance test.

Mothership incorporated other unusual options, many of which were possible because this was a single stage event which started late in the afternoon. On both Saturday and Sunday Steve Poltz and Katie Pruitt taught a class on songwriting. There was a modest charge for the class, but it was two hours long, interesting as Poltz always is, and came with beverages and snacks.

But perhaps the most surprising extra was mid-day Saturday, and it was free. It was Brandioke, for which a stage was built on the sand at the beach and a full spectrum of sound equipment installed. At the appointed time a crowd gathered on the sand in front of the stage ostensibly to see people sing Brandi’s songs. That’s what happened except for this one peculiar detail: the singers were backed by Brandi herself and her band. It was extraordinary. And anybody on the beach could hear it. This was simply the pure joy of community and music enhanced by blue sky, sun, pure white sand, and the green blue waters of the Gulf. As Brandioke finished, Brandi and Andy ran to the water, inspiring many in the crowd to run across the sand and into the water alongside them.

The level of detail provided by Andy and the Topeka live team was incredible given the 5,000-seat capacity of the event. This was one of several events which would take place over at that same location. Each event had a different musical lineup. For 2024 then plan is likely there will be eight events. Given the number of festivals which now take place across the country it’s hard to differentiate between them. Some are sorted by style of music, others by the diversity they provide. Typically, the choice of acts defines the audience. The amenities such as food, drinks and merchandise are an incremental revenue source but don’t typically drive the ethos of an event. Andy has an alternate differentiator. His events are driven by prioritizing hospitality.

For most event organizers it’s evident that priority is driving revenue through the system. Mothership felt like it was driving community with revenue coming as the natural result of people feeling welcomed and happy. The design of the festival layout and the mechanics of how it ran removed the stress from the audience leaving them free to become immersed in the event itself rather than trying to avoid bottlenecks and unnecessary aggravation. A happy crowd is one that spends money. That seems like common sense, but it isn’t common practice.

Andy Levine is personable, smart, and creative. He’s not afraid to ask questions and he’s not afraid to take chances. He is engaging when talking both to patrons and to his team members. These qualities allow an entrepreneur to develop a unique niche in a very crowded space. Andy and the team surrounding him are running fast in their lane. A good promoter and visionary is like a good Maître D. Each knows how to balance the room while maintaining an undercurrent of excitement and curiosity about what’s coming next. Music Vacations are a viable concept and a segment which appears likely to grow. They bring all the excitement of live entertainment along with the freedom to explore the surroundings prior to the early evening start time.

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