Brandon Miller of the Kris Lager Band (KLB) does infinitely more than just play bass in the group. As founder of the annual Hullabaloo Music and Camping Festival, he’s in charge of booking the bands, arranging space for camping, creating a tunnel/forest, setting up a Frisbee golf course, and a slew of other summertime activities. After all, it’s not just a three-day concert; it’s a full on experience. Miller has always loved going to music festivals and it seemed to be only a matter of time before he started his own.
“Long before I ever picked up an instrument or even knew what a chord was, I loved to go to music festivals and dance to great music,” Miller says. “When I got the opportunity to join Kris Lager Band, still not knowing any chords by the way, I thought it would be a great time to throw my own festival centering around KLB. That is what other bands like String Cheese, Yonder Mountain, Moe, and Umphreys McGee have done. They host their own well-attended and well-received festivals and invite all their favorite bands and best friends to join them in some remote location to groove together. That is what I wanted to do with KLB and our community.”
It’s not without its challenges. Promoting is one of the hardest jobs you can do. There’s always a risk no one will show up and then you’ve essentially flushed thousands of dollars down the drain. If you’re not comfortable taking a suitcase full of hundred dollar bills and throwing it off of a roof, then it’s probably not the business for you. Luckily, it’s working out so far for Miller, but there were plenty of bumps along the road, especially in 2011, its first year. In fact, not much went into his decision to move forward with such a risky endeavor.
“I didn't even think about it when I got started,” he explains. “It just came together so fluidly at first that I thought, ‘wow this is really fun and easy.’ I had no idea. As soon as I thought it was all ready to go and every little detail was taken care of—bam— it all went to heck. The original location was supposed to be at the Anchor Inn, complete with stage, staff, food, booze, lights, toilets, parking, and every other little thing you could need. It was so easy. All I had to do was find a few friends' bands that wanted to be a part of the party. I had been promoting it at that location for months with tens of thousands of fliers. Then the horribly insane flooding came and everything changed. I had to find a new location and every single one of those things that the Anchor had ready for us to make a festival happen, needed to be arranged in a matter of a couple months. My head exploded, but there are way more people out there affected way worse by the flooding that year than us.”
It’s all worth it for Miller when he sees a happy crowd. Last year, he had the Bay Area hip-hop duo Blackalicious perform, and even though the crowd was thin, there was still an energetic vibe that reverberated throughout Sokol Park. Granted, it was the last day of the three-day festival and a Sunday night so it was a little harder to pull in the big numbers. Either way, Miller loves every minute of it.
“I love getting all of my favorite bands to come play our own private party,” he says. “We just always hope the public shows up, but if they don't, we know we are going to have one heck of a great time with our best friends. I would say the moment I find most rewarding is getting up on stage to play our Kris Lager Band sets and seeing everything come together from the stage vantage point. Seeing so many smiling, beautiful, dancing souls there to celebrate life with us and seeing all the great art installations, full campground, and incredible light shows just makes my soul smile. We are very blessed.
“I am so new at promoting and there is so much I do not know still and may never know,” he continues. “I am best at reaching our own friends and demographic. Figuring out how to reach the masses beyond our fan base is always the biggest challenge. It would be made easier if we had a larger budget to work with where we could afford some mainstream advertising but that gets terribly expensive. And it isn't just for the hip hop portion, but also the soul, blues, funk, bluegrass, electronic, rock and roll, or any other style we bring out. Hope we don't have the same issue with Nappy Roots this year.”
Speaking of Nappy Roots, the lineup this year is solid. The Kris Lager Band, of course, is on the bill along with roots/bluegrass band Cornmeal, Texas-based multi-instrumentalist Carolyn Wonderland, blues musician Andy Frasco, funksters Sophistafunk, Lincoln’s Universe Contest, country-influenced rockers Desert Noises, blues-rock artist Patrick Sweany, funk enthusiasts The Main Squeeze, Omaha’s Funk Trek, psychedelic funk band Monstars, and more. Booking is a process Miller takes very seriously.
“I start by trying to book my favorite touring bands of the moment and asking all my local favorites to get on board,” he explains. “Then when looking for headliners, it starts to be more about routing and whether I can afford to bring in the artists that I love. If I had a budget to the scale of some of these larger festivals, I would bring Omaha the coolest party it has ever seen. We get to see so many amazing bands out in our travels that people here need to know about. They will love them as much as we do. I know it.”
While intriguing musical acts are still the meat of the festival, there are some changes this year. Miller tries to go above and beyond with every festival he throws.
“Every year we are trying to up the ante both musically and atmospherically,” he says. “We are working with several artists and lighting designers to bring the environmental mood to another level. We also are going to have a hookah bar from Boosted Dreamz, a 9-hole Frisbee golf course, midnight movies, full service bar, playground and games for families, and many other surprises. This is going to be one exciting, action-packed, weekend for everyone.”
Camping is another element that makes Hullabaloo unique. It allows people to have a safe and comfortable home base next to the music. You don't have to worry about driving under the influence or finding a designated driver. You just have to be able to make it safely back to your tent.
“It’s nice to be able to take a quick break in a full day of music,” he says. “You can grab a quick bite from the vendors, a drink from the park, head back to your campsite and relax for a moment.”
For attendees, Hullabaloo is an unforgettable event. It has a lot of the same people returning year after year to show their support. Miller should be proud. In the face of adversity, he’s managed to pull off the massive event for the past four years, which is not an easy task. If this year’s event goes as planned, it will be something people talk about for years to come, much like the first one.
“People that made it through the first year have a running joke about surviving Hurricane Hullabaloo,” he says. “Beside the flooding, that was also the year a small tornado came through the outskirts of Lincoln and brought a storm with 70 mph winds through the Metro. One moment KLB was on stage playing and the next we were in full on emergency mode. I had no one managing the second stage that year during our set so I had to run over to it and try to secure everything. We had the stage full of gear that the band was trying to cover with tarps.
“The storm was so intense and quick to move through, but it left a lot of damage,” he adds. “The speakers were full of water, there was standing water all over the campground. Not a tent was left standing, and my father actually got carried across a road while trying to hold down the front gate tent that turned into a kite by the wind. I remember being so worried someone was hurt and then I see people emerging from hiding spots and heard people laughing, cheering, and yelling ‘Hullabalooooo’ at the tops of their lungs. It made me tear up I was so relieved. It is making me tear up just thinking about it now and reliving that beautiful moment.”
Hullabaloo Music and Camping Festival, July 24, 25 and 26, at Sokol Park, Bellevue, Campgrounds open at 12 p.m. Thursday, July 24. Tickets are $50/ADV and $60/DOS. Sunday is free. Visit www.hullabaloomusicfestival.com for more information.