A lot of bands play festivals but very few actually start their own. After last year’s inaugural High Water Fest, indie-folk duo Shovels & Rope officially took a cannonball plunge into the latter camp. Ahead of this year’s High Water Fest (running April 21-22 at Riverfront Park in North Charleston, SC), we chatted with the incomparable duo of Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent to get all the details behind their vision for High Water, what they’ve learned (good and bad) from playing so many festivals over the years, and much more.
NoiseTrade: What was the initial inspirational spark for creating High Water Festival and what were the good (and bad) things that you learned during last year’s inaugural kickoff?
Shovels & Rope: Charleston is a destination city for many reasons, but due to routing issues, it’s not always a stop on the normal tour schedule of bands. We want our band to benefit the already growing music trade in Charleston while also serving the community that is so supportive of us. That’s why a portion of each ticket sale goes directly to our charity partners.
Also, there was no national music festival that was based in Charleston. It seemed like a niche that needed to be filled. The neighboring city of North Charleston was very receptive to our idea to put an annual festival at Riverfront Park and with our experienced partner AC Entertainment, we made a sweet little festival that was green, family friendly, and a good value.
NT: Heading into your second year, what all can festivalgoers expect to experience when they step foot into Riverfront Park?
Shovels & Rope: We hope everyone feels like they are stepping into a clean, well organized, lovingly curated, well thought out, well booked, well run music festival.
NT: You’re also inviting some amazing organizations in the Charleston area to participate. What can you tell us about your partnerships with them?
Shovels & Rope: Our three non-profit partners are The Charleston Waterkeepers, The Green Heart Project, and Water Mission. The Waterkeepers are like The Avengers for our local waterways; they educate, clean, and protect all things related to the water life we love down here. The Green Heart Project helps educate local grade school kids about farming and sustainability. Water Mission helps provide clean water to people all over the world. Three dollars from every ticket to the festival is divided and a dollar goes to each organization.
NT: As veterans of the festival circuit, what are some of the things you’ve seen that you’re definitely trying to incorporate and what are some of the things you’ve seen that you’re trying to make sure will never happen at your own festival?
Shovels & Rope: We want to make sure it never feels overcrowded or too big. A common thing that seems to happen with festivals is that they start off great and then grow too fast and a lot of the “attention to detail” gets left in the dust. We are happy to keep it small and focus on quality over quantity.
NT: Are there any other specific music festivals that you are using as inspiration – thematically, logistically, or otherwise?
Shovels & Rope: We’ve played and attended so many different festivals over the years. For High Water, we just made educated logistical decisions based on our own personal experiences. We didn’t base it on any specific model. We’ve learned over the years what we like and don’t like about music festival – both from an artist perspective as well as a ticket buyer – and wanted to make it something that both would enjoy.
NT: Apart from founding, curating, and playing your own slot at the festival, where else will we see (and feel) Shovels & Rope throughout High Water? Will you be popping in during any other band’s sets?
Shovels & Rope: No spoilers!