[Interview] Paul Levine on Bluegrass Music and the Influence Behind Clusterpluck

[Interview] Paul Levine on Bluegrass Music and the Influence Behind Clusterpluck

Cover photo by Mandi Nulph

Have you ever thought about what goes into running a music festival? It's likely the last thing you think of when you're enjoying great music, amazing company, and the overall incredible experience. However, there are people scurrying around like mice to make sure our good time goes off without a hitch.

I thank them because my good time wouldn't be the same without the hard work of the numerous teams that work at each festival. Festival organizer Paul Levine's experience in the industry spans a couple decades and, as evident by his events, he's only getting better with each passing year.

Paul, you’re involved in so many events like Fool’s Paradise, Purple Hatter’s Ball, Tipper and Friends, Hulaween and it seems as though there are always new events taking place at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. How do you find time to add another festival on your plate like Clusterpluck

Well, we’ve been doing a series of smaller shows like Clusterpluck for a bit now and honestly, we’ve done so many shows at this point that a little show like Clusterpluck, where the music is in the Music Hall and a little bit at the beach becomes easier for us to put on. We just don’t have as many responsibilities and as many people to look after. 

So it’s more of a breeze for you then. 

Well, I wouldn’t call it easy! But it doesn’t require as much time as a big festival would and people enjoy the little shows. And I do as well! There’s not as much coordination and the Park has gotten good at running smaller shows and it kind of runs itself. 

This is the first year you’ve done Clusterpluck at SOSMP, so what prompted the organization of Clusterpluck?

We have a lot of bigger festivals here and what I’ve found over the years is that people also enjoy smaller, intimate gatherings. You know the end of June isn’t necessarily a likely time that a big festival is going to pop up on our calendar and we like to keep the calendar full of events and music. We thought it would be a good time to have a more intimate event and, you know, it went from there. You know it’s really no different from what we did with Feast of Funk and the Lettuce and Lee Boys weekend. You know, I feel that any time is a good time to see music at the Spirit of Suwannee and if we can get some great acts like we have been able to with Clusterpluck in an off weekend in June then I think that’s a great chance for people to come out and have an intimate experience at the Park. 

Photo by Joey Pye

Photo by Joey Pye

Anyone that’s been to the SOSMP they know the deep roots that bluegrass has at the Park and they know the importance that bluegrass plays at that venue. What does the presence of bluegrass at the SOSMP mean to you? 

The history of bluegrass runs really deep the Park. Some of the pioneers of bluegrass lived in Live Oak and played music here even before there was the SOSMP. It was a county park back then and when the Cornett family bought it, the Park really started getting on the map with Magnolia Fest and Spring Fest. That’s what brought the first wave of music festival culture to the Park. My first time coming to the Park was a Magnolia Festival, way back, and I remember enjoying Bela Fleck and a bunch of bluegrass out here, so it always feels really nice to hear that music out here. The bluegrass community as always embraced the Park and has really helped cultivate the culture and community. 

My first festival was a bluegrass festival at the Park and I remember seeing Peter Rowan for the first time and, as you said, some of the pioneers of bluegrass, you know, Vassar Clements! Speaking of the pioneers of bluegrass music, how did you approach Clusterpluck’s lineup?

A bunch of guys and a lot of people that I’ve known over the years but also people that I know, that if we were sitting at a campfire at Mag Fest or Spring Fest, would be playing together and with the crowd for four or five hours. You know these are the guys that really know how to interact with each other and play together seamlessly and they’re some of the best instrumentalists in the scene. You know when you bring those types of people together that, not only are you going to see their show, but they’re also going to play together and it’s going to become something special and unique. 

What are you looking forward to most about Clusterpluck? 

The music of course, and also getting an intimate weekend with those musicians and that crowd. It’s a very kind audience. The musicians and the crowd are very close with one another so there’s going to be a lot of intimacy. It’s going to be a great chance to come out and enjoy; the Park, the music, the outdoors and without a lot people around. So that’s something to look forward to that’s unique. We know that the music is going to be amazing. That’s without question. The musicianship is off the chain. I know that when I see these guys at the actual campsite that they’ll play for hours and hours and hours and you won’t believe the beautiful music that’s made. And that’s what we’re going to get! We’re going to the get storytelling and great company and it’s going to a very nice time at the Park. 

I’m really looking for to it man! It’s a weekend that we haven’t at the Park for quite some time. You and I have known each other for many years now and we’ve been to all kinds of different events, but it’s going to be nice to get back to the roots of the Park. 

As you know quite well, anytime is a great time to see music at the Park! But there’s no question that the Mag Fest, Spring Fest, Spring Reunion, bluegrass crowd is one of our kindest, most musically passionate crowd. They’re very knowledgeable and inclusive. People bring their own instruments and treat each other with incredible kindness and I think that’s the kind of weekend you’re thinking about. 

It certainly is Paul! It certainly is! See you next week!

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