From a small surf shop to Trey Anastasio headlining to opening your own venue, with Founder/Owner Dan Hassett

Photo by: Adam Straughn

Imagine this…at 17-years-old, you start working at your local surf shop. The owner quickly becomes your mentor and is someone highly admired within the community. Sadly, said owner passes away, and at the age of 22 you have the opportunity to re-open the surf shop as the new owner. Five years later, you leverage the unifying ripple effect your environment has produced and find a new swell to expand upon. Local bands, and a few up-and-coming artists like Stick Figure, match your vibe and participate in your inaugural music festival down the street. It’s a far-out success and by year six, your festival is not only selling out quickly, but it’s also featuring some of the biggest acts in the world. This is all happening in your backyard — literally as next you then expand your surf shop to include an intimate music venue.

Welcome to Levitate Surf in Marshfield, MA. Above is the story of Dan Hassett who has now held the reins of Levitate for 10 years strong with his wife Jessica. I’ve had the pleasure of attending the Levitate Music Festival and it has been awe-inspiring to see such a scene evolve simply by riding the core values they stand for.

The Hassett’s eyes are always on the barrel. The catch is they know the real thrill is to invite others in with them. About a month after the conclusion of this year’s music festival which featured Trey Anastasio, The Head and the Heart, Lake Street Dive, Rebelution, Ripe and of course, Stick Figure, I had the chance to speak with Dan about what it means to be a part of the Big Wave that is Levitate.

Today and tomorrow, Levitate opens their new backyard venue attached to their shop with solo performances by Citizen Cope.

Photo by: Adam Straughn

This year’s Levitate Music Festival was the biggest yet and was an incredible two-day experience. Has it sunk in yet?

This year more than ever, it took longer for it all to sink in. It was such a big production and we had so many great people working on it, that it took awhile to get all the stories from each person. Two things that are well known here are that there are hundreds and hundreds of people working on the event. You might not see them all, but to produce an event like that takes a lot of people. The other part is that every single decision before it is seen by the public, goes through Jess and I. It’s an amazing experience to get to be the two people who do that. It’s an honor and it’s exhausting, but it’s special overall. It takes awhile to process it all afterwards. I would say now being a few weeks after the event, it feels incredible. The word I keep coming back to is honor. It’s an honor to get to do this because it’s not something everyone experiences. We are very aware of that and appreciate our position within Levitate.

I was listening to a podcast recently where the point was to look at the future, but also take the time to recognize where you are at. We’re definitely at the point now where we need to take a step back and appreciate what’s happened. We are such a small operation on a year-around basis that it you have to keep the machine moving forward. After an event like this year’s Levitate Festival where it was truly special, you have to take some time to look at what happened.

If you look at the evolution of the Levitate Music Festival, where you started small and this year you watch Trey Anastasio step onto your stage — with all that considered, how do you capture your Levitate journey in words?

A local small band playing our festival in the first year and then growing to be a big band show is very special, but only certain people’s paths will go there. Ironically, we’ve had a few local bands on that path that have played Levitate. That would be Stick Figure that was there from the start and Ripe is becoming that. They’re a local band that is exploding. We were somewhat late-comers to Lake Street Dive’s success, but we have been happy to be a part of that too. For every one of those there are thousands who don’t get to be on that path. From a personal level regarding the festival, there are countless events that don’t take off the way Levitate did. It’s special for me in a few different ways. One is that you have to be grateful to be in our position. It’s important to remember to keep building. You can’t take it for granted. It’s also fun because we’ve done it along side bands like Stick Figure and Ripe. Sometimes it feels like we’ve done it all together. I often don’t think of Levitate as a personal thing. I think of it as something bigger than Jess and I. It’s like a ship that I am lucky enough to be the captain of. It really feels like the winds are blowing in the right direction at this time. We are very fortunate.

Ripe performs at Levitate 2018, photo by Josh Gibney

You started with Levitate by working in the store. Do you remember your first day on the job? Did you ever think it would lead to this?

My first day working at Levitate in 2003, I walked in and the then owner, Bob Pollard trained me quickly then took off for an hour. Right away people came in and bought skateboard decks and I had to put the grip tape on them. I had gripped maybe three of my own boards, but it’s hard to grip a skateboard. There’s a bit of science to it. When I would do my own, it would take me an hour-and-a-half. It was hilarious that on my first day of work I had grip three in a row in about five minutes. They were probably terrible, but I did muscle it out. It’s a memory that stays with me to this day.

I didn’t know where it was going when I first walked into the Levitate shop. I just loved the place. I thought the store was so cool and the owner, Bob, was really what attracted me to it. He was my hero and mentor. He passed away very young. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been extra-motivated to make Levitate successful. At that point, I was 17 and I didn’t know where Levitate was going. I just knew there was something about it that was special and I wanted to be a part of it.

Do you remember the moment where the seed was planted to put on a music festival?

It was around 2012. We had been doing events since 2003. Levitate has always been good at bringing people together. I think that’s become our business now. We would do movie nights and beach clean-ups and they were popular. In 2012, Bob had already passed away and Jess who was working at the store with me, started brainstorming about a ten-year anniversary party with me for 2013. We were talking about how this south shore area needed something like this. We had friends who were artists and food operators that would want to be vendors. We figured we can get some beer there and our friends bands playing. We announced the first festival in May of 2013 and it took place in July.

Stick Figure performs at Levitate 2018, photo by Josh Gibney

Once you make the decision that you are going to proceed with a festival what’s the process to begin? Who do you call first and were you met with any hesitation coming from a surf shop?

The process was by March of 2013 I read every single piece of literature on the internet about the music industry that was possible. There was no article I did not read or YouTube video I did not watch. I absorbed it all and studied intently. I started reaching out to agents and managers to try and get bands. I’m sure I didn’t sound knowledgeable, but we were able to book a few. There’s an old fairground down the street and we were able to rent space from them. The world we didn’t know about was how to produce a concert — the music end of it. I was aware there were people out there who did, however.

I happened to be buy an old 1975 Ford F100 pickup truck from a guy in Hull. We got to talking and I asked him what he did. He was a production manager for the Everly Brothers for a decade and now a production manager at Berklee College of Music. Awhile later, I went banging on his door and told him I had booked these bands and I had no idea what to do in terms of setting up the stage or managing the sound. He was in partial retirement, so it took some persuading, but he eventually agreed to help us. He became our production manager and he is still our production manager to this day.

Trey Anastasio peforms at Levitate 2018 where there was an onsite skate park , photo by: Dave Green

What are the two festival days like for you now?

Saturday is always a busy day because everything starts coming together. This year when the headliner, Trey Anastasio went on, I texted Jess, we found each other and grabbed a beer. We went up on this platform that is next to the stage. We got to watch Trey for about three or four songs until the radio started and dragged me away. There are so many different departments — like ticketing or hospitality that require attention. By the time it gets to me it’s usually a quick decision that has to be made. There are a lot of people working. I just have to be available. It’s fun and exciting.

Sunday is nice. By that time, it’s more of a well-oiled machine. We get to hang out more. We watched a lot of Lake Street Dive’s set together as well.

Lake Street Dive performs at Levitate 2018, photo by: Adam Straughn

What does the artistic connection between music and surfing mean to you? Is music a big part of your surfing and every day at Levitate?

Surfing and music to me are very similar because they are expressive and fluid. They also both serve as an escape. A lot of people that came into our stores or worked here for the past ten years weren’t necessarily surfers. They just like the concept of surfing. There’s a thing about surfing that you can’t define — everyone is attracted to that. Music has that as well. Music is a common denominator for a lot of different people. I think we hit the nail on the head unknowingly when we created the festival. We further opened up to the people who were coming in to the store. Now they can come to an event in their flip-flops and participate in it.

What’s next for Levitate? What are you most excited about?

We have our backyard venue opening with two sold-out Citizen Cope shows on August 23rd and 24th. It’s been an incredible experience to bring world class music to our town and area. It’s also been a thrill to be able to promote local music side-by-side with national musicians. We want to have the opportunity to do this on a more year-around basis. That’s the objective of our event and venue. I hope to do more of that in the coming months -smaller stuff here more frequently. I think that will help grow the main event which is obviously the Levitate Music Festival.

“When you focus on the good things, all things under the sun. You free yourself from negativity and the good shall come.” ~ Stick Figure

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