Specializing in festivals located in unique locations, Huka Entertainment runs four annual gatherings—Pemberton Music Festival, Tortuga Music Festival, Hangout Music Festival and BUKU Music + Art Project.
I discovered live music at a young age. My first experience was Eric Clapton around 1983. I was addicted right out the gate.
Naturally, I wanted to get paid to be around music, so I worked in retail and did the college radio thing. One summer, I interned for a young man at Mercury Records who got paid to call radio stations and convince them to play his artists. I thought that was the coolest job in the world.
[My mentor] said, “Pick five places you’re willing to live and write to the record companies and radio stations every week and eventually somebody will take your call.” Sure enough, the head of BMG in San Francisco saw on my resume I was a surfer. After about the 10th week, he took my call. He said, “Call me every week, we can talk about waves for a minute or two and when a mailroom job opens up I’ll give you a shot.”
I spent seven years working for record companies. After doing regional marketing plans and working to break artists at the ground level, I was offered the opportunity to head up the digital division. I moved to NY and found myself in what was the beginning of marketing online. It got my heart racing to think about how bands could better communicate with their fans.
I wound up on the programming side, because in ’97, when you were building web assets for artists to reach fans online, you were a video producer, an audio producer, a writer and an editor all in one. A bunch of us jumped to AOL and amassed an audience of 30 million fans.
I was hired to build an online strategy for Clear Channel, which is now iHeartMedia. I always appreciated the power of radio and thought there was a tremendous opportunity for radio to continue that relationship through the digital space. Giving listeners an opportunity to stay connected to their brands during the day made a lot of sense. We developed the strategy
and created the iHeartRadio app. I believe we forever changed the way radio is perceived, because radio is no longer about one exclusive delivery—it’s about the strength of the brand.
I was finishing my time at iHeart and thinking about what excited me. I met a guy named A.J. Niland through an industry friend. He had his eyes wide open to expand and was looking for a partner who could help him grow.
What makes our approach special is the destination locations we choose. We have three festivals right now. Our festival in New Orleans, called BUKU, is right on the water at Mardi Gras World, where the floats are built. That’s a pretty cool location to experience music. People have been vacationing on Florida’s beaches
for some time. To go to Ft. Lauderdale and have the biggest names in country performing while your feet are in the sand is pretty special. The same goes for our site in British Columbia [for Pemberton Music Festival]. It’s absolutely breathtaking. We’re sitting there in July on several hundred-acre fields looking at snow- capped mountains while we have 100 artists performing. It’s a unique experience to have a festival in such an amazing surrounding.
Before They’re Stars
We take pride in booking artists early on. For Tortuga, which is primarily country and roots rock, we booked Sam Hunt on the smallest stage before his first song took off. Last year, we showcased Kelsea Ballerini before she started winning awards. This year, we’re showcasing Maren Morris, who’s doing incredibly well. Up in Pemberton, we had Kendrick Lamar on the small stage and we’re one of the first festivals to feature him before he was headlining. We take shots on artists early on and they wind up coming back because they have a great time. We [make sure artists are] treated well, whether they’re opening the festival or the headliner.