Interview: Michael Raspatello, Co-Founder of North Coast Music Festival

Feature photo by Chad Smith

Chicago’s favorite new kids on the festival block, North Coast took tons of hard work to launch last year. One of the founders, Michael Raspatello shares all about this year’s surprises. With a star studded line up, and a more eco-friendly ambition, North Coast promises to be even better than their first. Raspatello shares about what it takes to form a hit festival from start to finish.

Mike, thanks for the interview. I absolutely loved last years inaugural North Coast. Where are you from, Mike?
I’m from River Forest, IL, but like anyone trying to seem more cultured, I say I’m from our next-door sister suburb Oak Park. We share public schools and little leagues, it counts.

In your opinion what were the successes and weaknesses of the festival, for its first round at bat?
That’s a long list on both sides. The main success is that people came and enjoyed themselves. The artists enjoyed it to boot. Over 50k people showed up over 3 days, no one got hurt, and a few new scenes of people had their festival itch scratched. Weakness wise, there’s a lot we learned from having it been the first year. We are going to try to make the execution of the event greener and more waste-free. We have a great team in place, with accomplished production specialists like Max Wagner and Grant Simmons focusing on not only constructing a great fest, but doing so using biodiesel generators, biodegradable cups and plates, better trash and recycling sorting, and more comprehensive promotion of ride sharing, public transportation, and bike accessibility.

For a first-time festival, it seem to have all gone without a hitch. What were some of the biggest surprises?
You said it!¬†We’re very glad that it seemed that way, because as we kept it going from the background, it certainly felt like a big stressful undertaking. But we loved it, as it’s exactly what 10 or so founders and hundreds of amazing contributors signed up for. Thankfully, one of the great surprises is that there weren’t too many completely unexpected events. Biggest surprise? Probably that the weather was as great as we could have ever asked for. That’s the ultimate wild card, and it treated us well in year 1.

How did you come to create North Coast? What’s the whole story behind how NCMF
was created, from concept to final production?
In a way, it goes back to long before I was personally ever involved in the business-side of producing and promoting live music. The other founders include Lucas King, Leif Moravy, Mike Berg, Jeff Callahan, Max Wagner, Pat Grumley, Martin Malafaktor, Peter Ski, Adam King, and Ed Walsh, and most of them have been involved in some way for at least a decade. So there’s been a natural progression towards something of this scale, as they all promoted or worked in live events in some capacity and naturally grew their businesses, meeting each other along the way, and increasingly collaborating and finding increasing crossover between their favorite genres and specialities. When I started to become involved about 3 and a half years ago, a crossover between the electronica, hip-hop, and jam communities was already beginning to emerge. As the emergence began to create a groundswell and was doing well on in the form of mixed bills and co-promotions at places like the Congress Theater, it became evident that there wasn’t a bigger arena in the city for events of this nature. We had two great private music festivals in the city, and countless impressive live music events and music-centric street fests, but none of them seemed curated with these crowds in mind. That’s why North Coast seemed to be inevitably necessary. We served mainly as stewards for this, and behind the ambition of the team, we started meeting at one of our apartments in very early 2010 after tossing around the idea informally for over a year. Weekly meetings turned into permit applications, which turned into booking, and fundraising, which turned into 60-hour weeks and our eventual maiden voyage.

How long did it take to put it all together?
At this point, we are working on this year-round in addition to all of the other projects we’re all a part of.

What can we look forward to this year?
This year, you can look forward to a brawnier version of last year’s event, with bigger names, more bands, a smoother event, and greener practices. More great sponsors, more great charities, more money raised for the city and Illinois Latino Cultural Center, we assure you, more surprises.

In some ways I felt like North Coast was more of a Chicago festival that any other summer music festival. How has Chicago influenced you, your work and do you feel NCMF could have been born in any other city?
Well, I’m no expert on the live music environments in other cities, but I feel it can’t have been a bad thing that we live in such a big city with such a big market of live music goers. Without the ability to mobilize so many different scenes of folks, and numerous other markets within a couple hundred miles like Detroit, Madison, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Urbana, etc, it’d be hard to create that type of groundswell with our limited upfront resources. Also, as we are so close and involved with the “little guy,” being the “little guy” ourselves, we have the ability to include the best emerging artists from our region and city, and go as far as devoting one of our 4 stages entirely to that mission. I’m not sure any other festivals devote such a big portion of their bills to local acts.

Who are you most excited about on your roster of incredible artists this year?
Personally, I’m a big Thievery Corporation fan, and after seeing Gogol Bordello perform “Start Wearing Purple” last year at Lolla I plan on being side stage for a little spray of red wine during that song. Lotus brings me back to some jamband obsessed days of mine seeing them around college bars in Indiana during ’00-’01. Plus, Rubblebucket and Loyal Divide are the two early acts I really hope to see atop festival bills some day.

How do you, or your team pick the artists for North Coast? What’s the criteria or genres your building off of?
Considering how many opinions are at play for most decisions, booking is one thing that we are relatively on the same page for. We really just sit around, consider our budget, our wish list, the touring plans of the bands on the wish list, and divide and conquer. The most experienced talent buyers like the members of the team that comprise React Presents and Silver Wrapper do a majority of the pitching and negotiating with artists agents and their damn good at it. We kinda figuratively sit behind them and discuss each of our next moves, and play around with our excel festival grid until we’ve confirmed something that gets us all excited. Whenever I am thinking of bands to suggest and sometimes reach out to on behalf of NCMF, I can’t help but hear one of my partners, Leif Moravy, reminding us all to “keep it fresh,” meaning to focus on bands that have recently taken it to the next level or put out new material.

How can people get more info and especially tickets for North Coast this year? is where it’s at. More info than you could ever spend one day consuming. Plus, we have a very active facebook community at, with consistent video and audio releases, ticket giveaways, contests, opportunities to get involved, etc. And how dare I forget about our @northcoastfest twitter feed, where you’ll get a lot more of the same.

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