June 30, 2011

Interview with Wanderlust Founder Sean Hoess

The following interview with Wanderlust co-founder Seane Hoess was conducted by Katie Sachs and Ari Pliskin at the Wanderlust Vermont festival on June 25, 2011.

Can you say more about how your background in the music industry has contributed to the development Wanderlust?

Sean Hoess: We wanted to bring way more people together than the local yoga studio.  Yoga is built at a very cool grassroots level, which is great, but in order to bring a larger number of people together, you have to play on a different stage.  Your poster needs to be as good as the poster for Bonaroo.  You need to play on the same level as people doing other great lifestyle events.

Do you conceive of this as a yoga and music festival or a yoga festival with music?

SH: When we first conceived of it, it was supposed to be both yoga and music melded together.  It became more of a yoga festival with music, but it is now developing further and as it grows, it is becoming broader.  It’s broader than yoga plus this or that.  Yoga is a huge centerpiece, but the speaker series, the food component, the nature and the hikes, slack-lining, and burlesque workshops, juggling workshops…  I’m beginning to think that it is really an arts festival, where yoga is just another component of arts.

Entertainers from VT's Bread & Puppet Theater

How did you choose the lineup of musicians?

SH: For headliners we’ve always tried to book artists who are fantastic musicians, but who also reflect the values of the event.  Michael Franti and Moby are great examples of that.  Because it is so much smaller than most music festivals, a lot of the artists are hanging out during the day.

How do you balance having celebrity stars and still have the event focused on the everyday yoga practitioner or music listener?

SH: The headliners are great attractors of people.  We create a gathering point and then community happens.  Because of who we select, it brings certain kinds of people together and the people who come are making new friends, learning from each other, sharing experiences and then continue to interact after the event.

Doesn’t the cost of Wanderlust make it exclusive?

SH: Its something we think about a lot.  The reality is that it’s not cheap to go to Vermont and stay at a hotel and buy a ticket.  It’s really not cheap to produce this. The first year, while the festival was successful from a consumer perspective, it was not successful for us from a business perspective. It has taken some time to figure out how the event could work so that it can sustain itself.

What’s the key to doing that?

SH: For us, it’s a mix.  We have some great sponsor relationships with companies that are great and make quality stuff that resonate with our people.  We depend a lot on volunteers who get free tickets in exchange for helping us.  Finding partnerships with ski resorts in the summer helps a lot as well.  These are beautiful locations that need business. You get to a point with any event where you know- “this works.  We can do it again next year.”  We are trying to get to a point where we can grow the event to a position where it is solid and then we can relax a bit and continue to make it more fun and more creative and expand the experience.

Michael Franti & Off the Mat's Seane Corn: Yoga AID Challenge

How do you see your relationship with Off the Mat Into the World, Wanderlust’s chosen charity?

SH: They’ve been great partners from the beginning.  They are out there trying to do things, getting off the mat and going into the community and I think that’s really important.  It is largely true that yoga right now is female. It’s college-educated and its white. It doesn’t mean that it should be that way.  That doesn’t mean that it needs to stay that way.  The festival is going to have to start doing more of it’s own things- scholarship programs, making camping available and other things to make it more affordable.

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