Dan Law is the executive producer of Thrival Innovation + Music Festival and vice president of business development at Thrill Mill. Newly married, he will turn 30 next Wednesday, right in the middle of Thrival. How’s he feeling now, a week out? “Super stressed and excited,” he says. “It’s like a whole semester worth of classes and the final exam happens—and that’s your grade.”
Where did the idea of Thrival come from?
The idea started around the founding of TM in 2012. It used to be called the Baller Barbecue, spearheaded by chairman Luke Skurman and CEO Bobby Zappala for ways for people to connect.
When Thrill Mill was founded, Thrival became part of the equation. It was one) revenue to make money for entrepreneurs Thrill Mill invests in and 2) a way to raise the profile of Pittsburgh’s entrepreneurial community, particularly with a national and international audience.
What did you learn last year and how will this year be different?
That’s a really good question. We thought last year—and the first year—that Thrival would resemble what it would be in the future. Then we realized that wasn’t true at all. So many lessons to learn! What we did know is we needed to improve scope and substance, and our marketing and outreach were pretty much nonexistent. We only had two people doing the whole thing. We had 15 bands in 2014, 4 in 2103. We had 15 innovation events in 2014, and only 3 in 2013.
We know we can grow, we know there’s an audience. The question is, how do we get the programs more coherent and more digestible. Instead of saying “Who wants to do an innovation event?” as we did last year, this year we’re mapping themes around innovation. Each day has a specific theme.
In terms of the concert, we ran out of space. It’s hard to run a music festival next to an apartment complex and a major neighborhood. When we moved to Hazelwood, a lot of practical and functional needs were met; we knew we were going into a neighborhood that very much embraced what we were doing.
You’ll be on the 10-acre site called Almono (which will be the focus of a major announcement in two weeks) in the neighborhood of Hazelwood. How will Hazelwood benefit from Thrival?
It’s very important not to exaggerate the importance of the music festival and control expectations. We’re not feeding the hungry or doing anything like that. We’re trying to bring something fun and new and innovative to the community and do something that hasn’t necessarily been done in Pittsburgh. It’s not just a music fest. It’s a living breathing example of creative reuse and hopefully a demonstration of a productive public/private partnership.
We’re fortunate to be the kind of city where so much is happening but some readers have told us it all seems to happen in September and events overlap, like yours with VIA. How would you respond to this and what kind of attendance are you expecting?
In terms of attendance we’re expecting about 6 to 7,000 people a day at the concert site, closer to 6,000. For innovation, 2,000 to 3,000 during the course of the week. It’s pretty big but strongly in the boutique festival category. We’re not a huge festival. Anywhere between the 15 to 20,000 (total for the week) range is good for Pittsburgh and something to build on.
How do we differentiate? Pittsburgh really needs to start focusing on how we partner and work together. VIA is internationally recognized and cutting edge/artsy with a lot of innovation. When we butt up against it, we see it as, wow this is really cool—2 1/2 weeks of Pittsburgh introducing a ton of creativity and new ideas into a marketplace.
VIA and Thrival are very different and Thrival is different form Feastival and Deustchtown. Each holds a different space and they should all be appreciated. There are lots of cities where people have multiple festivals and they collaborate together. Like Austin, Pittsburgh is primed to do that sort of thing, blending, creativity, music, and innovation.
What’s next for Thrival?
It’s a better question for after Thrival this year. It’s going to take some time to catch up and re-calibrate. We’re looking for growth, substantive and effective ways of expanding the platform and connecting with the national audience more effectively, to raise Pittsburgh’s profile to the national and international level. We need a broader audience.
We’ll keep on refining and building up the innovation platform. There’s so much we haven’t even explored yet. We’re going to bring more music and more higher profile bands, additional locations throughout the city, as well as exciting and collaborative partnerships into the mix.
Find out more about Thrival, wish Dan a happy birthday on the 23rd, and buy your tickets here.