Interview with Eric Noble: If You Build It, They Will Come

In a musical world increasingly beset by big business, big contracts and gloss, Eric Noble remains a simple man with an even simpler mission: spreading exceptional sounds, one concert at a time. His main partner in the journey is Loyal Family, a St. Louis-based independent promotions company focused on the jam, roots music and festival scene. Along with the sister enterprise Noble Empire, they are burning a trail through not only the Midwest’s vast grassroots network, but increasingly capturing a national spotlight as well. Their biggest venture to date is Dogstock, a four-day, 100-band, multiple-stage campout extravaganza happening in Melvern, Kansas July 26-29, on 81 acres of pristine, private land. A majestic “little guy” amongst festival-world behemoths, Dogstock’s aim is to emit the same down-home, get-funky, say-hello-to-your-friends vibrations that each of Noble’s local shows puts forth – with the added benefit of halting time, if even for just a few days.
Interview by Clara Rose Thornton

HGMN: - What is the connection between Loyal Family and Noble Empire?

Eric Noble - Loyal Family is a collective of like-minded people that are out there promoting and booking. What it boils down to is that I'm very closely associated with Loyal Family and its growth, and I just put Noble Empire out there for Dogstock this time around. But Loyal Family is definitely working hard in the background.

HGMN - So Noble Empire came along after Loyal Family, as an outgrowth?

EN - Yes. We're essentially just using it for Dogstock right now. Loyal Family is positioned more for our Midwest bands and some of our bigger projects. Dogstock is definitely a bigger project, but Loyal Family has taken a background role, I guess is the best way to put it.

HGMN - How long has Loyal Family existed and how did it come together?

EN - Loyal Family started with my partner Joshua in St. Louis. Josh is the main guy behind it; he's [also] my roommate. He's been booking and promoting live music for seven or eight years. [When we met] we'd both gotten to a point where there was so much going on that we couldn't just operate under our own names anymore; we had to create a company. It birthed from all the business we'd built booking and promoting bands in and around St. Louis.
He threw a festival about three years ago called Zoe Jam. It had Greyhounds, P-Funk, Hot Tuna and a bunch of other bands at the same place that Schwagstock is thrown (Camp Zoe in Salem, MO). That was one of Loyal Family's big stepping stones. I came into the picture at that time. I met Josh and we both quickly realized that we'd be better off working with each other rather than competing for the same market. It was easier; I figured that instead of reinventing the wheel, just jump on with Loyal Family. And we've grown it well, I'd say.

HGMN - What year was it that you got involved?

EN - 2003.

HGMN - Is there a philosophy at work at all, in terms of the artists that you select to represent and promote?

EN - There's no philosophy. As you know, a lot of the bands in what we call the jamband community are culturally collected. The only philosophy is that it's good music. A lot of it is that we really are like a close family, when it gets right down to it. All the bands, all of us - we all cross paths at a point.

HGMN - Who are some of the musicians that you work with?

EN - We've gotten to work with so many stellar bands. I don't know if you're familiar with last year's Battlerusa tour, but that was a Loyal Family event for Wakarusa. We do the Cosmic Breaks Tour for the 10,000 Lakes Festival. Other than that, in terms of specific individuals, we've helped out a lot of St. Louis bands, a lot of Midwest bands. Some of these acts are Mississippi Flapjack, Public Property from Iowa City, Station, Shanti Groove, Moonshine Still... Just this past year we've branched out amongst the region itself by throwing shows in Ft. Collins, Omaha and Iowa City. We're grassroots promoters who dig deep into the local scene.

HGMN - So there's a sort of "Think Global, Act Local" dynamic at work?

EN - Exactly. And I'll tell you, when I was going to school in Nashville, one of my professors told me to "think national, not Nashville." I definitely carry that philosophy with me every day.

HGMN - Looking at the entire collective of bands and types of bands that you represent, i.e. musicians in the jamband family, what would you say are the unique qualities of a band like that that makes it worth so much more to go see them live, as opposed to other bands for whom the live show isn't as big of a component?

EN - I think that for anybody, when they go to a live show they want to experience something that they couldn't just hear on a CD. There's something to be said for going to a live show and feeling like you went to a singular, special concert and had a good time. You feel young again, or however you might put it. That element of passion for their music and passion for what they do is attractive.

HGMN - How many other festivals has Loyal Family put on besides Dogstock? You mentioned that one, which was the first.

EN- Zoe Jam and Dogstock are the bigger ones [that we've put on ourselves], and I mentioned that we worked with Wakarusa and 10,000 Lakes. By no means did we put those festivals on, but we've definitely done some pretty big projects for them. 20-city tours - that's not a small thing to pull off by any means.

HGMN - Definitely not.

EN - We'll help a festival out whenever we can, but there's 365 days in a year and I think the majority of those days are spent promoting club shows. We're predominantly local promoters, working around St. Louis and the Midwest region, helping these small, fantastic bands get the word out. But we'll definitely step in and help out a festival when needed. We're down for the cause.

HGMN - I read that Dogstock is a benefit for the Akita Adoption and Rescue Foundation. That's really cool; it's a beautiful thing and quite rare for such a large event to directly benefit a cause focused on animals.

EN - It's cool to get behind a cause, definitely.

HGMN - Was this the original impetus for organizing Dogstock? Did you specifically have this in mind or did it just fall together?

EN- To be clear on the origins of Dogstock - this is the fifth one. It's grown from the first three being a one-stage, just-a-few-bands, one-afternoon thing into this multiple-stage, 100+ band monstrosity that's happening this year. The first three years it was Randy Long and his Akita Adoption and Rescue Foundation putting on the event as a benefit for his onsite dog sanctuary. Last year I personally came onboard, aside from Loyal Family, because of my experience with Wakarusa and other festivals. It was quickly realized between Randy and I that we could grow this event into something that it deserves to be. We started planning for this year before last year's event even took place.

HGMN - How did the event evolve as an organizing strategy as the event itself grew?

EN- We've increased our street team efforts; we're now marketing in over 20 cities. Mine and your conversation right now is an example of how [our marketing] has grown, as far as our ability to get combined Midwest and national promotion. Working with Relix, Jambase, the people at Home Grown, Conscious Alliance... these things weren't happening in the years past, but they're definitely happening this year and we're very thankful for it. Our overall intention has been to increase the number of people that are getting involved with the event itself. We want to create a lot more noise out there this

HGMN - How do you see Dogstock fitting into the current array of festivals and within festival culture in general? Meaning, there's been such an explosion in the scene that there's literally a festival booked somewhere every weekend of the summer. Does Dogstock aim to have a unique place amongst the offerings?

EN - Dogstock is a different beast because we are a benefit show - we're not just a straight-up music festival. We do have a cause that we're backing, so that separates us a little bit from the rest of the pack. Of course, we will have 100+ bands, multiple stages and four days of camping, which is, generally, the same deal as most festivals. Yet, we're
not competing with any other events - well, we're trying not to. It's simple: We offer what we offer. It's for a good cause, so people can come out and support, knowing that they're getting a lot for half the price of a normal festival. Right now we're offering buy one get one free specials, and last month we did buy one get two free, which has never been done before in the festival world as far as I know.

HGMN - Does Noble Empire want Dogstock characterized as a return to a more classic, old school festival-style good time, or by coming out of the box with something new, with something off-kilter? What are you going for - classic or off the wall?

EN - We just want to throw a party, and wherever the chips fall, that's where they fall. [How it ends up is] not for us to decide. We'd definitely like to market to several different demographics. We went for some of the bigger jam-friendly bands that you'd see at a Wakarusa or 10,000 Lakes, but unfortunately, for various reasons, some of those bands won't be in. So we have a line-up that goes in different directions; we've got some classic rock, but we're predominantly heavy on up-and-coming artists. It's very Home Grown-friendly music. Through our experiences out on the road with Battlerusa and Cosmic Break Tour we've been fortunate enough to meet so many great bands that I wouldn't even feel comfortable if I didn't invite as many of them as I could to the party.
Hopefully when people come to Dogstock, they'll see music that they've seen in the past, that's comfortable for them, but also at many times during the weekend they'll experience bands that they might not have heard of, but that they'll definitely be hearing of soon. It's all good music - I can personally guarantee that.

HGMN - Can you single out a couple of the artists that will perform and describe some of their unique qualities?

EN- I'm always excited to see Moonshine Still, and of course they're bringing their lights with them. Bands like 56 Hope Road, Public Property, Green Lemon, Madahoochi - they're going to give a good example of what the Midwest music scene really has to offer people in general. I don't want to dive too deeply into specifics because I don't want to show favoritism towards anybody, but I will say that we have a lot of phenomenal bands and I'm very honored to have them at all at our party. It will be something unique
that you don't see at every festival.

- How did the band selection process work? Did you mostly pull from the Loyal Family pool, or did you try to recruit from all corners of the map?

EN- It's a little bit of both. We're doing a campaign with Sonicbids, and I've reserved ten slots for Sonicbids artists. I have a partnership [with that promotion company]. Some of those bands - Shanti Groove, Moonshine Still, Chicago Afrobeat Project - were easy choices for us because they are bands that we've worked with many times over the past couple of years. The more classic rock ensembles I leave up to Randy. That's his forte.
He'd have to speak on that himself.
We tried to provide a diversified line-up. For instance, we're bringing in SoulEye, hip hop guys out of Colorado. They're going on tour with a band called Boulevard. They have, somehow, gotten into the mix where they did the String Cheese New Years show, they've done Jam Cruise the last two years, Wakarusa, 10,000 Lakes. We're bringing in people like that whom a lot of folks in our area haven't heard of. I just want people to have a good time and a good party, and no matter what stage they go to it'll be good music.

HGMN - Switching gears, what do you, as a music promoter, think of the current state of the jamband/roots music scene? Do you feel that a harmful amount of commercialism has crept in any way?

EN- I think that's going to happen with any good thing. Yet, it depends on what side of the fence you stand as far as commercialism and what that really means, for events themselves or for the culture at large. The jamband community is a smart one. It's progressive enough that it always stays ahead of the corporate world. I think [commercialism] happens, it has happened; there are definitely some festivals that have been around for only three years or so, and going into their fourth year they're getting more commercialized. That, to me, can be looked at as the general life cycle of a festival. But the culture itself is alive and well, and represented in our own unique ways. I still think there are plenty of people out there who have no idea who Green Lemon is, and that's perfectly fine by me.

HGMN - For our sign-off, let's end this on a personal note. Do you remember the moment you realized that music was your life's passion, that you were bit by this bug and this was, indeed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, your life's path?

EN - You know, I actually have a couple stories to share on that one. (laughs) When I was a kid, there was the moment that I got my first shiny red bicycle...and on that same Christmas I got my first record player. I have a picture at my mom's house that shows me holding up this record player, and in the background you see my shiny red bicycle. I didn't care anything about that bike, yet I always remember how I felt when I got my record player.
All through life music has been there. More specifically, as far as the festival world goes, at the end of Bonnaroo 2002 I was hanging out backstage - I was fortunate enough to be on staff and got to share a different experience than a lot of other concertgoers; I was privy to more inside information - and I remember thinking, "Wow. This is such a great thing. You get 80,000 people in one place and no one's fighting or arguing." That propelled me into motivating myself to produce an event on some level that could possibly become that, one day. Not to be a Bonnaroo! (laughs) Just to throw a good party where a lot of people have a good time.

HGMN - To have an atmosphere where people feel peaceful, where they feel as if they're merely existing - just enjoying existence - during the time that they're there?

EN - People work 50 or 51 weeks out of the year. If they get one week off and can camp out for a couple days, have a good time, get taken away from the "real" world and let themselves experience life, then by all means - we should have a festival every weekend.