SSBD Fest: Our Chat with Festival Director, Peter Eichar

The sun is shining, we are vaccinated, and festival lineups are dropping all around us. Today is extra special because we got the opportunity to chat with Peter Eichar – the festival director for Same Same But Different at beautiful Lake Perris, outside LA in Perris, California.  For those who may not be familiar with SSBD, our coverage from last year is a great starting place. One of our west coast writers had the opportunity to scope out the festival and we heard amazing things. I am definitely hoping to get a chance to get out there personally later this year.

Can you describe for our readers your role in the festival?

“I am the festival’s director and booker. I book all the bands and what happens on the ground.”

What have the biggest challenges been in putting together a festival in Covid times?

“Managing capacity. . .with booking a lineup. Balancing that. Naturally, bands are excited to get back out here – but they haven’t made money and we haven’t made money. At the same time, we can’t be Coachella sized- those kinds of things can’t exist especially in California.” Here Peter goes on to explain that they are essentially planning the festival based on the tier (Covid status) available to them now. “We don’t know how everything will look in five months . . . [and} we want to deliver a killer lineup and a killer experience – but still balancing that with lower attendance.” SSBD really wants the festival experience to still be the same “100%” product for festivalgoers.

Is there anything that has been a challenge/different that might surprise us?

What surprised me the most . . . that’s an interesting one . . . people’s willingness to reach out and help right now has been the biggest thing I have seen. Everyone from vendors to promotor friends to the artists themselves are really just trying to help and spread the word. To help and to spread the word more so than they have ever done before.”

In what ways has either the break in live music (time or the changing rules) allowed the festival to be more creative . . . is there a silver lining?  

Note: let me just add that as someone who has seen so many others be negatively impacted in their work and livelihood during Covid, especially people in the live music industry and many of our writers – we don’t want to seem like we are making light of the situation at all. But rather, hoping that we can find a piece of silver lining in the midst of the pandemic as festivals and the live music industry begin to re-open.

I think what it has allowed us to do – the beauty in it – it has allowed us to connect to more people who are passionate about festivals. We have been connecting and finding people – everyone from the sound engineer to the festival goer – through livestreams, and have them get more involved. We have all had a lot more time to go online and check things out. We have been able to do a lot more research – or have the time to do – that is where the beauty – that is where we have seen ourselves grow the most. Time to think about the details. It has been a “time to come together. Allowed the industry to think about ways to improve [the experience.] We all want to see music come back. There is nobody out there who doesn’t want to see that.”

Here, Peter and I talked about our experiences with livestreams and virtual festivals during the pandemic. I explained that while I had always enjoyed EDM, the pandemic had helped that love grow and allowed me to experience music I might not otherwise have been exposed to, because of the ease of watching livestreams. “It’s so low risk…low commitment.” He agreed.

Here at LTFL, we have spent a lot of time writing about and experiencing music online during the pandemic. ( The emergence of full-length virtual festivals has allowed listeners to give something a try that they might not otherwise check out and then either love it or move onto the next – without committing to that long walk between festival stages. Peter explained that he has also been engaging with livestreams and new artists, and “may have even booked some music for the Festival this year based on that[.]

That to us is a beautiful thing and one of the few really cool benefits of doing music at home for over a year now.

I think I read that there will be 2500 people this year? How does that compare to years past?

Peter explains that this year’s SSBD will be somewhat bigger than in past years “but not close to what the park of capable of which I believe is 20,000 . . . we want responsible growth. It is all about having an amazing experience and a flawless experience. Part of that especially this year is making sure people don’t feel squished in like sardines . . . we were used to that before quarantine but it is going to be hard to get back into that.” He describes how the festival planners want fans to feel comfortable in this post-quarantine world. How they want attendees to be able to have space but also not to feel like taking that space means being in the back for shows.

Is there room for an increase in tickets, this year, if things with Covid dramatically change?

Is the size the size? Could we let in another 500 or 1000 . . .  maybe.” He goes on to explain that right now they are at the mercy of state regulations and planning the festival based on what the rules are right now.

Note: After our interview two cool things happened. First, SSBD announced the festival sold out in record time. And second, SSBD is offering the opportunity to sign up for the ticket waitlist here in case they are able to expand between now and September.

One of the big things we talked about was the festival’s Covid plan – which Peter described for us in detail and is also available on the festival’s website:

We have our Covid plan in place… [To be part of the festival an attendee must have] proof of vaccination, a negative Covid test plus a quarantine period, or undergo a rapid test on site – which we think in five months should be easy, accurate, and cheat – ubiquitous really.” Peter goes on to explain that everything is “so hypothetical  right now. Where we are having [SSBD] in Riverside County, just recently entered the orange tier. We’ll adjust and keep the ticket goers updated as we go along.” He end’s with “it’s a discussion, and we don’t want to do anything that is going to make people uncomfortable.”

Some of the most unique things about Same Same But Different are the various activities festivalgoers can engage in – from yoga to hiking to floating parties on the lake – how, if at all – will those aspects of the festival be changed/different in 2021?

NO. They will be just as they were. We are still offering yoga and expanding that and all of our other workshops – more than ever that kind of stuff is needed. Two kinds of people have come out of Covid, those who have been responsible about exercise and those who need more.” 

I laughed because I have been a little of both. I started the pandemic on a quest for fitness. Dedicated to high intensity daily workouts. I faded out a little, and in recent months my Apple Watch has been lovingly reminding me that I am not meeting my move goals.

Peter goes on to explain that SSBD will once again feature “yoga, and mediation – offering fans the opportunity to get back into it or try it out. Our mental health has been something that has changed the last year because we have been stuck inside” and he hopes that this experience can help with that. “Having the lake there is one of the best parts of the festival, being able to float out there and listen.”

The festival will also feature tons of art workshops – to which Peter adds “of course.” And then goes on to what maybe was one of my favorite parts of our discussion.

One thing I love about this festival, the creativity that comes to it that I am not even aware of until it starts. Like a creative bomb goes off – artists, festival goers and planners are inspired by it. I’ve been missing that [during the pandemic]. We have some the coolest people that come to our festival. I love the costumes the creativity, checking out the campsites. I like being surprised myself – even though I plan much of what happens, there are still surprises.

You can check out our top ten list for SSBD here.

What is one tip or trick you think could elevate a fan’s festival experience?

Do something unexpected. I only say that because my most memorable festival experiences have been in seeing a band I never heard of or meeting a group of people I have never met before. Or running around and bumping into an artist you like in the crowd.” He expands on this point by saying that we as fan’s should “do something you might be apprehensive about doing.” How so many of the best stories he hears about festivals involve not just the unexpected or unplanned, but the people you meet along the way.

Ok this might be a little corny but what is your favorite festival memory?  

“I have a lot of favorite festival memories . . . still to this day, my favorite festival memory is 2010 Coachella, it was the first music festival I had ever been to.

You started big!

That was the first year it sold out – and it just blew me away. And at that moment I knew . . . what I wanted to do with my life.

What about for SSBD?

“My favorite memory is just being done with the first one . . . more or less getting through it. Being able to look back and see the smiles on people’s faces knowing you did something positive.” Here I eagerly listened while Peter talked with sincere pride about the experience he has had working with SSBD. He fondly described the creativity of fans in everything from their fun festival attire to the creative camp sites (some of which are basically living art) on the festival’s camp grounds.

It must be the most stressful thing combined with the most awesome thing packed into a couple days

“I don’t know any other position where you look forward to as much stress as this job gives you, but it is all worth it in the end – when you can feel there has been a positive reaction makes it worth it.”

The first portion of this year’s lineup is out and will feature acts like Big Gigantic, STS9, Clozee, The Polish Ambassador, LSDREAM, Boombox, The Motet, Dirtwire, J. Worra, Moontricks and more. Stay tuned as we will bring you more info from SSBD as it comes.

Huge shoutout to Peter for taking time to chat with us. It is always awesome to get an inside perspective on a festival, especially one as creative and fun as SSBD. As always, let us know in the comments if you are planning to head out there this year, or have any tips for first time attendees. Hope to see you out there festival fam!

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