What Really Goes Into Starting A Unique Music Festival? Legendary Producer and FuzzyLand Founder Tom Rothrock Lays It All Out

By: Carl Lamarre
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Image via Tom Rothrock
  TAGS:   Article, Festival

For nearly 30 years, Tom Rothrock has made music behind the scenes with the likes of the Foo Fighters, James Blunt, and Gwen Stefani. He has worn many hats—producer, composer, and performing musician with a residency in Ibiza, giving him a rich and varied perspective on the industry at large. But there was one corner of the music world he dreamt of experiencing: the modern music festival.

In 2011, Rothrock set out to make that dream a reality and founded FuzzyLand. Located in Angeles National Forest, it’s an eclectic, intimate and whimsical music festival bound together by a community of music lovers.

What sets Rothrock’s FuzzyLand apart from other festivals is its family-oriented atmosphere. Everyone is welcome, nothing is commercial, and it’s specially-designed to let people break out of the stresses of day-to-day life.

We sat down with Tom Rothrock to discuss the idea behind FuzzyLand, what makes it stand out in comparison to other festivals, and why FuzzyLand will be around for a very long time.

What was your thought process behind starting FuzzyLand?

FuzzyLand began in July of 2011. I wanted to keep evolving my live show and I thought, “Well, I’ve got this land in Angeles National Forest. Why don’t we build a stage in essence, [and] just keep inviting our friends up?” Then, the next summer, we put it on stage in Ibiza. The stage that we built ended up being a tree house. It took a couple of weeks to build the first version of it. We invited our friends up and it was a success. By the end of the summer, we had so much fun doing it that I didn’t really want to take it to Ibiza and put it inside a club. I was really enjoying getting people in nature and playing music outside. So now it has a life of its own and that’s how it began.

You have an amazing track record as a producer and composer. Was it hard to land musicians to perform at the festival?
People love to play in the tree house. I just last week sent a cold message to my favorite British DJ. He’s a large underground guy. I said: “We got this tree-house in Angeles National Forest and we do these gatherings.” I sent him a 15 second video clip of it. He just wrote back laughing and said, “That’s so awesome. Let me know when the dates are.”

Image via Facebook

Image via Facebook

What is the audience who attends FuzzyLand like?
The family part of it, the community, and the inclusiveness of it is what makes it special. That’s been really, really rewarding to see. The age range was a nice thing to discover. We also discovered that it was nice to get out in nature. It’s always special to get out in nature. What we didn’t know was that people were going to have these transformative experiences. At first, we didn’t really have a word for it, but it started happening. Everyone was having a great time and they were saying, “You know, that really inspired me.” Since I’ve been up there at the tree house, I have this new community of people. A whole new group of friends.

We love the originality behind FuzzyLand because it doesn’t necessarily try to follow trends from other festivals. With that being said, what festival trends do you try to ignore?
We have nothing against a big festival and there are wonderful ones out there. Something like Lighting in a Bottle is a wonderful event. They get bigger, bigger, and bigger. It’s a natural evolution. But we have this sort of sweet spot in the 300-600 person range. Rather than turn that into 3000 or 6000 over time, we really work to keep it a community and village as opposed to a city. We’d rather increase its frequency. That’s one the one thing we’re ignoring. The other thing is multiple stages. We elected to keep a single source of sound because when you’re up there, you can hear the music from far away. It’s just a booming thump like a car stereo passing by, or you can get it in a closer range and hear everything. There’s no pollution or mixing of sounds. Another thing that we do is have quiet periods. We have quiet periods at the end of the night and during the day, where people can be on a regular camping trip and not have sound pushed upon them.

As far as the lineup is concerned, because you cater to such a mixed audience, how do you book performers that work for everyone?
That’s kind of natural for my own life-long eclectic interests in music. I remember the experiences people would have, even people who were completely sober at a party would have with house music. It became an instinct to me at a certain point: how do you bring that to a wider audience without compromising it? How do you show people different sounds like disco or house music but on stage? One way was bringing the live musicians. It really scratches an itch.

Have you thought about possibly delving into newer locations for the future?
Absolutely. Funny enough, and this goes back to the size and growth question, that’s another idea. We’ve done FuzzyLand during different seasons all around the year. The next thing that came to mind was, “Okay, let’s look at something on the other side of the equator.” I have a friend who is building a retreat center inside a protected lagoon on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka. He said, “You’re absolutely welcome to build an off-season FuzzyLand here.” It would be January-February FuzzyLand in Sri Lanka. So that’s big.

Want to check out some of the music Tom Rothrock had a hand in making? Download the 7-Eleven® app and scan it every time you buy a Slurpee® for a chance to win prizes like a pair of Beats headphones or a Spotify Premium account. Then check out James Blunt’s Back to Bedlam, Beck’s Mellow Gold and the soundtrack for About A Boy.