Monday, April 19, 2021
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How a Virtual Music Company Is Using Golf Courses, Rental Homes to Bring Back Live Music

As the U.S. vaccination campaign ramps up and music fans slowly begin to think about congregating again, festival talk is building. Bonnaroo in Tennessee, Milwaukee’s Summerfest, and Life Is Beautiful in Las Vegas all have dates on the books for September.

But last year, when effective vaccines were still far from a certainty, the virtual-music platform Topeka made its bid to adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic with a brand new concept: a music-themed vacation. Dubbed Moon Crush and set for April 26th through May 1st in Miramar Beach, Florida, the weeklong event is headlined by some Americana heavy hitters: Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, Sheryl Crow, NeedToBreathe, and the Revivalists. Thirteen acts in total will perform over five days. Fans watch from socially distanced viewing areas in front of the stage. Food, drinks, and merch will be available for on-site delivery by an app.

It all looks and sounds like a festival, but, according to organizers, it’s not.

“We’re using the word ‘vacation’ and not ‘festival’ because ‘festival’ has come to mean a bunch of stages, bands all day, thousands of people in a field,” Andy Levine, who founded Topeka in 2020, explains. “We want people to know this is a vacation. You find the group you want to be with — those people you’ve missed so much in the last year — pick a home that fits you, and then five hours a day for five of the seven days, we’re going to put three acts on one stage. Outside of those times, you can do whatever you want: enjoy the beach, work, do a bonfire, cook at home. Whatever you want to do, do it.”

Levine got the idea for a freestyle music vacation after his own spring break plans with his family fell victim to the pandemic last year. Working with the Miramar Beach realtor community, he secured a deal with more than 300 rental properties for Moon Crush. As part of their ticket price (ranging from $750 to $1,450), attendees rent their own house or condo, which becomes home base for the week. On concert days, they walk, golf-cart, or ride-share to the venue: the Seascape Golf, Beach, and Tennis Resort, where the stage is set up on a fairway on the golf course.

“For the last few years, I’ve been doing concerts on golf courses and I have found that golf courses are unbelievable venues. They have great space, great hospitality, and a lot of infrastructure,” says Levine, who limited the Moon Crush lineup to no more than three acts per day so fans wouldn’t become restless in their pods.

After Yacht Rock Revue perform a special welcome show on Sunday, the Revivalists, Grace Potter, and Sammy Rae headline Monday evening. NeedToBreathe, Margo Price, and Shovels & Rope perform Tuesday afternoon, while Sheryl Crow, Lake Street Dive, and the War and Treaty take the stage Thursday afternoon. Jason Isbell, St. Paul & the Broken Bones, and Vintage Trouble wrap up the week on Friday night.

“We wanted to find an amount of time that we could expect people to stay in an area, because at some point, people are going to get too comfortable, too relaxed, and get anxious and want to move,” Levine says. “Three acts a day feels like a good night out.”

When Topeka, along with music-cruise company Sixthman (which Levine also founded in 2001), devised Moon Crush, they didn’t plan on the national vaccination campaign to be in full swing by show date. Their safety protocols include social distancing, and requiring guests to wear masks when they’re not in their seats. Each guest must also show proof of a negative Covid-19 test from no more than 72 hours before they are able to pick up their credentials at check-in.

Now, however, Levine is realizing that many of the Moon Crush attendees are falling into the early vaccination group.

“I would say a third of this audience is over 60. A third is between 50 and 60. And the other third is 40 to 50. I’ve been watching the Facebook group and getting messages from fans and guests who are saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to have my second shot this week!’ ” Levine says. “This group has been secluded more than anybody.”

Assuming Moon Crush is successful, Levine says they’re already planning similar events, with different genres, for this fall at other locations around the country, with an increased capacity of 4,000. The inaugural Moon Crush is limited to 2,500 fans. Tickets are still available, and organizers recently put “Music Only” passes on sale for local residents.

“Don’t let a full moon go by without crushing on the people that you care the most about — that’s really the intention behind it. It’s all about being with the people you care about and that’s what the brand is going to be. We use music to give you an extra layer to connect with,” Levine says. “It looks like we’re the first multi-day destination music vacation. We’re excited and terrified at the same time.”

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