Jonathan Mayers and Rich Goodstone are standing at the western edge of the Nethermead in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, looking across the eight acres of Arcadian pasture, towards a grove of hundred year old London Plane trees. Beyond the grove is a small swan filled lake, called the Lullwater; on its far shore a Beaux Arts boathouse modeled after the 16th century library of St. Mark in Venice. There was not a single person complicating this idyll; one could imagine the park at that moment as Olmsted and Vaux did in the 19th century; women in petticoats and gentlemen with handlebar moustaches picnicking on cucumber and watercress sandwiches, the the sound of a brass band wending its way from the music pagoda through the grove of trees, across the meadow rolling before them.
Or, like Mayers and Goodstone, one could imagine The Great Googa Mooga filling the vista- 40,000 people gathered in the park for a two day food and music festival (pointedly in that order); the Hamageddon stage featuring live meat grinding, the female Led Zeppelin tribute band Lez Zeppelin and a Burning Man-esque fire shooting pig. Not to mention pavilions centered on wine, beer, pizza, burgers and sweets; at the far end of the meadow, a main stage where Hall & Oates and The Roots will perform. This being Brooklyn, there will probably still be plenty of handlebar moustaches; some things never change.
The Great Googa Mooga is the latest project from Mayers and Goodstone’s company, Superfly, organizers of Outside Lands in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, and of the four day Bonnaroo music festival in Manchester, Tennessee which is now entering its twelfth year. But unlike Bonnaroo and Outside Lands, where music is the main attraction, Googa Mooga is Superfly’s first time putting food at the top of the bill. And though its physical footprint is little more than a postage stamp on Bonnaroo, it represents a large bet for Superfly, both financially and in a way, spiritually on what direction they, and their audience are going.
It all started with a craft beer tent at Bonnaroo. Then, according to Rick Farman, who co-founded Superfly with Mayers and Goodstone, after Outside Lands used the vital Bay Area restaurant scene to make food a feature of the event, “We saw the interest in it from people that were coming to see the music primarily–how they were talking about it after the event. We started to look at the whole space of food and drinks…and what we found was that we could create something unique in that space–something that no-one else was doing. We feel like from a musical festival standpoint, not that there’s not more that can be done, or more creative ideas- there always are. But we saw the company trajectory- we put on the largest camping festival in the country, and we’ve also done a festival in an urban environment- San Francisco. And the way we think as a business, is that we’re always trying to evolve–to move to the next thing.”
Mayers sees Googa Mooga as the product of an evolution on a more personal level as well. “Your work should be a reflection of yourself and it should evolve as you evolve. Eleven years ago it was about “let’s do this big rock n roll show. I want to work with the biggest names.” That happened, okay? And I’m blessed that it happened. But it happens, and then it’s gone. And so, what is it, really, that you do every day that wakes you up, and engages you, and makes it feel like what you’re doing is worthwhile? Because it’s got to be bigger than just a headliner or a band. And that’s been my personal evolution–figuring out what is the essence of what it is you do, and why you keep doing it, and what keeps motivating you and challenging you. And that’s the motivation with this new project- to keep growing. Keep learning. Keep involved in things that you’re interested in. And we love that, like music, food brings people together like almost nothing else.”
Needless to say, this was not an impulsive undertaking. The project has been in the works for nearly three years. After coming up with the name (“it’s old DJ slang for Wow! Holy Cow!”) they began to round up advisors–a “Guru Council” as they called it. “Our background is more in the music space,” says Mayers, “We knew we had a lot to learn.” Some food world luminaries they knew already. Restaurateur and Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio, for instance. “He’s been to Bonnaroo a couple of times, and that’s where we first met. He’s been really generous with his time, and what it comes down to, is that he too, just wants to make something cool.” Others, they didn’t know personally, but they knew they wanted. Mayers pretty much cold called Ruth Reichl, former New York Times Restaurant critic and editor of Gourmet magazine, who agreed to meet him for coffee. “I kind of fell in love with him, and the project.” recalls Reichl. “The problem with most food festivals is that there’s nothing else to do but eat, so you wander around and then leave. They’re so wonderfully ambitious–they know how to do these giant festivals and I just wanted to help make it happen.” And though she declined to take a formal seat on the Guru Council (“I’m not much of a business person, and I decided to just stay in the background,”) her presence will loom large at the event. It was she who introduced Superfly to architect and designer David Rockwell, who went on to design the food and drink pavilions, creating an environmental and visual language for the festival. Reichl is also going to be one of the main draws to the Extra Mooga portion of the event–the paid VIP area, with its own program of performances, food, drinks and panels. She’ll share a stage with chef David Chang, comedian Aziz Ansari, and DJ (and leader of the much missed LCD Soundsystem) James Murphy, who will also spin a set near that grove of London Plane trees later in the evening.
The fact that Ansari and Murphy are almost as well known for their culinary creds as their entertainment ones, or that food people like Anthony Bourdain (also appearing at Extra Mooga) sell out some of the same venues as “traditional” performers, points to the a complete fusion of food and entertainment cultures. The trend shows no signs of abating, either, which is at least in part why Superfly has been comfortable laying down such a large marker on Googa Mooga (everything about the event, from the branding to the pavilions, are designed to be used for future festivals, and not just in New York). Says Farman, ”I think more than anything we’ve done, this is about the bigger picture- the long tail. In some ways, the opportunities around food and drink are greater than those with music.”
They’re not the only ones who have realized this though. The field is glutted with fests, most making money hand over fist. What will differentiate Googa Mooga? “The difference between a good and a truly great event is attention to detail. It is having a point of view that steps outside of what you’ve seen before,” says Goodstone before Mayers cuts in, “The big pig that’s going to shoot fire out of it? We didn’t have to do it. But we want to. And the fact is, we’re doing it because we can. Because if you have the opportunity to make peoples’ jaws drop, and exceed their expectations? That’s a really cool thing.”