Joshua Grigaitis isn't one for titles. He calls himself the founder of Loyal Family, a local events and promotions group, but it's clear that his vision for a strong local arts and music community has helped create many memorable shows in the jam-band, rock, blues and folk scenes. This weekend finds the Loyal Family embarking on one of the group's biggest events to date: the Loyal Earth Festival, which runs from Thursday, April 16 to Monday, April 20 on the grounds of the Old Rock House and features acts such as Medeski Martin & Wood, Particle and EOTO. Grigaitis sat down with B-Sides to talk about the upcoming festival, the aims of Loyal Family and the role of eco-awareness at rock concerts.
B-Sides: How long has Loyal Family been around?
Joshua Grigaitis: Loyal Family is going on six years. It definitely grew out of Pop's Blue Moon. It's my dad's place — I managed it and bartended it and basically worked all aspects of it for five years and moved on to Loyal Family. We've been doing live music there six nights a week for over nine years. Loyal Family was created because I either had to get a real job or make it a real job. My hobby was taking over, you could say. I can't play music, so this is my contribution to the music scene.
I remember seeing [late blues guitarist] Bennie Smith play at Venice Café on a Wednesday night and thinking: Man, he's way too good to be playing at a little bar. I felt the need to really try to help those artists get exposed to allow them to keep doing it for a living. That's a lot of what Loyal Family does — we try to find people jobs that they like doing so they'll be more productive, and the world will be a better place. I always say the more artists that stay artists, the better place the world will be.
What type of shows and events does Loyal Family typically put on?
I've done a lot in the jazz, funk, rock and bluegrass categories. I like to keep it diverse. What brings something special to our events is that we like to cross-promote different styles. I like to open people's minds and give them something they're not expecting. We keep branching out to new areas. For example, I've done a lot of promotion for the jam-band community, and I like that industry because it allows different styles to coexist.
Do you have a hard time breaking out from the jam-band scene?
It's a challenge to be known for something but also be known for other things. We've definitely created a brand in the jam-band community. But I've constantly been trying to challenge that community to stay open to everything. It's trying to ultimately create a connection between mainstream and underground, or to bring what a certain community thinks of as quality music to another group.
How does that feed into the Loyal Earth Festival?
We definitely have many different genres of music, from bluegrass to electronic, and there's a little bit of something for everyone. It's an example of the styles of music that Loyal Family is promoting at the moment. It's music that is friendly and open to everyone, but a lot of people won't know the band names.
Still, you have some pretty big names for this festival. How did you swing getting acts like Medeski Martin & Wood for the bill?
We've been working our way toward bigger shows for the past five years. Really, it's as simple as building a reputation in the business, and people will answer the phone when you call. [MMW] haven't been to St. Louis in a while, and they have another show in the Midwest the night before, so that made it affordable. Medeski's a favorite of everyone in the organization, so it was a no-brainer when we had the opportunity.
What about Earth Day made it appropriate for you to throw a festival?
I definitely needed another reason [to throw a festival], and I've been open to those reasons and tried to keep Loyal Family itself neutral and not pigeonhole itself into one cause. But the Earth has been on our list for the last year. We released an eco-responsible clothing line last Thanksgiving and [have] seen how that clothing line educated people, like, "What does organic mean?" or "How is this shirt recycled?" The questions that came out of that just have pushed us in this direction to be much more eco-responsible with all of our events. St. Louis is pretty behind the times when it comes to recycling.
That's one thing that will be a focus for us this time. We're dealing with a target market with this crowd, and I feel it's our duty to educate the people who are there because they believe in the music, and if you can show them that this is important as well, I think it can be a real positive vibration of Earth awareness. There's just a need for education when you bring that many people together — it doesn't make sense to not take advantage of that. It's too good of a chance to not teach them a few things you believe in.