A Q&A with Boston Hassle Co-Founder Sam Potrykus
by Allison Bako (Animation), published December 9th 2016
photos by Ben Stas
Sad13 performing at this year’s Hassle Fest, photo taken by Ben Stas.
Comprised entirely of volunteers, the Boston Hassle aims to foster the local independent art, music, and film community through its events. Just last month was their eighth annual Hassle Fest, an all-ages all-inclusive DIY music festival. Tastemakers caught up with Hassle co-founder Sam Potrykus to hear his insight on how to organize a fest, the evolution of the Boston music scene and the need for a permanent all-ages venue.
Tastemakers Magazine (TMM): What’s the next thing planned after the Hassle Fest?
Sam Potrykus (SP): We’re going back to our regular programming. We’re getting a big grant for live art. Trying to offer more internships this year. Already trying to stay busy in light of this terrible week (laughs).
TMM: I wanted to congratulate you for yet another great fest. The acts are always so diverse. How do you choose the lineup?
SP: Thank you. That’s a tough one for many reasons. Throughout each year, when someone is an outstanding performer, we make note of it. Honestly, the selection process for doing the fest is difficult because there are hundreds of bands. In 2015, we had 600 bands that we wanted to choose. There’s only 40 or 50 spots. It’s just hard to narrow it down. A lot of it has to do with who’s available and how much we can afford. In booking bands who aren’t well known, it’s an added challenge of giving them enough money, but also making the money that we’re paying them worth it. We give bands a certain amount of money, hoping that the amount of money that we give them is equal to the amount of people they brought in. Not to be too capitalistic about it, but it has to pay for itself.
TMM: That makes sense.
SP: To answer your question, we just start throwing shit at the wall and it comes pretty naturally. I work with Dan Shea, the primary booker of the Fest. I’ll tell him about the great band I saw the other night. Together we pick our top 10 that we want to feature this year, and go from there. Some people do get left out, and we wish we could have everyone.
TMM: On that note, how has the Fest evolved from when it started 8 years ago to now? Have you seen any definite changes?
SP: For one thing, we started doing the show at Brighton Music Hall. That’s a big step forward for us, and maybe a step too far. It’s expensive to do, but it’s a great comfortable space and the staff is really nice. We’ve also stopped doing the after party and having a third day. We used to send people to two different venues after the main event. Maybe it’ll happen again someday, but at this point, we’re still loading our gear at four in the morning and trying to run more smoothly. But otherwise, I don’t think it’s changed all that much. Two stages, pack in as many bands as we can. We’ve made it more concise for everyone, and I’m happy with it.
TMM: I was also excited to hear about the plans to start a new Hassle-owned venue, can you talk a little about that?
SP: That’s been the plan for years, and we’re working on it. As you can imagine, getting our hands on any sort of real estate, temporary or permanent, has been an impossible feat. We’re trying to find new revenue streams to support the venue. This may not be common knowledge, but a venue itself cannot support the rent on a venue. Bars dominate the scene because they have money coming in from alcohol sales, and they put age restrictions on their shows so they get the most out of their square footage. We’re fighting an impossible fight in trying to open an all-ages venue, but the new plan is to raise as much money as possible for a lump sum that we can use to pay for six months of rent. Hopefully we can make it sustainable, but things come and go quick, so even if we have our sights set on some place today, it might not be available in a week.
TMM: Where does the Boston music scene excel, and where would you like to see the biggest areas of improvement?
SP: First, I’d like to see more integration with folks who come to Boston not knowing anyone. It’s such a transient city that I’d like to bring those folks into the community. The biggest weakness of the Boston music scene is that we’re all trying to be community driven, but we’re stuck on Facebook talking to the same fucking people and not inviting anyone new. One of our strengths is that everyone’s doing something. Everyone’s booking shows and playing and seeing live music, but that strength is being overshadowed by the weakness of myopia. They can only see the group that’s in front of them, but we should reach out to different folks who we aren’t already Facebook friends with.
TMM: I agree, and I’ve seen you speak out against Facebook in the past.
SP: It’s less anti-Facebook and more social media awareness. Our nonprofit will make a post trying to raise money and we can’t reach our network because Facebook knows we’re trying to make money and they want their piece. So many people rely entirely on Facebook because that’s where the event is, that’s where the invites are. We’re trying to make flyers and Google calendars and other alternatives to Facebook.
TMM: Can you think back to a time before Facebook, before the Hassle existed? Have you noticed a change in the scene since before the time of Facebook events?
SP: I do remember it. It’s not only a landscape change, but also the scope in which I see it. It feels like so much more going on, but what do we know? We’re just seeing more because we have this thing called Facebook. Before, we had message boards, flyers, and websites. What’s changed dramatically is that now we see people talk shit about the community who aren’t actually participants. They post their concerns on Facebook because that’s where they feel worthy. They criticize shows for not being diverse or safe enough, but they wouldn’t go anyway. Now their voice is just as important as everyone else’s because they have this platform that everyone uses. I don’t know, maybe that’s a good thing. I just try not to let them affect my attitude too much, because I’m doing it for the people I know that appreciate it. There’s too much negativity and hate in the world to spend much time on it. I’m just gonna foster creation and you can’t fight action with inaction.
TMM: How can an individual participate and give back to the community?
SP: The baseline is to go out and experience more, and learn what you like. Some people don’t like to go out, but they can still be productive by supporting the art and culture that they like. I also volunteer. Not everybody has the ability to volunteer, but if you can afford to do so, volunteer with an art or culture initiative. Not only do you discover music that you want to partake in and grow as a person, but you also help others through your presence at an event or a meeting.
TMM: I think that’s a good note to end on, but before I do, are there any events or artists you’d like to plug?
SP: The next big thing we’re doing is the Black Market. Every other month, Black Market features 75 different vendors from all walks of life, and different artists who aren’t just music. It’s our single most successful event. We’re trying to expand the Black Market this year, try to find a better space, get some installation art in there. I love shows, but I think in a general sense, people aren’t as into live music as they think they are. That’s fine, but I do think that Black Market is important because it’s not a fuckin’ show. It’s more than that. So I want to plug that, December 11th at the Cambridge Elks Lodge.
Check out more photos from 2016′s Hassle Fest below. All photos are credited to Ben Stas.