The Mother-Son Duo Behind High Ground Music & Arts Festival
High Ground Music Festival
"We beckon our Revelers to dive deep and experience more" is more than just a clever tagline for Noah Levinson, founder of High Ground Music & Arts Festival. It is the embodiment of his vision and passion for community that you can feel in every corner of this boutique festival outside of Denver, Colorado.
Noah Levinson and his business partner and mother, Jobi Halper, sought to create a magical shared experience. An extension of their relationship. They might be the only mother-son duo to create an electronic music festival, and they've captured lightning.
High Ground Music Festival
Hailing from the west coast, Noah got his start in the music industry at a young age. His parents are life-long Deadheads who knew the importance of music and instilled that love in Noah. The first concert he remembers going to was Green Day. The feeling of thousands of people sharing the same passion and love for the band and the culture of the music still resonates with him.
Shortly after, he fell in love with electronic music and threw himself into becoming a DJ, catapulting his life on its current trajectory. He studied scratching and mixing at the San Diego Turntable Institution and eventually started using his skills to throw parties for his classmates. Small birthday parties turned into bigger ones, which then turned into weddings.
In his early teens, he recognized a lack of safe spaces for kids his age to experience dance music. So he set out to give his friends access to the club experience. Being involved in event planning unlocked his passion for the logistical and planning side of the industry. By the time he graduated high school, he was fully dedicated to the music industry and landed at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU.
During his freshman year, Pasquale Rotella, CEO, and founder of Insomniac, came to speak to his class about the event industry. Noah knew this was his chance to shoot his shot. Unfortunately, Pasquale didn't accept interns. However, he put him in touch with his right-hand man, Meelo Solis (Vice President of Concerts and Festivals at Insomniac). They stayed in touch for about a year until Solis offered Noah a role on the Insomniac team in LA.
"This was it," thought Noah. "I'm going to leave school and work for Insomniac!"
After six months of intense learning and unforgettable experiences, he realized this was not his path. He left LA and returned to NYU to finish his degree.
And while his time at Insomniac wasn't what he intended, the relationships he made were invaluable. Noah met Jace Cohen, a talent buyer who brought Noah on as a talent buyer for his new venture. This is where the seed for High Ground was planted.
It's not often you run into a mother-son duo in the business world, especially one that runs an electronic music festival. But when you look at it through the lens of the community that Noah was raised in, especially with Jobi being a big fan of the Grateful Dead, it starts to come together.
"When I started working on High Ground more seriously and knew this was a festival that was going to happen and wanted to start working on relationships in Colorado, I knew how to handle the conversations on the creative side."
Noah had the creative and logistical aspect nailed down, but he was still lacking on the business side that is just as important. "When you're putting on a festival ... it doesn't only takes a village, it takes lots of resources, and funding, and understanding how contracts work. [sic] All of these super minute details that really add to the overall puzzle that's created."
Enter Jobi Halper. With her background in mediation and arbitration on top of being a massive music fan herself, Noah couldn't think of anyone better than his mother to step into the role of the business-focused side of things for High Ground.
Noah explained, "she has that mix of skills and experiences that made up for the areas of the festival that I didn't have much of a grasp on." Noah wanted to build something wonderful and he knew that his mom was the best person to have by his side. Five years later, that idea became a reality.
"We collaborate in a really unique way. I am a creative director; that is, at my core, how I operate the festival. [Because of this] I can be a little stubborn about my ideas because I think it's this really fantastic idea. From her experience, we're able to look at both ideas and kind of shave them away and pick the best sides of my ideas that relate to the smaller picture and her ideas and really put together this concept for each aspect of the festival that, on our own, neither of us could really thought of. - Noah Levinson on working with his mom, Jobi Halper.
Of course any kind of business partnership has it's challenges, especially when you mix creative with logistical. This doubly goes for adding in a family dynamic, but Noah and Jobi have found a way to make it thrive.
"We have a really interesting relationship while we've been working together over the past few years," he goes on to explain. "It's not ever 'I am the son of Jobi, and this is my mom'. It's a very unique business relationship. I'm Noah, and she's Jobi to me [while we're working]."
High Ground Music Festival
Come as You Are
Noah and Jobi experienced an unrivaled love of community as Deadheads. It's the same kind of love that formed the foundation for High Ground. It's felt in every aspect of the festival, from the music to the overarching theme. Its ethos runs deeper than the audio-visual aesthetic. It's a place where people from all walks of life belong and are welcomed as a family.
“If you were to look at the landscape and the beauty and splendor of Colorado and then shift it through this slightly trippy lens, that’s the visual aesthetic of High Ground. We love the beauty of Colorado, especially within the festival. But how do we fuse that with technology to create this really beautiful and creative world that feels like a touch out of reality. And that [all together] is what makes High Ground.” - Noah Levinson
High Ground's call to authenticity is one of its most salient principles, Noah says.
“People these days are craving authenticity in deep and meaningful ways. Being able to create a festival that’s not for everybody, but a festival for you.” This narrow bandwidth of genres and focus on community is what facilitates the message that this is not a festival for the masses but one where you can find yourself.
The Unique Advantage of Boutique Festivals
It’s intimidating trying to break into the festival world, especially in the shadows of the giants like Insomniac and AEG. But just as these bigger companies have their place in our music world, so do smaller events like High Ground. The bigger guys have the financial edge and ability to experiment and try new things, but they often lack the authenticity of smaller, more curated events.
The audience the bigger festivals aim for casts a wider net. Larger festivals are less agile when catering to smaller subsets of the dance music community. This is where festivals like High Ground thrive. The trade-off is that smaller companies only have one shot at proving their vision.
The ability to hone in on just one big event a year is a bit of a Catch-22. On one hand, you can dedicate your entire year to planning and executing your vision with stunning clarity. The downside is people will remember you for better or for worse, so you have to make sure you nail it.
When asked how his festival keeps up with the bigger names and maintains its identity, Noah said his focus is to hammer on the authenticity of his vision and to “Trust your team.” The team you assemble can make or break your event and is the backbone of any small festival.
Our community needs more spaces like High Ground to bring us back to our roots. Space exists for larger, more commercial events, yet as incredible as they are, smaller boutique experiences have a deep power to unite. Smaller gatherings are what really define the dance community.
High Ground Music Festival Lineup 2022