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Building a Non-Profit in the Festival Industry

by Chris Carver
on December 28, 2017
Photo by Life Under the Wheel


Fun Fact: 30% of Donations to Non-Profits happen in December.

Since this is the season of giving, we really thought it would be cool to highlight one of our favorite event professionals and the non-profit he's created. I also thought it was appropriate given that he is doing it all through the Festival World. 

We also thought it would be helpful as we head into the new year, to think about how we can leverage our events and our relationships for good.

Let me introduce you to Evan Gross and Life Under the Wheel

Evan+LUTW.jpgThe man with the mission. Courtesy of Life Under the Wheel


Evan has always had a calling to public service. Maybe it was his father's military career that influenced him, or the last 13+ years of work in higher education, or his love for working countless music festivals from Outside Lands to Okeechobee to Life Is Beautiful. In a blend of experiences, Evan came up with an idea to bring public service to a new level: enter Life Under the Wheel

He's made it his mission to gift the festival experience to those who are suffering from a life-threatening illness.

So... I really wanted him to tell his story and talk about how such a simple idea can be so powerful. And if you're in the festival industry, Evan and the team could use your support.

Photo cred: Life Under the Wheel

So where did you grow up?
I was a military brat, so I moved around a bit. My dad was an infantry airborne ranger, so we moved all over. I grew up in Tennessee after my dad retired.

Did you ever consider going into The Service? 
I did, I thought about it a lot. And sometimes I regret not doing it, but life has its way of doing what it wants to do. I'm definitely proud of my father's service, and I think that's why I ended up with a master's degree in public administration. I've always been attracted to public service.

If your friends were a little tipsy at the bar, how would they describe you? 
I think that they would probably describe me as pretty temperamental and moody, but very generous and giving. 

If you were a piece of a festival equipment, what would you be and why? 
I'd probably be some type of RFID scanning equipment because that's where I spent the majority of my festival career. But I think I want to be a golf cart or shady tree, something that makes the fan experience a little better.

When did you know you wanted a career in the event world? 
I think I'm still trying to decide that. I have a full-time career in higher education that I'm very proud of and I enjoy a great deal, but I love this industry. Every time I go to a different festival site, I typically see familiar faces. And that just makes it feel like a family. Working together through long hours and tough situations develops those relationships even more.

You work on a number of large scale festivals. What's your typical role in those events?
It's changed a bit throughout the years. I've done ticket reconciliation at the gates, box office operations and pre-RFID work. Once RFID came into the industry, I latched onto that pretty quickly because I thought it was really cool and fascinating. I have a technology background, so it was a natural fit. In the last few years, I've made the transition over into the promoter side of things.

Photo cred: RFIDHY

Sidenote: Speaking of rfid and credentials, why do you think the credentials process is always such a major pain point for large-scale events? 
There are so many things that make it challenging. Once you begin segmenting off a festival site by access, people always question what access they should be given. They think that they need certain access and they really don't. Think in terms of, "What credential do you need to do your job?" It's also challenging because you have to get the request in some type of logical order.

However, although it can be challenging, in today's environment, implementing a credential system can be one of the more important things you can do to secure your event. BTW - I think I know a company that does that pretty well.

Hah. I think we may know a company that does that pretty well, too.


Screenshot 2017-07-16 09.31.49.png

Sorry - back on track: Where did the idea come from for Life Under The Wheel? 
Working in the music festival industry for the last decade, I have been very fortunate to be one of the tiny cogs in the massive machines that are music festivals.  During this time, I’ve walked through many festival sites and seen people having the very best day of their lives.  At that moment, nothing else mattered except the experience of the music.  I want more people to experience that feeling.  So I thought; how can I share this with more people, and who might benefit the most from the music festival experience?  That’s when it hit me.  I want to share this feeling with people who need some light and love in their life because they have received a life-threatening diagnosis.  So, I got to work.

What is the mission behind Life Under the Wheel? 
When I started thinking about Life Under The Wheel, I wanted to share the festival experience with people who have a life-threatening illness in a unique way. I think we've all been touched by someone who was diagnosed or may have ultimately had their life cut short by a life-threatening illness: cancer, heart disease, and illnesses that we don't ever want to happen to our loved ones.

Instagram @lifeunderthewheel

The music festival industry is a community and I wanted individuals with life-threatening illnesses to feel a part of that. I've seen people at a festival having the best day of their life. The joy that they experience, the camaraderie, the sense of community and belonging is really incredible.

What's the meaning behind the name?
We wanted to find a symbol that was prevalent on most music festival sites, like a ferris wheel. The name comes from that amazing and euphoric experience that a lot of people have on a ferris wheel as they're circling above all the festival life that's happening under the wheel.

Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 11.27.06 AM.pngInstagram @bonnaroo

You've been able to garner some incredible support from some top producers in the industry, before even launching. Why do you think that is? 
I think it's because I've been able to establish a good reputation and develop personal relationships throughout my tenure in the industry. I put truth and transparency first because I want to be reliable. I've always tried hard to be one of those people who did what I said I was going to do.

So who was the first person that you asked for help and support? 
I went to some of my colleagues. I kept getting responses of, "Wow, why isn't anyone doing this yet?" Then I started reaching out to full-time industry professionals and veterans and started to expand the idea.

The Life Under the Wheel family. Photo cred: Life Under the Wheel 

BTW - I want to give a huge thank you to our initial advisers and team that supported us:

Ruth Carlton:
Director of Festival and Venue Operations, Another Planet Entertainment 
Lauren Delfrago:
Festival Manager, Life Is Beautiful Festival
Christy Feener: VP, National Event Services
Gordon Oldham: Executive Director, Rock Medicine
Taylor Shomaker: VP, Event Operations, AC Entertainment
Angeline Chase Priefer: Project Manager (for Multiple Major Festivals & for LUTW)
McKinley Maples: Project Manager (for Multiple Major Festivals & for LUTW)
Katie Helms: Project Manager (for Multiple Major Festivals & for LUTW)
Elizabeth Pikaart: Director of Operations LUTW

Why was it so important to gain such broad support? 
I think it's about viability, and getting feedback from industry professionals. That level of initial buy-in was really important to me. These folks are really busy, and if it was something that they wouldn't be willing to do or consider, I didn't want to waste people's time.

If you could partner with any event in the world, what would it be? 
Well, short answer is all of them. I want festival grant recipients to go to their choice. That's the most important thing to me.

Evan and his support base (Ruth Carlton, Lauren Delfrago, Eli Pikaart, Christy Feener and their first grant recipient at Life Is Beautiful.

What does the ideal relationship with a festival look like for LUTW? 
What we ask from the festivals is help with the logistics of giving our festival grant recipients an incredible experience. That may be in the form of on-site transportation, or credentials for our on-site operations team. One of the key components that we ask for is a tent or a booth where we can engage their patrons to raise awareness, and hopefully be able to raise some money as well. My hope is that we are sustained by small dollar donations from festival patrons so they can see what we're doing.

What has been the most rewarding part so far for you? 
Honestly, it's sharing the vision with other people and seeing them get excited about it, too. I can't wait to share this with the festival community and the world once it's launched.

What's been the most challenging thing so far? 
The most challenging aspect is the business formation, the red tape. Making sure that we are compliant in raising money, soliciting donations, all those things. It's not hard, it's just that there are a lot of steps to take.

Screenshot 2017-12-28 10.29.46.png

Given how hard it is to create and build anything, where does your passion for this come from?
Because music matters.  Sharing matters.  Loving each other matters.  I’ve found all of these things inside the gates of a music festival, and at Life Under the Wheel, we want to share what we are so very fortunate to continuously experience with someone who might need it the most.


Music matters. Sharing matters. Loving each other matters. 


What would you ask folks in the event and festival world if you were in front of them today?
All I ask for anyone is the opportunity to tell them what we're doing.

And if someone says, "Okay, I'm in," what's the next step?
The next step is to reach out to us. We have a whole section on our website dedicated to festival and industry partnerships:

They can always email I love talking to people about it, and see how we can collaborate together.

Annnd... they can also make a donation.
Hah. Definitely. You can Donate on our website at:

Why wouldn't a festival participate? 
I honestly don't know. Maybe it's because I'm too deep into it and I believe in it so much. But I know people have concerns about potential liability. For example, "If this person is sick, how sick are they? That is a concern for us." We've tried to take the necessary steps to mitigate that part of the application process. First, the applicant's or nominee's diagnosis has to be verified with their treating physician. Then ultimately they have to be healthy enough to go to the event. We want to be very conscious of their condition so we can ensure the best experience.

Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 11.35.15 AM.png

If you were to give an event industry state of the union address, what would be the top three topics?
I'd want to address how we can better serve patrons to make the experience more unique. We need to engage patrons in a meaningful way that fosters that sense of community and family.

Secondly, we need to create a better product that makes it more sustainable for industry professionals themselves. Whether that be healthcare, fair pay or childcare. I'm so fortunate to work with these folks. They're here because they love it and this is where they feel they belong.

Lastly, I would love to see some type of festival certification that ensures it meets certain standards. It would help industry professionals and contractors have confidence that this is a quality event that they should feel proud to work for.


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Do you have any parting wisdom for folks in the event and festival world? 
The advice I tell myself is to remember that it's not just a festival. Especially to the patrons who save hard to go to these events. They will carry these memories with them for the rest of their lives. Never lose sight of that because that's ultimately why we all are here. If there weren't patrons who wanted these experiences, none of us would have jobs.

I always remind myself at a festival to stop working for 15 minutes every day, and walk through the crowd. Watch the experiences happening all around you. It doesn't take very long to remind yourself why we're all here.

Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 11.32.04 AM.png
Instagram @okeechobeefest


"Advice: make sure to take a few minutes to just watch the experiences happening all around you." twitter-128.png

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