DIO Fest gets better every year while raising funds for a good cause
Three years ago a group of young, ambitious musicians and artists converged on a mountaintop in Boulder Creek, and rocked the serene redwoods with three days of music and art. It was the first ever Do-It-Ourselves Fest, or DIO Fest—the concept for which was conceived a mere three months prior—held at Camp Krem, a nonprofit that hosts recreation education and adventure programs for children and adults with special needs, as it has since 1957.
Around 400 people came out that first year to camp under the redwoods, dance barefoot to local banjo-plucking bands, screen-print T-shirts, and ultimately leave the place cleaner than they found it—reinforcing the rickety stage Camp Krem uses for talent shows while they were at it.
And while the fest has grown incrementally—they expect as many as 700 festival goers this year—it’s managed to stay true to an ever-deepening network of San Lorenzo Valley and Santa Cruz roots.
“The goal for us is not to grow it to be like Coachella or something like that,” says Stevee Stubblefield, 24, who founded the festival with Jonathan LeBeaud, 25. “Our goal is to inspire people in other places that you don’t need permission to bring people together or make an event happen.”
This year’s DIO Fest begins on April 24 with a plump line-up of over 20 bands—several DIO Fest originals, but also some new and expanded sounds. The “stoke,” (a word that naturally enshrouds the surfing, blogging, mandolin-playing businessman Stubblefield) kicks off on Friday with the all-female bluegrass group Sugar by the Pound, which hails from San Lorenzo Valley, and other local gems like singer Kendra McKinley and the McCoy Tyler Band. Saturday includes 15-piece Lagos Roots AfroBeat Ensemble from Oakland and Mattson 2, a two-piece surf jazz group from Southern California, as well as Marty O’Reilly & the Old Soul Orchestra, Naked Bootleggers, and internationally renowned cellist Rushad Eggleston. Sunday ends with a DIO Friends & Family Jam.
“If you can get the right people in the room to get excited about something and pool their resources, you can do something great,” says Stubblefield. “Because that first year, we really had nothing to go on.”
That’s the DIO mentality in a nutshell, only that they did have something to go on—not a venture capitalist backing or really any seed money to speak of at all, but a network of musicians, friends and artists who were already getting together regularly, and an infinite supply of stoke. Most importantly, they had a place for the party: Camp Krem offered its 90-acre property, through LaBeaud, who had worked there for seven years and now sits on the board of directors.
That they pulled that first year off at all is “a testament to just how beautiful the music community is in Santa Cruz, how many talented artists there are that are willing to be a part of it—they’re not just like ‘Hey, I’m going to show up for my set and get paid and get out of here,’” says Stubblefield.
Even the rain last year, which Stubblefield says poured all through setup, didn’t crush the all-hands-on-deck mentality—it kind of just made it more fun. Everyone involved helped out, painting signs, unloading gear, engineering sound, or coming up in the weeks prior to clear new camping spots and trails for Camp Krem.
“There are a lot of logistics that go into throwing an event like this,” says Stubblefield. “A lot of festivals will just contract out every last thing that they can, because that makes it easy for the promoters. We basically, at every moment that we can, try to find someone within the local area or within the region to help us make that happen,” he says. The Crepe Place will be running the bar, and their sponsor this year, Mountain Feed & Farm Supply, is providing steel pint mugs for every ticket, which helps cut down on single-use cups.
In return, DIO Fest highlights the organizations, bands, businesses and even downtown Boulder Creek, on its website and blog. “So in the end of the day we’re not only trying to be an event where everyone can come together one weekend out of the year, but foster this network of people that can also be connected with each other in their own right, or meet each other and do something some other time during the year,” he says.
With the tagline “life is better with music,” it only made sense for DIO Fest to double as a fundraiser for Camp Krem’s music enrichment program, and last year they raised around $5,000 for the program.
“With the help and generosity of the DIO Fest crew, as well as the Goldman Foundation, we were able to purchase instruments, hire a full-time Music Program Director and a music therapist,” says Program Director Christina Krem, whose grandfather, Alex Krem, founded Camp Krem.
“Music has always been an integral part of Camp Krem,” adds Krem. “We frequently observe how music breaks down the barriers that many of our campers face, regarding communication, verbal skills and social anxieties,” she says. “It’s impossible to miss the positive effects music has on people.”
While he hears all the time that he should find a new, bigger location and throw a 10,000-person festival, Stubblefield says they’re just not interested—in the same way they’re not interested in paying some band the big bucks or letting an outside corporate sponsor come in and sell peanuts. Plus, they’ve found a good cause in Camp Krem, which Stubblefield and Lebeau remain active with in the off-season, including getting musicians to come up and play for the campers—a “rocking out” audience that, Stubblefield was touched to find out while playing their annual spaghetti dinner fundraiser, was more enthusiastic than your average bar crowd.
Two alternating stages at this year’s festival feature an eclectic mix of bands, including Royal Jelly Jive, Steep Ravine, Foxtails Brigade and many more.
“The whole thing is ultimately a very flow-driven, colorful collaboration between a salad of creative minds; again, reminding us all of the magic that happens when we work together,” says Emily Meeghan, artistic coordinator.
Tickets at diofest.com. PHOTO: Marty O’Reilly shredding on DIO Fest’s main stage last year. They return to play DIO Fest’s main stage on Friday this year. SARAH SHASHAANI