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The Man Behind Slow Food Rocks: Tom Shepard, CEO of Festival Network

Meet Tom Shepard, a man with a plan.  Under his leadership, Festival Network, the events company responsible for the legendary Newport Jazz Festivals—which helped to propel Bob Dylan into the national spotlight in 1963—has continued a legacy of what he calls “premium eclectic” music events nationwide.  Now the San Francisco-based businessman is bringing Slow Food Rocks to life—the event he sees as the perfect union between cause and venue for his Bay Area audience.  We caught up with him in between his preparations for this weekend's festivities. 

In what ways will you continue the George Wein legacy of music festival culture while keeping up with changing music trends?
For George, the show was the star.  We’ve certainly kept up that belief but have taken it one step further to create a synergy between music and destination. We bring music to special places that have their own equity.

What is Festival Network’s positioning and what audience are you attracting?
Our mission is to bring classic and cutting-edge music that fits the audience and character of a destination. Our audiences aren’t one size fits all—we work hard to match the music to the people while also experimenting with new and different talent, and attendees appreciate these efforts.

Festival Network’s shows usually have a jazz/folk theme—what marked the departure for Slow Food Rocks?
Living in the Bay Area, I’m accustomed to local, sustainable and organic. Naturally, I learned about Slow Food Nation and I thought it sounded like such a terrific event, but something was missing. As with all great events, it needed a musical component to really round it out. Keeping in mind both the city’s audience and partners at Slow Food Nation, we developed a program to satisfy both constituencies. The unique lineup should appeal to a diverse audience coming together for a common cause.

Is there an underlying theme or uniting force with the acts you chose for Slow Food Rocks?
It’s quite an eclectic lineup. We wanted a little bit of everything for this show. Gnarls Barkley is the edge, John Butler Trio lives slow food, Phil Lesh is the local component. The bands are excited to be a part of this show because it’s not just another music festival. It’s an event with a cause.

Which bands are you most excited to see?
John Butler Trio is a personal favorite, but Gnarls is HOT.  The combination of amazing food and incredible music is the essence of what makes this festival so special.

What is your personal connection to the slow food movement?
Thanks to my wife, I live the slow food movement. We firmly believe in sustainability and supporting local growers. The efforts of the slow food movement are very in tune with the times. It just makes sense.

Festival Network is based in San Francisco, so you’re privy to the Bay Area’s green scene. What are your local food favorites?
My wife is friends with Alice Waters and we’re both huge fans of what she’s been able to accomplish in the restaurant and food industry, but I’d have to say two of my personal favorites are Slanted Door and Gary Danko.