Justin Berger is ready for Philadelphia music domination. The 30-year-old entrepreneur is responsible for this weekend’s inaugural music event, Winterwaltz – partnered with local radio station WXPN.
The two-day Philadelphia music festival, produced by his company Deathwaltz, features live performances at both the Electric Factory and Underground Arts. Justin has lined up big musical performances from !!! (Chk Chk Chk), YACHT, and Washed Out and paired each show with a roster of local Philly talent like Les Professionnels, Risky Disco and more. What better bands than these to chase the winter blues away?
The event kicks off tonight (Thursday, Dec. 12) with Chk Chk Chk at Underground Arts. I was intrigued by Berger’s wiliness to go all out for this first time showcase. It especially caught my eye when I read that he was hoping for Winterwaltz to grow into something of an Austin City Limits for Philadelphia. I really liked the sound of that. I had a lot of questions for this motivated go-getter, so we got right into it:
Philly.com: What's your connection with Philadelphia?
Justin: I’m from a suburb just outside the city called Elkins Park, so as a young kid I always ventured off to the city to see great music. I am one of those hardcore Philadelphians who doesn’t ever want to leave. It’s the perfect city - close to New York, Baltimore, and DC, but far enough to have cheap rent and not be cluttered with big city traffic. And the music scene is unparalleled. We’ve been a part of some pretty amazing music movements over the past 60 years!
P: Tell me a little bit about Deathwaltz - how did it come about?
J: Before I started Deathwaltz, I played in a few local bands and studied painting at Tyler School of Art. The music thing was always a hobby, until I found myself managing other Philly bands in between my own projects. One thing led to another, and I began promoting shows, booking tours, etc. Deathwaltz kind of grew organically from there. At this point, the company does a lot more than most people know. We have four companies under the umbrella; Deathwaltz Presents, Deathwaltz Management, Deathwaltz Marketing, and our newest venture, Deathwaltz Ticketing. 2013 has been a crazy year for us and there are so many new things coming in 2014! One of which is our seasonal festival that we have started branding. The first one, Winterwaltz, is taking place this weekend.
P: What was the motivation for this weekend’s event, Winterwaltz?
J: I deal with a lot of summer festivals around the country. I always wanted to produce a festival of my own, because there really is nothing like putting a ton of amazing artists in one spot and feeling the energy of every person in the venue just explode with creativity and happiness. I made it a goal over the past three years to volunteer myself at every type of festival I could, and to work in as many facets of these festivals as possible in order to find out the ins and outs of operating a large scale event. I’ve had jobs as simple as “runner” and as complicated as “site operations” at festivals large and small. On-site, off-site, talent buying, marketing, stage management, you name it. It became very apparent that if I ever wanted to produce my own festival, that I would have to start small and build the brand. So I landed on the idea of a seasonal festival that could grow organically in size as the awareness grows.
P: Winterwaltz is a two-day festival featuring a great lineup of local talent with well-known headliners. What was the deciding factor for choosing the opening acts andthe headliners?
J: When we decided to make the first of the seasonal “waltz” festivals take place in December, we were thrown a few obstacles. The limitation to indoor spaces was the biggest one. I wanted to create a winter atmosphere, but not a cold one – a really warm one. I wanted to conceive a lineup that made everyone feel cozy and happy, like we do with our families and hometown friends during the holidays. Right away, I knew I wanted to work with Washed Out. They just give off this sense of warmth. The lineup grew out of that idea to include bands like !!! and YACHT. Both acts have powerful, fun shows that lend themselves to the same sentiment of warmth in my eyes. Pairing them with my favorite local acts just seemed perfect for the first go round.
P: You mentioned that you'd like to see Winterwaltz turn into something like an Austin City Limits for Philadelphia – where do you see it five years down the road?:
J: I would love to grow the idea slowly into something organic like Austin City Limits. It will be a struggle to keep it seasonal once it grows to that point, but I don’t want to think about a plan too much yet, because there will be thousands of curveballs that are thrown my way that will eventually shape this thing into something special and unique. All I know is [that] if we are still going after five years, we’ll have done 20 seasonal events. By that point, I think we'd have a good sense of what we are doing! I’d love to take the seasonal theme and make them a major destination for other cities to travel to.
P: Do you have plans to do something similar come spring or summer time – you know like a... Summerwaltz?:
J: We are organizing both Springwaltz and Summerwaltz currently. I cannot announce anything more about them yet, but let’s just say the tones of each season will be drastically different!
P: What can people expect when they walk into the Electric Factory or Underground Arts? Will there be any special visual elements or will the venue remain as is?:
J: For Washed Out we will have a really beautiful, warm, and toasty atmosphere that the band has designed in regards to lights and stage production. Underground Arts will have a completely 3D-mapped room on Friday for YACHT. Super excited for that one!
P: Is there anything else you'd like people to know about Winterwaltz?:
J: Come out and embrace the beautiful, cozy side of winter! These events were crafted specifically with that type of warmth in mind. So many people are afraid to leave their houses in the wintertime. The first Winterwaltz is for them.
Winterwaltz takes place on Thursday, Dec. 12 and Friday, Dec. 13 at Electric Factory (421 N. 7th St.) and Underground Arts (1200 Callowhill St.). Tickets and information can be found here.