You may not know Andy Carroll‘s name, but if you have ever seen a full scale The String Cheese Incident production, wandered the Electric Forest, or the Suwannee Hulaween’s Spirit Lake you certainly know his work. Serving for more than a decade as Cheese’s lightning director and de facto art director, including some of their legendary “Incidents,” Carroll has since moved away from the knobs and slides of the light board and is now responsible for some of America’s most impressive fusions of art and music.
For the Suwannee Hulaween, which will be held at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, FL from October 28-30 (tickets and more info here), Carroll curates Spirit Lake, a veritable cornucopia of natural art installations, free floating fractal imagery, fire breathing dragons and things beyond imagining. A simple stroll around the shore is akin to wandering through portals into parallel, psychedelic dimensions of mad creative expression.
Before opening new vortexes for the incoming hordes of Hulaween faithful to explore our own Rex Thomson caught up with Carroll to learn the path that led him to his place as one of the finest art directors in the industry. Enjoy!
Live For Live Music: It’s amazing how inspiration can affect different people different ways. While onstage inspiration gets turned into sound, in the fields you help folks turn their inspiration to physical arts. Do you see any difference in the creative well springs, or is it all one shining light of creation?
Andy Carroll: That’s a good question. In a way it all comes from the same place, and in a way it doesn’t. One thing that is definitely different is how we interact with the different kinds of art. Music is in the air, the art I deal with is something tangible. You can interact with it, be surrounded by it. People connect with it in different ways.
L4LM: Some of the efforts of you and the team of artists you have assembled have become permanent installations in the Spirit Of Suwannee Music Park. How does it feel to contribute art that will be enjoyed by people for years to come?
AC: It’s nice, but we are more concerned with making new art. We will be bringing back some of what we have done in the past, but we are focused on making new wonderful, crazy things for people to enjoy.
L4LM: One of the things I liked best about the installations you do is the use of indigenous materials to create intricate all natural display. How do you decide what elements of the region to focus on?
AC: I love incorporating nature into our installations. Any chance we have to bring the world around the music into the decorations, we’re happy to do it.
L4LM: Let’s get some perspective on your personal artistic viewpoint. What’s your artistic background?
AC: I don’t necessarily have one. I was into art, and I was encouraged by my parents to pursue art, like drawing. I got into lighting live music. I was with the String Cheese Incident for sixteen years, up until just a couple years ago. It was during that time that I kinda got tossed into doing art on a large level, to the point where it became a career.
It started with the lighting world, the concert lighting world, but over the years as the art crept in more and more it really transformed what I was doing into a different experience.Now I focus not so much on the music, but what happens between the stages. My focus is to make it so there is more immersive, interactive stuff for the patrons to enjoy other than just going to the concert.
It makes the whole experience this incredible new thing that is just continuing to unfold before their eyes. Each year brings out new things from artists who are from all around the world. I love working with these artists and designers to make this a truly next level experience for the people. It is super fun, but it’s not the way I envisioned it going. It came about so organically… right time, right place I suppose.
L4LM: Artists are known for their mediums. Would it be fair to classify what you do as designing interactive outdoor displays?
AC: That would be a fair way to describe it I guess. Really what I do is to try and make it so artists can share their craft with the world.
L4LM: For a project like Hulaween, you bring teams of artists assigned to different areas. How many people would you say end up working on projects you’re overseeing?
AC: Oh wow. I’d say it’s a couple hundred all together between the artists, lightning crew and so on. Actually, that’s one of the hardest parts of what I do, organizing and coordinating who goes where and when.
L4LM: It’s always the most difficult part of being in charge… organization.
AC: Exactly. And you know artists…no offense to them, I am one myself…but artists can be difficult. Artists have these fantastic creative minds but when it comes to thinking logistically…getting them organized is really a challenge. Keeping these people on point, it’s difficult. But these things have to get done by the time the show starts. The show MUST go on.
There’s a timeline we have to stick to…so we have to keep everyone working full time to get these things done by the time the curtain goes up, so to speak. Everyone is pretty good about bringing it in on time. We make it happen.
L4LM: What’s the process like to bring an idea to you and the event and see it turned into a reality?
AC: There’s a range of ways. Between random emails or calls…some see me at the events and hit me up there. On the website we put out a call for artist submissions. I get lots of messages that are basically “Yeah…I’m so-and-so and here’s my idea. Can we make this happen?”
Then we get into a back and forth, and try and figure out whether it’s a good fit, and whether we can make it happen. I really try and include just about everybody. I feel like it is a good opportunity for the people who want to be involved in this world. I try and find a place for them in Spirit Lake. And sure, maybe it’s just a small little nook, but they get to have the experience.
Planning their art, pitching their art, bringing it and sharing it with everyone…that’s a pretty enriching experience. It can really turn them on, and I want to give them that opportunity.
Then there’s a lot of artists I’ve wanted to work with for a long time at other events, like Burning Man or whatever. I’ll reach out to them and say “Hey, we’ve got this event on Halloween weekend, it’s amazing, your art is amazing, let’s try and work it out.” There’s these art things that go viral on Facebook and social media, and I’ll try and track down their name or their website. Then I basically reach out, “cold call” them, and try and get them to do something with us.
Sometimes they’re local, sometimes they’re on the other side of the world. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. But now I have this epic roster of artists in my Rolodex that I talk to throughout the year. Between the random calls to me and the random calls I’ve made and the random calls to me, it’s built up pretty quick.
Sometimes I’ll have this list of five artists that I really, REALLY want to work with and I’ll be totally disappointed if I lose even one of them. And that happens, but three other ones I hadn’t even just pop up. It always seems to work out great. And the more this event goes on, the more people who hear about it, the more artists see what’s going on and think to themselves “Wow, that would be really cool to be part of.”
L4LM: You have a great canvas for them to work on as well.
AC: Yeah, The Spirit Of Suwannee Music Park really adds to the experience as well, obviously. My friends and my wife, they all went to school in Florida. When those friends find out what I do, they go “Oh my god! I’ve been going there since I was a little kid!” People love that place, and that connection helps a lot too.
It’s a draw on its own. People are ready to go there just to be there. And then when we add in a really cool event like Hulaween, that just makes it all the more cool.
L4LM: One of the recurring themes in your art environments is my favorite element…FIRE! Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to play with it?
AC: Yeah, totally. But it’s so primal. It gives light, it gives warmth. It’s awesome to have this event at The Suwannee Music Park where we actually can have fire. Most places don’t even allow it at all. Between fire marshals or whoever…and dry weather years, it’s tough to get it approved almost anywhere. I know Florida can have dry weather years too, but it’s usually pretty well hydrated.
And we always take the proper precautions as well. But it’s super fun and I love it. Everybody loves fire. It totally takes things over the top, and I am very happy to be bringing it back this year.
L4LM: Is there an overall theme to the madness or is it just chaos?
AC: Not necessarily either, actually. We’re more just about general creativity. We want people to be inspired. And we want these artists to bring that inspiration, whether from something they saw at Spirit Lake last year, some other event or just out of their own imaginations to Spirit lake.
I love the feeling of knowing that someone was inspired by something they saw and brought art into their own regular lives. I like thinking that someone was inspired by something they saw, and went home and had that thought, like “Oh my gosh! We could do that! You know we could do that! We’ve got all those materials piled up behind your house that’s been sitting there for ever. We could do that!”
I love that sort of general creativity. But with it being on Halloween, we do have that scary, fun vibe to play with. I like starting with the waves of creative passion that flow free through the artists, and to find something in that that we can make real. I want artists to bring their work to Spirit lake, and for that to turn the next group on.
L4LM: Any hints you can drop about this year’s mayhem to come?
AC: No specifics, other than it’s going to be super awesome. There are some amazing new things coming from previous artists and new things from new people that take stuff in directions we haven’t even thought of going before. It’s gonna be amazing, but I just can’t give it away yet. You’ll have to come see for yourself!
L4LM: Well, judging from how few tickets are left, I’m guessing there will be plenty of people getting lost inside the world you’re helping to create. Thanks for taking some time from your mad scheming to chat with us about the fun to come at Hulaween.
AC: Thank you! I’m really looking forward to this.