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Drift Jam 2017: What You Need to Know about the World’s Largest Floating Music Festival

            Drift Jam is about to hit its fourth year—but this year, the world’s largest floating music festival almost didn’t happen.  According to founder and organizer Doug Gainey, he considered going on hiatus from planning Drift Jam, until he was unable to deny it was a unique and valuable opportunity to raise money for Hidden Wounds.

            The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that 22 military veterans commit suicide in the U.S. every day. Hidden Wounds is a local nonprofit organization headquartered in Columbia that provides long-term services to military personnel in South Carolina who suffer from combat injuries such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury).

             “Almost every veteran you meet has lost someone they know or someone they served with to suicide,” said Steven Diaz, Chief Operating Officer of Hidden Wounds.  “[Drift Jam] is a great place for exposure about these issues.  This is great for our mission, but also overall for the military.  It’s a way to let people know, it’s okay to reach out for help.  And it’s also helping break down the stigma about mental health.”

            Diaz said that while most people think mental healthcare is just psychotherapy, Hidden Wounds will use the money raised during Drift Jam to fund a variety of different therapies and treatments for veterans struggling with PTSD, depression, TBI, and other problems.  “It could pay from anything ranging from telehealth counseling to equine therapy to hyperbaric chamber therapy, whatever works for the veteran.  We don’t just put all the money toward one resource.  Veterans respond better when there’s different options available.”

           The organization is completely fueled by volunteer labor and runs “all mobile,” said Diaz.  “We have very little overhead costs, so the money raised goes directly to fund resources for veterans who can’t pay for the resources they need, or who don’t know how to access the resources.”

            This year, Drift Jam is donating 100% of sponsorship proceeds to the organization, and also helping to raise additional donations from event-goers.  Gainey set a $7,500 fundraising goal for this year’s event, but the Drift Jam team has already managed to raise almost $3,000 of that goal for Hidden Wounds by using an online donation page.  “We’re almost halfway there already.  We had set up everything to raise money during the show itself, but if we can hit the goal before the show, that’s even better,” said Gainey.

Drift Jam 2017: The Back Story

            Founded in the fall of 2013, the first Drift Jam was held in the summer of 2014 on Lake Murray.  Appealing to both fans of music festivals and lovers of boating and recreation, the event placed a stage and several local bands just off Spence Island, during South Carolina’s laid-back, leisurely summers at the lake.  Gainey organized the first Drift Jam almost entirely by himself as an unpaid volunteer, including set-up, organization, and crowd control, and utilized Facebook as his primary source of promotion.  “I had no idea what I was getting into,” he recalled.  “And I also had no idea what it would become.”

            Over the next two years, Gainey slowly built a team of volunteers and staff who took some of the work load off of him, but he said those the first three years were very challenging.  “I had a vision, and I had ideas about what I wanted it to be,” he said.  “But, I didn’t know how to delegate, because I’m so picky about how things should be done.”

            By the third year, Gainey said the Drift Jam team “had everybody on the same page.  From execution to breakdown, and the production set-up, it all went perfectly,” he recalled.  Still, he decided to take a rest from Drift Jam to focus on his own business, Gainey’s Lube Center in Lugoff. 

            However, in January, Gainey learned that Hidden Wounds was interested in a 2017 partnership with Drift Jam.  He also knew that his entire Drift Jam team was eager to work on the festival again.  “I started to get the itch,” he explained with a laugh.  “I was sitting around, feeling like I should be doing something bigger.”  When Gainey saw an aerial view of Drift Jam on the cover of Boat US, he knew he had created something that was too great to abandon. 

            Drift Jam recruited three major title sponsors early this year: Lifetime Cabinets & Countertop, Marine 360, and Tidewater Boats.  “They came in early and kicked it off—without them, this wouldn’t have been possible,” said Gainey.  In February, the Drift Jam team reassembled, and have since been “nonstop planning” for this year’s festival.

            This year, the festival has made some major changes.  Check out what to expect if you’re attending this year’s ultimate Lake Murray event.

Crowd Control Will Improve This Year

           The entire event will be completely off the island again this year, remaining in the water during the festival. According to Gainey, “The hardest part [of hosting Drift Jam] is crowd control.”  In previous years, Drift Jam utilized two traffic directors on jet skis.  For this year’s festival, they’ve bulked up to utilizing eight jet skis.  

           Boats will be required to have their own anchor.  The front three rows of boats will be marked off, and a middle waterway will be kept clear for traffic, as will two emergency exit waterway lanes on the left and right.  The Drift Jam team members will direct boats to where they must anchor, in order to keep the crowd organized and safe.

            “Some people park in the middle of the waterway, so we really need people to follow directions,” said Gainey.  “We’ll have a much better situation this year than in the past—everything will be clearly marked off.”

            Gainey also recommends getting there early—although the music begins at 11 a.m., he said people will begin arriving at 9 a.m.  “If you have friends coming and you want to be anchored beside each other, you all need to arrive at the same time together,” he said.  “Otherwise, expect to tie off besides someone you don’t know.” 

            All music during the festival will be family friendly, so children are welcome to come with adequate parental supervision.  “It’ll be a long day, so bring plenty of food and water,” Gainey recommended.

            Also: expect a lot of people.  Last year, the festival hosted over 800 boats, and the Drift Jam team is anticipating that number will be doubled this year.  So far, their marketing research has learned that people are traveling to Lake Murray for Drift Jam from over fifteen states.

The Music is the “Best Line-Up Yet”

            With seven bands, this year’s Drift Jam will be the festival’s largest line-up yet, featuring country, rock, indie, and folk music as the main acts, with local DJ R2DJ performing in between sets.  However, Gainey said this year’s festival also has “the strongest line-up I’ve had so far, from top to bottom.”

            Drift Jam will feature a stellar mix of music this year, having gone through record labels and booking agencies to recruit Nashville headliners The Delta Saints, Julia Cole, and Glow Co., and Atlanta’s modern electro rock duo Roshambeaux.  Drift Jam will also feature three rock bands from Columbia: 76 and Sunny, After 10, and Hey Johnny Park.

            “We wanted to bring in some bigger names of touring bands across the Southeast, but it’s important to me showcase local music.  Columbia has such a great music scene,” Gainey explained.

            With the exception of Foo Fighters cover band Hey Johnny Park, the bands will mostly perform original music instead of covers.  “A lot of this music people may not know, but trust me, they will know them after next weekend,” said Gainey.  “The [out of state bands] are up and comers who could really blow up in a year or two.” 

            This year will also be the first time Drift Jam expands its artistic reach beyond music.  Local artists will participate in a live painting onstage.  “I wanted to add interactive artwork this year to increase the festival atmosphere,” said Gainey.

The Focus This Year: Hidden Wounds

            While a giant lake party with seven live bands already sounds like a packed event, Drift Jam will focus heavily this year on raising money for Hidden Wounds.  “They help veterans with different combat-related injuries, both physical and mental,” Gainey said.  “They do a lot of work with anti-suicide efforts and PTSD.  It’s a really great organization.”

           During the festival, Drift Jam team members will constantly remind the audience to donate online.  “If we could get everyone who goes to Drift Jam to donate at least $5, we could raise up to $50,000 for Hidden Wounds that day,” he said.  “$5 is a small price to pay for a free seven-hour music festival, so we’re hoping to get people to rally and support them.”

            To encourage donations, there will be a few surprises during the festival, but Gainey is remaining tight-lipped about what—or who—those surprises will be.  “This is going to be our biggest year yet, and I really hope we can raise a lot of money for Hidden Wounds,” said Gainey.

            “Our mission is to provide mental health resources to veterans and also provide awareness and education about post-traumatic stress to the general public,” Diaz explained.  “At the end of the day, it’s suicide prevention.”

            The Drift Jam team has formed the ultimate festival representing both the Lake Murray lifestyle and Southeastern United States music; this year, the event will also donate 100% of its proceeds to help Midlands veterans in need of mental healthcare and therapy.  For more information about this year’s event, including band bios and a link to the Hidden Wounds donation page, visit www.driftjam.com. 

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