How Evolution Festival Was Crafted Exactly for St. Louis

Our sneak peek at the story behind the new music fest in Forest Park


Ice Cube will help celebrate hip-hop’s 50th birthday.

If you ask the organizers of the Evolution Festival — the two-day music, bourbon and BBQ bash coming up on Saturday, August 26, and Sunday, August 27, in Forest Park featuring headliners Brandi Carlile, the Black Keys, the Black Crowes and Ice Cube — this thing is going to be huge, an amazing experience for attendees and a new St. Louis institution for years to come. And we have every reason to believe them, given the credentials of the event’s two executive producers.

Steve Schankman has been synonymous with live music in St. Louis since 1968, when he co-founded Contemporary Productions, which produced everything from the Grateful Dead at the Fox Theatre in 1970 to the marathon Superjam concerts in Busch Stadium in the ’70s and ’80s to the annual July 4 VP Fair concerts under the Arch. Schankman’s company was instrumental in building Riverport Amphitheater (now Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre) and the Pageant.

Joe Litvag started 30 years ago as an intern for Schankman and went on to head up the St. Louis office of Clear Channel Entertainment (now Live Nation), served as a senior executive for AEG Live (during which time he brought Paul McCartney to Busch Stadium) and then became president of Danny Wimmer Presents, producer of highly successful multi-day festivals including Bourbon & Beyond in Louisville and Aftershock in Sacramento. Litvag recently founded his live entertainment firm, the Just Listen Company, in St. Louis.

Together, Schankman and Litvag have produced tens of thousands of concerts and festivals, so they are confident in assuring folks that they have left no stone unturned on the way to providing an excellent two-day end-of-summer experience in Forest Park. They also know that such reassurance might be necessary for some St. Louisans who remember the turbulent flameout of LouFest in 2018.

For those who need a recap, LouFest ran from 2010 to 2017 in Forest Park, usually in early September, growing from an initial daily attendance of 4,500 to more than 25,000 per day at its 2017 peak. Started by St. Louis-based Listen Live Entertainment, LouFest received a major boost in 2013 by partnering with Lollapalooza producers C3 Presents. After C3 ended its partnership in 2015, Listen Live managed LouFest alone until 2018, when, under immense financial pressure from skittish sponsors and unpaid production companies, organizers suddenly canceled the entire festival only four days before it was set to start. LouFest was no more.

At first glance, some might see similarities between LouFest and Evolution: two-day, two-stage summer rock festivals in Forest Park. However, Evolution organizers are quick to point out the differences. “People have been asking us [about LouFest] since we announced the festival, and we try to be respectful but make sure that people understand that this is not the same group of people and this is not the same vision behind it. This is a different group of people that have, between Steve and I, close to 100 years of experience in this business, and we know what we’re doing. We’ve done it 100 times before.”

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