Brandi Carlile will perform at Evolution Festival in St. Louis.

Evolution Festival Brings Music, Bourbon and Barbecue to Forest Park

Monday April 3, 2023

By Rachel Huffman

Rich history, innovative arts organizations and diverse cultural institutions. Beloved sports teams, pioneering restaurants and dynamic bars. St. Louis has all this, and now, we also have our own world-class music festival!

Evolution Festival will debut on Aug. 26 and 27, bringing music, bourbon and barbecue to Forest Park.

Forest Park features plenty of green space along with world-class attractions.
Forest Park will welcome Evolution Festival on Aug. 26 and 27

Steve Schankman, founder and president of Contemporary Productions, knows his way around the music industry. From the company’s first noteworthy concert with the Grateful Dead in 1970 to the turn of the century, St. Louis-based Contemporary Productions put on more than 20,000 shows and events. In 2000, Schankman partnered with Joe Edwards to build The Pageant, and recently, he helped Michael Staenberg, president of The Staenberg Group, turn The Factory into a reality.

Expanding into specialized areas of the live entertainment industry to fuel growth and position the company for success in the coming decades, Schankman has now partnered with Joe Litvag and his firm, The Just Listen Company, to oversee Contemporary Productions’ foray into specialty festival experiences as well as increased talent and booking capabilities.

Along with Jeff Jarrett, senior vice president and partner of Contemporary Productions, the trio has the vision, the drive and the experience to make Evolution Festival a smash hit.

“Every major city should have a music festival,” Schankman says. “For several years, St. Louis hasn’t had one, and it was time for someone to step up.

“Mayor Jones said Evolution Festival is a gift to St. Louis,” he continues. “I’m not looking to be a gift; I just want to keep the music going and bring people together in peace and harmony.”

The Black Keys will perform at Evolution Festival in 2023.
The Black Keys will perform at Evolution Festival on Aug. 26

Focusing on unity, community, diversity and inclusivity, Evolution Festival offers a curated experience for everyone.

“We’re leaning on popular music but including different genres, ranging from rock to indie and jazz to hip-hop,” Jarrett says. “St. Louis is a music city, and we made sure to have two local bands in the lineup each day, as well.”

Headliners Brandi Carlile, The Black Keys, The Black Crowes and Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals will be accompanied by St. Louis-based artists Punk Lady Apple, The Knuckles, Smidley and Yard Eagle. Rock ‘n’ roll band The Nude Party, young indie artist Michigander, American rapper Ice Cube, country singer Morgan Wade, Modern English of “I Melt with You” fame and Sugar Hill Gang, one of the pioneers of hip-hop, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, are also ones to watch.

“From the perspective of a talent buyer, I strive to bring bands that will excite people,” Jarrett says, “but I’m also responsible for introducing festivalgoers to new bands throughout the day. The music will play from 3 to 11 p.m., and I want the lineup to entice you to stay for all eight hours. For St. Louis residents, we also want you to be proud that your city is hosting a music festival of this magnitude.”

“Never underestimate the power of music,” Schankman adds. “Music builds community, and that’s the whole idea of the festival. It’s an exciting opportunity to celebrate and share the diversity of our community – that’s the evolution.”

Withered Oak spirits are artfully blended, uniquely finished and bottled with care in St. Louis.
Withered Oak will be part of the bourbon experience at Evolution Festival | Photo courtesy of Heidi Drexler Photography

The electric live music will be infused with a bold beverage experience focused on bourbon from Blood Oath, Ezra Brooks, Maker’s Mark, StilL 630, Switchgrass Spirits, Wild Turkey and Withered Oak, among other distilleries.

“When Steve, Jeff and I started talking about the concept of the festival, I recognized that it couldn’t just be about the music,” Litvag says. “There’s too much noise in the industry. To convince people to spend their hard-earned money on our festival, we had to incorporate specialty food and beverages.”

Throughout the festival, bourbon legend Fred Minnick will conduct tastings and lead other activations, and imbibers can enjoy bourbon any way they like – neat, on the rocks or in custom cocktails.

“Bourbon has exploded in popularity,” Litvag says, “but it can be intimidating. [At Evolution Festival] you can explore different types of bourbon, learn how to taste it properly and determine how you like it served.”

Litvag and his team aim to educate fans to enhance their bourbon experience at the festival and beyond.

“I’ve always felt that large-scale events are great community builders,” Litvag says, “and there are certain elements – music, alcohol, food – that bring people from all walks of life together. We need events like Evolution Festival to remind us that we are one community. It doesn’t matter where you live or where you went to high school; we all have to come together for St. Louis to thrive.”

Sugarfire Smoke House has curated the barbecue menu at Evolution Festival.
Mike Johnson of Sugarfire Smoke House helped curate the barbecue menu at Evolution Festival

Festivalgoers can also feast on elevated barbecue curated by Sugarfire Smoke House. “What does St. Louis love to eat?” Litvag asks. “Barbecue. Featuring it at the festival was a no-brainer.”

The festival menu will spotlight traditional recipes and cutting-edge trends from some of the most recognizable pitmasters in the Show-Me State, such as Beast Craft BBQ Co., Gobble Stop Smokehouse, Pappy’s Smokehouse and Vegan Deli & Butcher.

You can also expect special appearances by nationally recognized pitmasters Phil “The Grill” Johnson and James Boatright.

If you don’t want barbecue for every meal, you’re in luck. Alibi Cookies, Chicken Out, Hi-Pointe Drive-In, Mission Taco Joint, Steve’s Hot Dogs, Strange Donuts and more will also serve up delicious dishes.

“We want to please festivalgoers from near and far, as well as the city of St. Louis, but it’s also important that the artists, vendors and everyone behind the scenes of Evolution Festival have a great experience,” Jarrett says. “We’re approaching the event from both sides. Bands, distilleries, restaurants – they’re all depending on us to give them a platform to do their thing and connect with their fans.”

The Black Crowes will perform at Evolution Festival in 2023.
The Black Crowes will perform at Evolution Festival on Aug. 26

“Doors” open at 2pm on Saturday and Sunday, meaning festivalgoers will have the opportunity to explore more of Forest Park in the morning.

“Evolution Festival will draw people from out of town – from Kansas City, Memphis, Indianapolis, Des Moines – and we want them to have the opportunity to visit the Saint Louis Zoo, Saint Louis Art Museum and Missouri History Museum,” Schankman says. “We’ve got the best city park in the country, and we’re proud of that. Once people are here, they’ll be able to experience all the positive aspects of the city, not just Evolution Festival.”

Tickets for Evolution Festival are selling fast. For a weekend to remember, get yours today!