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Summer Celebrations

Dance to the Summer Beat

Summertime means outdoor music festivals. In New England, one of the best for families has been organized by Life is good—creator of those T-shirts depicting a grinning stick figure named Jake—to support its 501(c)(3) charity. The Life is good Playmakers promotes healing among children who face traumatic life experiences, such as illness, violence, and poverty.

David Oksman ‘03

David Oksman ‘03.  Photo: Tom Kates

“Nothing connects people like music,” says David Oksman ’03, head of marketing for Life is good, which has evolved to sell apparel and other merchandise beyond the Jake designs. “Once you put music on, people are going to dance. They’re going to connect in that energy. It’s a really powerful way to bring people together.”

The two-day festival has featured artists such as Dave Matthews and The Roots on its main stage, while the Good Kids stage has hosted musicians such as The Fresh Beat Band and Laurie Berkner, favorites among the under-10 set (although many older folks enjoy these groups, too). Since 2010, Life is good has raised more than $11 million for the Playmakers program.

Philanthropy has been central to the brand from its beginning, Oksman notes. Company founders and brothers Bert and John Jacobs turned their events into fundraisers after receiving letters from customers who reported that Life is good T-shirts kept them focused and upbeat through difficult times, such as cancer treatments.

This year Life is good took a break from the two-day festival format to experiment with smaller events that continued the tradition of celebrating music and supporting kids. In July, it sponsored a night of the Soulshine tour, which featured Michael Franti & Spearhead (perhaps best known for the song Say Hey (I Love You)) along with other artists. Held at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion, an outdoor amphitheater in Boston, the concert raised one dollar from every ticket sold for the foundation, and attendees could raise additional funds to receive special perks, including preferred seating and entry to a pre-concert party. The event had a minifestival vibe, with games and activities, including a pre-concert yoga class, for all ages and abilities, which was accompanied by Franti and others playing an acoustic session.

Oksman takes a lead role in orchestrating these events, ensuring that they mesh with the Life is good brand strategy and heading the team that handles marketing, social media, and logistics. As a bonus, he gets to meet top musicians. Oksman went to the Tennessee music festival Bonnaroo in June 2013 to announce that the singer-songwriter Jack Johnson would be headlining the Life is good festival later that summer. Johnson was at Bonnaroo to play a small set with friends, but when the band Mumford & Sons had to pull out of its headlining slot at the last minute, Johnson was asked if his band could fill in. Despite not having played a big show in more than a year, Johnson’s band came together and pulled it off. “He did so with a few hours practice and nailed an 80,000-person show,” Oksman remembers.

Afterward, Oksman spent some time with Johnson and his family. “They were the nicest people in the world,” he says. “He was everything you would imagine from a smart, philanthropic artist.” The icing on the cake? The next day, when Oksman and his team launched their 2013 festival marketing campaign, they received a publicity boost for their headliner from the music media, including Billboard and Rolling Stone, which was clamoring about how Johnson saved Bonnaroo.

Meeting celebrities has been fun, but the festival’s message is what resonates with Oksman. “The festival is the best weekend of the year, period,” he says. “Bringing together 30,000 optimists to focus on what’s right with the world always inspires me. I love seeing people of all ages enjoying the outdoor games and the great music, all while making the world a little bit stronger.” —Erin O’Donnell

(Editor’s Note: Oksman since has moved on to lead U.S. marketing at Reebok.)