In 2007, 16 year old Lauren McClusky launched what would become an annual event, first entitled McFest and later changed in name to Nelarusky. The purpose of the annual benefit is to raise money for the Special Olympics, while showcasing emerging talent. Despite her young age upon launching the venture, McClusky has overseen the event up through and including its sixth year now, with the 2012 incarnation of Nelarusky happening this Wednesday, August 1st at Metro. This week’s sold out event features Alabama Shakes, First Aid Kit, Dry The River, and Filligar. In an email interview below, McClusky talks to CVU about the event, its background, and what’s next for the young entrepreneur.
CVU: Talk about how the Nelarusky event started out. Did you know when it launched that it would become an annual affair?
LM: It all started when I was a junior in High school and was friends with local band, The Days. They had a desire to put on a benefit concert, and when they came to meet with my dad (who owns JMA – the music promotion & marketing company in Chicago) he suggested that I work on making that happen for them. With the help of our good family friend and Metro owner, Joe Shanahan, we got started. Calling it McFest, we gathered a bunch of our friends in local High school bands that first year and had 800 students attend. Even though I had no idea what I was getting into when it started, it was a great learning experience, a lot of fun, and very successful. That’s when I knew that I wanted to continue it each year.
CVU: How has presenting and executing the event changed over the years?
LM: In the third year, McDonalds filed an opposition against the name “McFest.” After a long battle, we agreed to settle. We changed the name from McFest to Nelarusky (a combination of letters in my name) in exchange for a 2 year sponsorship. In the same year, C3 took it under their wing as an official Lollapalooza pre-show.
CVU: Talk about the focus and intent of Nelarusky. For anyone who doesn’t know, what is the goal of this event, and why is it important to you?
LM: The goal is to raise money for Special Olympics. The organization has been very close to my family since I was little, and I have traveled all over the world volunteering at the various S.O. events. The other goal of the event is to showcase local talent, specifically bands that may not have a chance to play on the Metro stage otherwise. Even though the bands have gotten bigger, and the amount of local talent has decreased, I never want to lose that.
CVU: You’ve got some great talent playing this year. What was the thinking behind selecting acts like Alabama Shakes and the rest? Personal favorites?
LM: It was based on the excitement of Alabama Shakes current buzz, even before they had released a full length album. I had recently seen both Alabama Shakes and First Aid Kit live for the first time, and was blown away by both of them. The bands this year have similar sounds, and appeal to a very wide demographic. And they’re all GREAT live.
CVU: You’ve been organizing and executing Nelarusky since you were 16, and it’s an impressive feat, especially given your age. Do you think having a younger perspective has worked to your advantage in putting Nelarusky together?
LM: I think starting it at a young age was definitely more interesting to people, but I’ve had great advisors. My father, Joe Shanahan and Stacey at Metro, and Huston Powell at C3 have all been incredibly helpful over the years.
CVU: The 2012 event is almost in the books. What else is on deck for you, professionally?
LM: At this point, I’m just looking to get through 2012. After that, I’ll be graduating Columbia College in December, and definitely want to continue working in the live music industry. I love booking and promotions, and have particularly loved my internships at Windish and Schubas. I also just spent a month in Austin interning at C3, which I absolutely loved.
Correction: An earlier version of this article listed the Nelarusky event as Tuesday, July 31st. It actually occurs Wednesday, August 1st.