Cocktails with KB | Loren Lieberman

LorenLieberman-Photo by Kristel Bulthuis


Controversial. Conversational. Creative. Loren Lieberman is one of those Hamiltonians that everyone has a strong opinion about. This is likely because he is known to hold a few strong opinions himself. As a pundit on Cable 14, as a political operative, and as the boss behind The Festival of Friends, Lieberman is always ready to rock and roll.

He took over the festival in 2001, and continues to make the festival musically relevant in Hamilton, and across the country. The Festival of Friends kicks off August 7th with 80’s night, and continues all weekend, with bands like Big Wreck, Junkhouse, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Travis Tritt. (For more information, head to (www.festivaloffriends.ca) Loren and I sat down for cocktails at my favourite place in Hamilton; Two Black Sheep. He enjoyed beer (and capped off with some Maker’s Mark) and I sipped on New York Sours and we chatted about Hamilton, Irving Zucker, work and horses. Grab a cocktail and get to know Loren Lieberman; the man, the myth, the legend.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
“If you don’t try, you’re at the same result as failure.” Efforts can only bring at least equally shitty results to not trying. I don’’t know if it’s the best advice, but it’’s the one that jumps to mind and the one that I live by the most.

Why Hamilton?
I was born and raised here. I went to boarding school, so from Grade 9 through university, I wasn’’t here. I came back to be in the family business. There were a few times that Hamilton was not going to be, and just circumstances and family commitments or otherwise. The last thing I wanted to do was stay in Hamilton. Then I got a new bride who did not want to leave her family, and I’’m not suggesting by any means that I am in Hamilton by default.
You asked “Why Hamilton?” I say why not Hamilton!!! The old axiom of being a big fish in a small pond holds true.

Who has inspired you in your life and why?
I’’ve had the privilege of having mentor-like relationships with some pretty nifty men who were certainly senior to me along the way. Bill Powell was very influential, like a surrogate father to me, well into my early youth, and into my adulthood. In the couple years before he passed, Irving Zucker was a very influential, interesting and educational friend of mine. I’’m not just name dropping! There has been a history of older men who have imparted their wisdom to me along the way. The freakiest part of that statement is the realization that I am now that older dude! Time flies.

What’s the best thing about what you do?
I don’t think anyone really knows what I do for a living. Every day is different from the next, vocationally. I have been some crazy places, done some crazy things for some really nifty people. It’’s not the most stable, normal way to make a living.
I absolutely love that people think I get paid to run Festival of Friends and be on TV, neither of which are true!

What’s the worst thing about what you do?
There is no security, getting old. When you have dependents and you don’’t have the most stable employment, that’s tricky.

What is your motto?
I don’’t have one, because I adapt to whatever the situation is. My name is actually Lorenzo Lieberman. I grew up, not being an Italian Jew, but sometimes an Italian, and sometimes a Jew. Becoming that chameleon, you can’’t have a motto when you are different to those around you.

What’s the best thing about 2015 so far?
I don’’t know! We are halfway done and that is inconceivable to me, the years just keep flying by. I can’’t even contemplate what the best part of 2015 is, until 2015 is in the rearview mirror. That’s not a cop-out of an answer.

What has been the biggest learning experience of your life?
I have done some remarkable things (in terms of worthy of people remarking on them) in the public eye, time and time again, in a big way; some positive, some not. You can pretend to be uncaring, but abuse is abuse. Learning that people who don’t know you or care about you who are commenting (both positive or negative), it doesn’t matter. There are things that I do that are very public. The tangible result is for public enjoyment, but that is on the work, not on me. Whether it’’s a theatrical presentation where people loved what I did; so what. I’’m glad you loved it, but you are only a consumer of the product I make. Or, conversely, when you book a festival line-up that people don’’t like. You can’’t take either side of it seriously; positive or negative. That being said, I do take pride in my work.

If you had $10 in your pocket, what would you do with it?
Nothing. There’’s money in my pockets. Where should money go?

If you FOUND $10 on the street, what would you do with it?
If I found it, and nobody was around, I’’d put it in my pocket. If I’’m walking through Summers Lane, I would give it to the busker or the homeless man. If I were on Upper James, it goes in the glove box of my car where the Tim Hortons money goes.

The Festival of Friends is free; what is the reasoning behind that? And, what do you think the importance of Festival of Friends is in Hamilton?
It is free, and will remain free, purely out of tradition. This year, we did not have an exceptionally good year in terms of finding dollars. We can’’t let the main stage suffer, so nobody is getting paid! The festival is about the festival. There is one 6 month salary on it. Otherwise, I squeeze everyone I can for money, because it was broke in 2001. I didn’’t bail it out only to kill it now, so we will make the sacrifices to keep it going. Free is essential; it’s illogical and disrespectful to the entity of what we’re doing. The notion that anything worth doing is worth paying for, art should be monetized to be appreciated. I get that, especially when other festivals have added paid components.
This is our 40th year. We have been musically important; nationally for decades. It’s a tradition. It’s about the music. The location was no longer working, but the music still is. We are in Grade 6 geography textbooks across Canada as “Canadiana”. We made the point to who we are in terms of importance, to Canadian music. No other festival in the country has booked as many Juno winners; hence our doing the Juno hub in March; that was all Festival of Friends stuff. Whether you like Canadian music or not, It’s important because it’’s well received, it’’s well consumed. If people stop coming, we stop being important. The festival is not important, the reason to come to the festival, whether that be for the food, or the midway or quite obviously the music; that’s what is important! A lot of people don’t care about what the name of the festival is. They’’re there for good music, and they will keep coming back if we provide good music.


WHAT ARE YOU MOST EXCITED ABOUT THESE DAYS? Friday night at the festival; 80’s night.

BEST GIFT YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED? My wife got me a dog for Christmas.

HOW DO YOU LIKE YOUR COFFEE? Like my women; hot and bitter.

FAVOURITE BAND? I can’’t. Different every day. Today; XTC.


A BOOK YOU PLAN ON READING? The Attack on Christianity.

HIDDEN TALENT? I am a world class whistler.


BEST WAY TO DECOMPRESS? Take my pants off.


FAVOURITE HOLIDAY? As a Jewish boy, I really really like Christmas.

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT WHEN YOU’RE ALONE IN YOUR CAR? I am always calculating financial stuff. I am figuring out what the exchange rate is for example.


ONE THING YOU COULD LIVE WITHOUT? Anything I could live without, I presently live without.

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