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Marshfield surf shop’s music show takes on life of its own

Jess and Dan Hassett are hosting the Levitate Festival this weekend in Marshfield.
Jess and Dan Hassett are hosting the Levitate Festival this weekend in Marshfield.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

MARSHFIELD — In 2013, Levitate, a surf and skate shop in Marshfield, threw a party for its 10th anniversary. Nothing major. BBQ, a couple local bands, beers.

“To give you an idea of what we thought it was going to be, I didn’t even wear shoes,” says Dan Hassett, the owner of the shop. “Then 2,000 people showed up, and I regretted that decision because I was running around like crazy trying to keep it from falling apart.”

Hassett was definitely wearing shoes this week as he drove a golf cart around the Marshfield Fairgrounds, checking in on a huge team of people making the final preparations for the latest incarnation of that party, now known as the Levitate Music and Arts Festival, which has grown to three days and will draw close to 50,000 people this weekend.

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“It’s crazy what it has become,” Hassett says, before his face takes on the look of someone who is getting away with something. “And it’s crazy that I’m the guy in charge of all this.”

“All this” now includes, in addition to the festival, a store on Nantucket, a pop-up shop in the Seaport, 700 kids in its youth programs, a traveling blue grass festival that will launch this fall, a clothing line, and, at the original shop on Ocean Street in Marshfield, a major expansion that includes a coffee shop, taqueria, bar, and live music venue in the tiny backyard.

Hassett is 33 now, but looks closer to 22, the age he was in 2008 when an unfortunate series of events led to him being the owner of Levitate. He was, at the time, living in a tree house on the North Shore of Oahu, surfing all day and “trying not do to anything.” (Technically, he was going to the University of Hawaii, but he was doing it a very little bit at a time.)

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“He was the sort of kid who always seemed to disappear when there was work to be done,” said his father, A.J. Hassett.

The younger Hassett grew up in Hanover and spent his summers at his grandparents’ house near the beach in Marshfield, where he became obsessed with surfing. In 2003, when a man named Bob Pollard opened Levitate, Hassett got a job at the shop.

Pollard thought of Levitate as a community hub, a way to bring people together through surfing and skating and music and art, and he became an important mentor to Hassett, as well as many other local kids, until he died suddenly in 2006 of an aortic aneurysm, leaving behind two young children. Pollard’s wife, Amelia, continued running the shop, and Hassett worked there during his college breaks, but by 2008 she was ready to close when she called Hassett and asked him if he wanted to take over.

Hassett wasn’t sure he wanted to do that. He wasn’t exactly hot on the idea of responsibility at the time, and it would mean leaving behind the greatest waves in the world. But he said he always believed in Pollard’s mission, and was honored that Amelia has asked him to continue it, so he moved back to Massachusetts and became the owner of Levitate.

He continued Pollard’s mission of using the store as a community anchor, but it wasn’t until the accidental success of the 10th anniversary party — and all the people that seemed to want to connect with the energy of that event — that he came to think of his real mission as bringing together like-minded people in the community.

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Previous iterations of the event have been heavily focused on the Marshfield community — local artists, local musicians, local food. Even though the event has grown to include big-name national acts — Bob Marley’s son Damian is a headliner this year — the number of local bands in the lineup has actually grown. Organizers have even given slots to two bands made up of local high schoolers.

Levitate has become, Hassett says, a symbol for a lifestyle, and the brand has grown on top of that.

“That’s something you can’t market,” says Hassett, wearing a Levitate hat emblazoned with the motto Stoke, Style and Soul. “That’s why this feels like what it is, which is a community.”

Much of the growth of the brand’s identity is the work of his wife, Jess Hassett. She’s an artist who oversees the visual look of the company, including the design of the festival and a line of Levitate-branded clothing. They met when she was working at the Duxbury Art Association and helped organize a skateboard art show. “Dan showed up with a bunch of shirtless hippie surfers and almost got me fired,” she says. “To make up for it, I made him give me a surf lesson.” They now have two young daughters.

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As the festival geared up this week, with things at the fairgrounds moving along somewhat smoothly, or as smoothly as things can be for an event that will feature nearly 30 musical acts, 100 art vendors, and 35 food trucks, Hassett hopped in his truck and made the mile drive back to the shop.

Levitate feels very much like a typical surf shop. Boards and bathing suits, wax and flip-flops. It’s the kind of place people just want to hang out, which is how Hassett likes it, and why he’s building a bar and restaurant out back. “People always just show up here at 5:30 anyway, hoping we’ll say, ‘Do you want a beer?’ ”

And, just as his mentor did, Hassett keeps hiring local kids who are stoked on surfing and skating and community. And that includes two of his newest hires, which he’s very excited about — the now-teenage children of Bob Pollard.


Billy Baker can be reached at billybaker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.