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Former New York tech executive scouting Douglas County sites to host the 'Woodstock of our generation'


Lawrence is used to seeing funky buses. On one end of the spectrum, there’s Lyle Lovett recently parking his posh bus in the Journal-World parking lot because he was making a downtown Lawrence doughnut run. On the other end, there’s the plethora of 1970s VW buses that leave a trail of smoke that smells very much like the 1970s, if you know what I mean. Residents in recent days, though, have noticed a new type of bus in town. It has a version of the word “gratitude” painted on its side, and the man inside it is intent on talking to you about your dreams.

You have heard of the Field of Dreams, I assume. Well, this old RV that is showing up on Lawrence streets could be called the Bus of Dreams. In a twist, though, the driver is looking for a field. I’ll try to explain.

The driver and owner of the bus is a former high-flying New York technology executive by the name of Stephan Cesarini. He was a co-founder of the company that became ReachLocal, a business that helps small businesses advertise on the internet. It went from a startup to a publicly traded company on Nasdaq.

I have verified all that, but I really don’t know much more about Cesarini. I met him because renowned artist and local resident Stan Herd encouraged me to do so. Herd told me Cesarini was driving around the area looking for a spot to host the Woodstock of our generation. And Herd said Cesarini is intent on holding the major music and cultural event in Kansas.

Indeed that is what Cesarini wants to do. He’s looking for at least a 750-acre parcel of land to hold what he hopes will become a one-of-a-kind music festival. Herd had him touring sites in the Flint Hills, but he wants something closer to Kansas City. Douglas, Johnson, Jefferson and Miami counties are all places he’s scouting.

Stephan Cesarini, Brooklyn, New York, has created a new organization called 8 Billion Dreams. Cesarini is in Lawrence listening to local residents talk about what dreams they have for themselves, but also scouting locations for a concert venue for what he would like to be "the Woodstock of our generation." Cesarini is pictured with his "Gratitude Bus," a 1988 Airstream 345, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017 on New Hampshire Street.

Stephan Cesarini, Brooklyn, New York, has created a new organization called 8 Billion Dreams. Cesarini is in Lawrence listening to local residents talk about what dreams they have for themselves, but also scouting locations for a concert venue for what he would like to be "the Woodstock of our generation." Cesarini is pictured with his "Gratitude Bus," a 1988 Airstream 345, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017 on New Hampshire Street. by Nick Krug

Cesarini envisions a huge music festival that would attract top artists from many genres. The event would be free to attend and would draw tens of thousands of people over many days. Cesarini, though, hopes to use the event to launch an even bigger idea. He plans to launch a for-profit venture called 8 Billion Dreams.

The mission of that organization is basically to get every human on earth — about 8 billion people — to declare their dream by 2022. He actually carries note cards around, and people write their dreams on them. Cesarini’s organization will have a platform — think websites, job boards, investment circles, relationship sites and other such functions — that will help people achieve their dreams.

He wants the event to be in Kansas because its central geographic location is good from a travel standpoint. Its “center of the U.S.” status also is good from a symbolic standpoint.

He ended up in Lawrence, in part, because he said he is friends with former Lawrence-based musician Jeffrey Goldford, who put him in touch with others in the Lawrence arts and culture scene.

Cesarini said his main efforts now revolve around finding a land owner who shares his vision for the event. Cesarini said he’s looking for a landowner who is open to leasing space for the festival, which he said would be run in a way to minimize the environmental impact to the land. But it does need to be a piece of ground that can accommodate a lot of people. How many? Cesarini was hesitant to say.

“I don’t want to scare people, but I do want this to be the Woodstock of our generation,” he said. “There will be a great pilgrimage to the heartland.”

People interested in talking with him about land can contact him at stephancesarini@gmail.com.

How this large event would get funded is something I’m still a bit unclear about. It was unclear to me how much money Cesarini may be investing in the venture, but he did explain parts of the business model. While the concert would be free, the company that is putting on the concert — and which would own the 8 Billion Dreams organization — would be a for-profit venture. Cesarini said he’s confident he’ll find many investors for the effort, both through his connections in the tech world and also through a change in federal law that allows private companies to more easily solicit small investors through crowd sourcing.

Cesarini is likely to face some skepticism. He gets extremely excited about what the simple act of people sharing their dreams can accomplish. He even thinks it could be the key to promoting more harmony in our political system. He thinks by people sharing their dreams it will help disparate groups realize they have more in common than they think.

“We want the same thing for our children,” he said “Right now what we are getting out of the political system is a lot of rhetoric that doesn’t bring people together.”

But Cesarini understands some people are going to think the idea sounds a little too far-fetched. But that’s OK. He knows what is possible. Since he started traveling the country about seven years ago, he has asked more than 10,000 people about their dreams. Many have stayed in touch. He takes it as a sign that people are hungry for something different.

“We can solve so many of our problems outside of politics, outside of beliefs that divide us,” he said.

Who knows? Maybe the vehicle for change is a funky bus.


Bob Hiller 10 months, 1 week ago

What a relief to hear some good news now and then. Somebody with a positive view for the future. Very refreshing, to say the least.

Clara Westphal 10 months, 1 week ago

Woodstock literally trashed the property where it was held. Does any farmer really want that to happen to their land?

Dan Rose 10 months, 1 week ago

All music festivals have agreements in place with the owners/authorities for cleanup, turf replacement/reseeding, parking, law enforcement/security, etc. Rockfest in KCMO spends $25k alone for turf replacement each year. Country Stampede has had their procedures for their 3-day music festivals and all related incidentals in place for many years.

Dan Rose 10 months, 1 week ago

And let's not forget that said 'farmer' would get a VERY large chunk of money for the use of their land, and the land is returned to its original state as well. Local vendors get paid a LOT for their services, the city/county/state gets a LOT of tax money... oh, and the concert-goers from states away get to enjoy their favorite artists.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 10 months, 1 week ago

Yasgur never regretted his decision to have the concert there. I thought you conservatives were all for people doing what they want with their land? This is what it looks like now.

Evan Taylor 10 months, 1 week ago

Something tells me our hotshot tech executive didn't do his research, otherwise he'd know what a raw deal Wakarusa Music Festival got.

Richard Aronoff 10 months, 1 week ago

Footnote: "Woodstock" did not happen in Woodstock, NY.

Clara Westphal 10 months, 1 week ago

I did not say Woodstock was held in Woodstock, NY.

Bob Smith 10 months, 1 week ago

Leave us hope it's not a replay of the Fyre Festival.

David Holroyd 10 months, 1 week ago

How about a smaller parcel for a trial run...like Farmland aka Venture park...after all its free land and has access to sewer and the roads are in it...Janis Joplin Drive,,,The Greatful Dead pavillon...and the Momma Cass senior center and plenty of room for the Airstream RV park.

Jeanette Kekahbah 10 months, 1 week ago

Stephan Cesarini, your vision of 8 Billion Dreams made me cry! Brilliant! Wonderful!

And where can I apply to be part of the team making the music happen???

Richard Heckler 10 months, 1 week ago

Yes this is good. The man most likely will be a fine manager of the operation. He is taking a slow methodical approach.

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