Jelloman Paul Vile with one of his Jell-O murals.
LAUREN SCHNEIDERMAN / Staff Photographer
Jelloman Paul Vile with one of his Jell-O murals.

Meet: Paul Vile, a West Chester mason who sells Jell-O shots and T-shirts to music festival-goers across the country — a hustle that's earned him the nickname "Jelloman."

Say when: For a garnish, Vile often brings a pepper mill filled with Pop Rocks to sprinkle on his Jell-O shots. "It makes quite the presentation, if you will," he said.

Backstage pass: Vile creates giant signs he calls “Jell-O murals” that spell out bands’ names, which often gets him invited backstage. Having famous Philly musician Kurt Vile as a big brother doesn’t hurt, either.

Paul Vile wanted a hustle.

It was 2008 and Vile, a trained mason, was looking for a way to make some extra scratch when he stumbled upon a young woman selling Jell-O shots at a Dave Matthews Band concert in Camden. She told him she'd made $400 in just a couple hours.

"I knew that was the perfect hustle," he said.

He was living on his own in West Chester, but Vile made his first batch in his parents' kitchen. His mom, who doesn't drink, helped, describing it as "stirring the cauldron of sin."

Today, Vile, 33, buys his Jell-O in 50-pound bags, mixes his shots in five-gallon buckets, and spends his summers traveling the country illegally selling Jell-O shots and T-shirts at music festivals like Firefly, Bonnaroo, and Coachella.

Paul Vile places lids on a batch of his famous Jell-O shots.
Colin Kerrigan
Paul Vile places lids on a batch of his famous Jell-O shots.

He's become such a fixture on the festival circuit that he's earned the nickname "Jelloman." Vile is also the subject of an upcoming documentary by Philly filmmaker Colin Kerrigan (a former Philly.com photographer) called Jelloman, if u will.

Vile knows selling booze and bootleg tees is against festival rules, not to mention numerous liquor and trademark laws. He doesn't check IDs, obtain liquor or vendor licenses, or have rights to sell the tees. He's no stranger to being kicked out of festivals, and he once had his van impounded and spent the night in jail when authorities found a T-shirt printing press inside it.

"I almost want to get legit with it all, somehow," he said. "I got so good at something that is almost a dead-end road."

But compared with some of the harder drugs and other illicit activities circulating at festivals, Vile said, his business is "like the Disney Channel."  And for now, he said, the risk is worth the reward. He won't say how much his hustle pulls in, except that "it's extremely lucrative."

One of 10 children, Vile grew up in Lansdowne and graduated from Penn Wood High School in 2003. He then attended trade school for masonry.

Today, he oscillates between a "regular square life" of working in masonry and "that Jell-O lifestyle."

But Jelloman doesn't party like he used to.

He wakes up at 6 a.m., "ninja folds" the shirts he wants to sell, grabs some sunglasses and packs his bag with 500 Jell-O shots. By 9 a.m. he's walking through campsites, ready to sell.

"These little Jell-O shots are the perfect sale. You can have hundreds in your backpack, and they just fly like poker chips," he said.

For $20, Vile will sell you a Jell-O shot, a bootleg festival shirt he designed himself, and a cheap pair of sunglasses. The Jell-O shots alone go for three for $5, seven for $10, and 15 for $20.

"You're probably thinking: 'Would I buy a Jell-O shot from a random person?'" Vile said. "You might say no right now, but when you're at a festival….the Jell-O shot is a weird hook."

To make the shots, Vile boils a large amount of water and surrounds himself in a circle with 24 five-gallon buckets. Then, he puts the water, 7.5-pounds of Jell-O mix, and four handles of bottom-shelf vodka in each bucket and stirs. Every bucket makes about 400 Jell-O shots, and he needs about six buckets for each festival.

Instead of transporting the shots cold, he leaves them in a liquid state and dumps ice on them once he arrives at the festival to congeal the mixture.

He usually transports his Jell-O shots in his Jellovan, but he's checked them at the airport, too.

Paul Vile prepares his Jell-O shots en masse in a hotel room.
Colin Kerrigan
Paul Vile prepares his Jell-O shots en masse in a hotel room.

Vile also makes his own bootleg tees, complete with festival lineups. Before his older brother, the alternative rocker Kurt Vile, began touring, Paul Vile would sneak his brother's name into his shirt lineups.

"I remember going to festivals like, 'What if Kurt played one of these festivals? That would be insane, wouldn't it?'" he said. "Then it started creeping up and all of a sudden he was playing Sasquatch Music Festival … and I got to put his name in the lineup" for real.

For those times Vile ends up in his brother's world, hanging out with bands like the War on Drugs, he creates Jell-O murals by spelling the band's name in Jell-O shots he hot glues to a large piece of Styrofoam insulation.

Paul Vile with the Jell-O mural he made for the band, Cage the Elephant.
Colin Kerrigan
Paul Vile with the Jell-O mural he made for the band, Cage the Elephant.

The coolest band to invite him backstage with his Jell-O mural so far? Cage the Elephant.

Kerrigan said his documentary, Jelloman, if u will, which he's raising money for on Kickstarter, will feature a lot of musicians, a lot of Jell-O shots, and a lot of character.

"It's a weird story," Kerrigan said. "And he's also a mason."

Know someone in the Philadelphia area whose story deserves to be told — or someone whose story you’d like to know? Send suggestions for We the People profiles to Stephanie Farr at farrs@phillynews.com or call her at 215-854-4225. Send tips via Twitter to @FarFarrAway.

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