TLD Interview: Dixon Place’s LES Music Festival

Photo courtesy of Dixon Place.

We recently spoke with Jonny Goodman, the Director and Curator of Dixon Place’s upcoming First Annual Lower East Side Music Festival, about his vision for the festival, music on the Lower East Side,  and life as a musician.

TLD – We are very excited that there is a new arts festival in the Lower East Side – especially a music festival.  Who conceived of the idea?

 JG  – Ellie Covan, the Founder of Dixon Place, wanted to put a foot forth in the music scene.  Since its beginning in the late 80s, Dixon has been very supportive of the artist in dance and performance, encouraging new and experimental work and nurturing new talent.  With its new space on Chrystie Street, they now also have the venue for music.  Music is such an important fabric of the Lower East Side cultural community.  So they wanted to support those musicians and become a home for that community.

TLD  – Where did you come in?

JG – I signed on recently. I was hosting a show at Dixon Place in the Lounge called The Writer’s Block.  We paired up songwriters with each other and they completed each other’s songs. I also worked at Judson Church for several years, where I did a lot of arts programming. I put together a weekly performance and dinner series and through that, built up a music roster.

TLD  – What is your background in music?

JG – I am a musician. I mostly fall under the indie rock umbrella – lyric driven narrative, folk and blues focused. I am very interested strong in songwriting.

 TLD – Is there a style of programming you are going for within the festival– a  curatorial goal?

My curatorial goal was to create nights of music styles that go together. To have an opportunity for people to see local music that might normally be seen in a club somewhere, in a more theatrical setting. Emerging musicians playing the Lower East Side circuit often encounter difficulties with venues. Many venues are music bars that present live music – there is no “curation” so to speak.  Many times random bands are paired together on an evening.  A heavy metal band might follow a Folk band. The music is not presented as a night of music, but as a bunch of disassociated indie bands.

With the Lower East Side Music Festival, it is a “night out”– a tightly curated gig in a concert setting. People can still enjoy a diverse range of performers, but there will be a common thread between them each evening – a cross between a show and a concert.

TLD  – What might that look like?

 JG – There are 12 nights curated as a scene or genre. “Scene” meaning “cabaret music not written for the theater.” We have a few under the American music genre, a Southern night, which has a couple of scenes within it — Rockabilly, and New Orleans Second Line Jazz, an R& B and Soul night, two Alt-Classical nights, and Indie Rock and Folk nights.

TLD – Sounds like this is a festival in the true sense of the word. Can you give us a few highlights?

The opening weekend on August 12th, the first Alt-Classical night, features the Stone Forest Ensemble. They are a multi-nationonal, classical hip-hop troupe. They will be very interesting.  They are led by a Chinese band leader and are Chinese influenced, but the group is actually multi-national and of diverse influences.

For the Cabaret night on the 24th, Corn Mo will be playing accordion and piano songs on an evening with theatrical cabaret singer Natti Vogel, and the unconventional The Debutante Hour.  The Nat Osborn Band plays on a Funk-Rock night on the 25th.

Some less established artists include Sara Banleigh – she will be on the Indie Folk night on the 17th.  She is an amazing singer who until now has done her work on original arrangements of ancient music from the British Isles.  She will be debuting her own material this night.  I am very excited to see it myself.

One other thing that might no be visible at the shows, are the relationships we are a building between the artists. I’ve been working  to connect them together with social gatherings, like meet and greets. We are helping them with promotion and making sure that their technical needs are being met.  We have a blog as well, we are recording podcast with interviews.

TLD – It all sounds very LES.

JG – Yes it does. All of the musicians are local NYC artists. Some established, some emerging, as well as some local and regional acts.

TLD – What are you hoping people will walk away with after their night out?

If somebody comes for one night, we hope to give them a different experience than going to a club–a more intense setting, but less formal. For the more dedicated, we hope that they will come to multiple nights—we do have a special deal for that there is a festival pass, and get a true sampling of the really diverse spectrum of artists of all the different scenes in New York Music in general.

It is hard to know where to go where music is curated and vetted. We are really trying to put that together. The Lower East Side Music Festival is a celebration of all the different kinds of music out there in NYC.

TLD  – What have you learned from you experience?

What motivates me most as a curator– the most important thing I have learned, is that venues, especially when they are “underground” like Dixon, have limited resources to support artists, as they would like.  I have talked to may artists over the years about what they want–they all say the thing I like most about a place, like Dixon, is the personal attention. Getting to know other artists, and the people who run the venue, for future collaborations.

We hope that artists will be able to establish a new relationship with Dixon Place, which has been so important to the cultural scene of the LES over the past 25 years.  We hope from this, that other shows and other projects will be born through these artists and others who come through this festival, and that people will come to Dixon Place as a venue for experiencing music in the Lower East Side  in a new way.

The Lower East Side Music Festival at Dixon Place / August 9-26  /  8pm Thursday – Saturday, 7pm Sundays. Doors open 6pm. / $15 in adv / $18 at the door / $15, stu/sen / festival pass $50.  photo The Debutante Hour Courtesy of Dixon Place.